The Great Tomato Chase

At long last, the tomatoes are all done! Photographed, jars wiped down, rings washed and stored for next year and the jars all neatly arranged in a closet, ready for use this winter.

Here’s the haul –

That’s eighty pounds of tomatoes right there. I got twenty-seven jars – one jar shy of being four full batches in the canner. Most of the lot is Amish paste, which I love for canning (easy to peel and hold their shape). A few jars are beefsteak-style tomatoes – I think I got quite a few Brandywines. And you see my lone jar of yellow Brandywines front and center.

As mentioned, it took me a maddening twenty-four hours to can these babies. They are well worth the effort. Last year I only did fourteen jars (and wrote a tutorial about it) so I just about doubled last year’s take. Next summer I plan to double it still again, and that should be enough tomatoes to last us a full year. We eat a lot of tomatoes at our house.

Of course, I refined my process a little bit this time around – I’m always looking for ways to make the process smoother. The actual canning is easy; it’s the prep that’s backbreaking.

– I’ve stopped scoring the tomatoes before blanching them. To me, it actually makes them harder to peel because the skin starts to come off in the boiling water and then the ice bath, and it makes a big mess. So after I take them out of the ice bath I put a slit in the skin with my knife and then peel – it’s quicker and less messy all around.

– Thirty seconds in the boiling water is enough! I’m reminded every year how critical this step is when I let them go a little too long. You’d think you’d want to leave them in longer to loosen the skins more, but it actually makes them harder to peel because they don’t hold their shape as well. So be diligent about your blanching time.

– Blanching and the ice bath leads me to another question I don’t often see answered anywhere – how much ice do you need to can tomatoes? The ice bath is an important step – it stops the tomatoes from cooking and makes them cool enough to peel. Cold water alone isn’t sufficient – tomatoes from boiling water are hot and you’ve got to cool them down as quickly as possible. For eighty pounds, I went through thirty pounds of ice. Thinking in terms of a single canner batch of seven jars (or about twenty pounds of tomatoes) – you’ll need a single seven pound bag. There’s your math exercise for the day.

– Don’t forget to add a little white vinegar to the canner. It makes the jars so much easier to clean when they come out of the canner, and they actually shine up pretty easily. This is definitely a nice step if you happen to have hard water – no unsightly hard water spots on your pretty jars!

– Wear shoes. Even though I knew better, I wore sandals during canning this round, and the whole time I kept thinking to myself “you better put shoes on before you burn your foot”…. cue the last five minutes of my canning session and guess what happens? I splash hot water on my toes! Fortunately, it was just a drop and not super boiling, but lesson learned – wear shoes while doing heavy work in the kitchen. Always.

So, that’s it for tomatoes this year! Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine folks at Midnight Sun, where I got my load of tomatoes again this year – I literally couldn’t have done it without them!


One thought on “The Great Tomato Chase

  1. One thing about having your own garden is that you can do things in dribs and drabs rather than all at once. I’m now up to 38 quarts of tomato sauce plus pints of diced tomatoes and enchilada sauce. But the most I’ve done at one time is 7 quarts (Well, I guess I did 18 pints one day) That makes it much more manageable and you’re not so exhausted afterwards. Of course, I’m processing tomatoes about every other day at this point….

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