Canned Tomatoes… the painless way!

Two years ago, I canned my first tomato.  I loved it and I could not control myself from ordering an entire bushel of tomatoes thinking it would be a piece of cake to whip through them by myself.  It was not.  From now on, I have vowed to never can tomatoes alone again.  It’s just too much to find yourself in the midst of 50-plus pounds of tomatoes on your first time out of the starting gate.  This year, I gathered some friends to have a canning party.  Our original participants didn’t all make it, so it was mainly Emily and I all day.  And by all day, I mean we managed to can 2.5 bushels of tomatoes, some peaches and a few pounds of green beans in a short 12 hour day.  I can hear you gasping out there at the mention of 12 hours, but I’d like to point out that the first time I canned tomatoes, it took me 12 hours, but I only made it through half a bushel.  So the adage “many hands make light work” stands true, especially when another friend stops in to clean a bushel or so of tomatoes for you.

Traditionally, diced tomatoes should be peeled before they are canned.  I suppose that is really up to you, but if there is anything I hate, it’s finding a tomato skin curled up in my soup.  One year, I grilled my tomatoes and then peeled the skins.  It was torture, and the skins didn’t all come off.  The next year, I tried the blanching method.  Also a miserable experience.  This year, I peeled them with a serrated peeler.  That’s right.  I was sitting in a Pampered Chef party a few weeks ago, looking through their available gadets (and discovered an amazing corn zipper that could have really benefitted me somewhere, oh, 80 ears of corn ago) and saw this peeler.  Since I didn’t have one, I wrote it on my order sheet and planned to use it for peaches.  It was a dream-like experience with the peaches and at some point, I thought to read the package insert before I threw it away and was delighted to realize that a serrated peeler is perfect for tomatoes.  Since we were already going to be dealing with serious poundages of tomatoes, I didn’t figure it would hurt to at least try.  I have to say, that as I sat perched on a stool in the kitchen while Emily checked canning times and filled jars, I was completely content with my tomatoes and my peeler.  We have a great system in place for the years to come.

Canning diced tomatoes is best done with a pressure cooker since it only takes 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.  A water bath takes 85-90 minutes.  It’s not impossible, I’ve done it before, but since having tried it with a pressure cooker, I’m thinking I’ll be purchasing one for next year’s harvest.  Once you have your tomatoes peeled and diced to the size you’d like, the only thing left is to pour some hot tomato juice (either homemade or store bought) over them and start your canning!  Of course, you should first prep your jars, ring and lids.  For instructions on that, see my guest post at the Farmer’s Daughter on Tomato Sauce.
Fill your jars with tomatoes, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.  Then pour in some of your hot tomato juice, filling to 1/4 inch headspace.  Add in 1 Tbsp. lemon juice for pints and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice for quarts.  Wipe your rims, and place the lids and rings on your jars.  Lower them into your pressure cooker and secure the lid.  Process at 11 pounds of pressure for the above listed time respective to the size jar you are using.  Turn off the burner and allow the pressure to drop naturally. If you have an electric stove, you’ll have to actually move the canner to a new burner since the coil stays hot for a long time.  You’ll know its safe to open the canner when the lock drops (check the canner instructions) and no steam escapes when the weight is tilted. This takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Remove your jars and set them aside to cool.

Really, the diced tomatoes are simple.  And to be quite honest, I was thrilled to find that from our day of hard work, I netted enough diced tomatoes to at least get me through the winter and into the spring without having to spend a dime!  Although considering that I canned tomatoes from someone else’s garden and the tomato plants in my own garden are heavy with their slowly ripening fruit, I may just wind up making it through until my next tomato harvest.

Progress

Does anyone else wake up in the morning and think to themselves that they need a new challenge for the day?  Anyone?  Today was one such day.  I woke up and decided that I was going to learn how to can peaches.  And so I did.  I straight to the market and bought 1/2 a bushel which probably won’t really be ripe until Sunday, so I also got a 1/2 peck of ripe ones to learn on.  I netted 6 pints and a lot of self worth.  It was easy as pie and I’m actually looking forward to canning the rest.  I know, pregnancy makes me weird.
This afternoon I then went to pick up my order of 2 bushels of tomatoes for the canning extravaganza tomorrow.  Emily and I plan to get as much canning as can done because the church is willing to let us use their industrial kitchen.  Pretty sweet, huh?  I’ll take photos as the day progresses, I can’t wait to share!

Of course, my excitement over the canning for tomorrow caused me to make a very foolish decision to start hot pepper jelly at 9pm.  I was unaware that it needs to sit overnight so there will be no gratification until the morning.  Bummer.  My recipe calls for 2.5 pounds of peppers, diced.  This task became depressing after about a pound or so, until I realized I could pulse the peppers in the food processor.  Since I have enough peppers to do at least another batch, I am a little less intimidated by the prospect now.  Now then, it is off to bed for me as I will have to finish the jelly in the morning before heading off to the tomatoes.  Sunday is reserved for peaches so that I have the bulk of things done before the week begins and we are back to the chaos that is our current life.

First trip to the farmer’s market and produce bags by me!

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I’ve been sewing a lot lately.  I’ve made bibs, a birthday banner and reuseable produce bags.  I’m on a roll.  I had to pack up my sewing machine so I can get the house ready for Liam’s first birthdaypalooza on Sunday, but after that… What I like most about my little sewing machine is that I can take a piece of fabric that looks as though it might be a waste and turn it into something of value.  The birthday banner I made can be used for years to come in place of paper decorations that I would have to throw away.  The bibs are obviously useful, but really, how often can you buy 8 large bibs for 3 dollars?  Remnants bin my friends!

But that’s not really what this post is about.  It’s about the fact that my garden isn’t producing as well as I had hoped.  I guess I’m not treating it as tenderly as I used to.  That and I don’t have the time I used to.  Next year, I’ll be able to get Liam involved, but for now, I’m trying to keep him from eating my weed pile and hoping the dogs don’t hop the fence and destroy my pumpkin patch.  Friday mornings, vendors set up their produce, crafts and pottery down by the carousel and sell, sell, sell.  I see that I am going to have to make weekly trips.  This week, we came away with a 1/2 peck of green beans, 3 eggplants, leeks, carrots, garlic and rhubarb.  I’m so excited!

The best part about my trip was that I got to use my produce bags I made earlier in the week.  They’ve been sitting in my living room, tempting me every day to take them out for a spin.  They were a trial run to test the materials and seam styles.  I also tested 2 different drawstring materials.  Before I start making more, I’m going to see how they wash up.  I loved that none of the farmers had to give me a bag, I walked out of the market with lots of goodies and no waste!