Harvesting the Bounty
Canning Summer Tomatoes
by Barry Lazar
O ne bushel of tomatoes weighs about fifty pounds and makes about fifty pint jars. We use Romanelle, a.k.a. Roma, which have more acid than other varieties, and are therefore more suited to the hot water canning process we use.
We do it all in one batch. The tomatoes get well washed. Today I dumped them in a bathtub and drained them in a plastic laundry basket.
At the same time, Celina was washing the jars we saved from last year and boiling new tops and covers. We find that when we have problems, invariably it is because used an old top had a ping or a dent in it. We boil the lids and tops too.
We wash the jars, then put them through the dishwasher, and then keep them in a warm oven while we get everything else ready. First the tomatoes are boiled briefly, a few at a time, in boiling water. The skin will pucker slightly. Remove them, plunge them in a bucket of cool water and take the skins off with your fingers. They will come off pretty quickly once they have been scalded.
At this stage, I like them whole but Celina likes them more saucelike. She runs them through the food processor, puts them in a large pot and then ladles them into the jars. We make sure there is no sauce on the rim.
Leave a little headroom at the top, maybe half an inch. Screw the lids on firmly but not too tight and then boil them in a canning rack in a hot water bath. Any large canning pot will have a rack for holding pint and quart jars. Seven jars fit in a pot with this rack. We bring the water to boil, put in the jars and then boil for another 25 minutes to cook the sauce through.
Since we have only one large canning pot, this part of the process can take several hours. It's a good time to have dinner, get up every once in a while and put in a new batch of jars.
We remove the jars and listen to the tops pop as the lids bend inwards when the vacuum takes hold. You can screw on the lids further after this but it won't affect the sauce. The vacuum seal is enough. If you find that a lid has bowed out, or if, when you open a jar the sauce is bubbling or fizzy or has a bad smell, discard the sauce. We usually lose about 10 percent of our jars but we are very cautious. Anything that seems wrong gets poured out. However, we have been doing this for years without any mishap.
We add garlic, salt, pepper, and other seasonings when we use the sauce later. Ours is as basic as it gets and quite delicious. Nothing in a can compares.
About eight tomatoes or one pound makes one pint of sauce.
A bushel of the the tomatoes we used cost $13 at the Jean Talon Market. We could have bought them for as little as $10 but these looked the cleanest and the best. A can (about 750 grams or a pound and a half) of tomatoes at our local supermarket was selling for 99 cents. I figure this works out to between $30 and $35 for a bushel. So, right away, we are better off. But then there is the feasting which can never come from a can.
Tonight I grilled tomatoes and put them into ladle of the sauce. I mashed some roasted garlic into that and added a grating of sea salt and a little olive oil. The pasta was tossed into this sauce. While I cooked the pasta, I grilled eggplant, zucchini, garlic and halved tomatoes. I served all this on the side. Once a year we indulge in the harvest, we feast on tomatoes cut fresh, grilled, stewed, and in a sauce. Once a year we enjoy the bounty. Later we will dole it out a jar a week and savor the taste. But now, in mid-September, tomatoes are at their ripest and we are fools not to indulge.