Until eight months ago, the thought of putting food in a jar, storing it unrefrigerated on a shelf in the pantry, and then opening and eating it weeks later, lead me to fears of stomachaches and possible trips to the emergency room for accidental poisoning.
So when Nick suggested that he wanted to try canning tomatoes in jars, it would be a lie to say I wasn't skeptical that we could do it safely. But I liked the idea and was keen to let him try because we have been trying to avoid commercially canned foods as much as possible (due to the warnings about how ingesting unhealthy levels of the chemical bisphenol-A BPA found in the plastic linings in metal cans contributing to heart disease).
In past years we've made quite an effort to preserve foods, including boiling and freezing dried beans, making soups from scratch and then freezing them in serving size jars, pickling vegetables and storing them in the refrigerator, cooking and freezing some fresh fruits and vegetables, and for others buying commercially frozen ones. Last summer we bought a small separate freezer chest to store all the foods we were freezing. With all this we have managed to pretty well eliminate buying food in metal cans with a few holdouts like ripe olives, some fish (tuna, salmon and sardines) and tomatoes. The olives and fish didn't worry us that much because we don't eat the canned varieties that often, but tomatoes were another story. We tend to use a lot of those in our cooking.
It made sense to give home canning them a try, especially since Nick was so interested in learning how to do it. So I suggested he begin by doing a small batch and we'd see how they turned out.
Soon after we ended up with 3 tidy looking jars in our cupboard and a man who couldn't wait to open one. Four days later we both stood over a jar ready for the big reveal. The seal was very tight and opened with an audible popping sound. The specimen was put under my nose for a sniff. They smelled quite nice actually. A small taste-test also resulted in a positive result. So he used the tomatoes to make a pasta sauce, and since I'm here to tell you about it, there was no death by poisoning going on in our home that fateful day.
Of course people have been safely canning food for ages, including my very own mother, who I used to help make delicious pickles and jams every fall growing up. But I remember the canning week-ends being quite an ordeal, fraught with very careful measuring, melting wax, and huge boiling cauldrons. And there was that year that the entire batch of dozens of jars of pickles didn't turn out and all had to be tossed.
As an adult in my own home, I felt that home canning was just too labour-intensive and risky to really get into. But today I can honestly say that it's not that hard to home-can tomatoes and the outcome is very good. Nick has been buying Roma tomatoes (those oblong-ish ones also known as plum tomatoes here) in Kensington market once a month, where he can find them for $.79 to $.99 a pound, and putting up about 6 jars per canning session. The tomatoes are imported and not the best for eating fresh, but perfectly fine for canning. We did look for a bushel of local field tomatoes in the fall, but that would have turned out to be extremely expensive, so we have stuck with the imported tomatoes for canning purposes.
As for cost, canning your own is not done to really save money, as they come out costing about as much as buying commercially canned ones, plus you have to put your own time into it, but the flavour is very good. Once you have it down, it only takes about 15 minutes of work, plus 45 minutes of boiling time.
So far we have canned and eaten about 40 jars of tomatoes prepared using the following method, and haven't had a single one spoil on the shelf, so it works!
What you need : We did have to buy some things, including a really big pot, this special clamp/tong thing for handling hot jars, and of course a supply of jars with those two part lids. Tomatoes of course, and bottled lemon juice is a necessity. This is one time that the juice must be the concentrated bottled kind, rather than fresh lemon juice ... see the reasoning in this informative article.
What to do:
Fill the big pot and a second pot (we used our pasta pot) to about 2/3 with water and bring to a boil. Drop washed tomatoes into the smaller pot and boil for 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly. That step is to remove the skins, which just peel right off easily.
In the large pot and using that special clamp thing, add your empty jars and the lids, and boil them for a couple of minutes. That is to sterilize them. Carefully remove them from the water and fill about 3/4 full with tomatoes. You can either chop your tomatoes or just leave them whole. Don't fill the jars all the way to the top as there needs to be a bit of headroom. Add your bottled lemon juice, 1/4 cup for large 1 litre jars and half that for smaller 1/2 litre jars (we've seen different amounts suggested but have been successful with those measurements). Wipe around the mouth of the jar with a clean cloth and close the jars with the two part lids. Put them into the boiling water and allow them to simmer for 45 minutes. The jars and the lids should be completely submersed within the boiling water.
Using your clamp thing again, remove the jars and let them cool. As they cool you'll hear a popping sound, as the inner part of the two-part lid seals itself tightly. If you look at it, it should be concave dipping inwards towards the tomatoes. If any jars fail to seal this way, just put them in the fridge once they've cooled completely, and use within a few days.
Note that the addition of the lemon juice makes the tomatoes quite tangy, but that is actually perfect for cooking in sauces, chilies and soups. However if you find they're too tangy for your taste apparently you can add sugar when you can them, but please read up on that before trying.
↑ Boiled and ready to peel ↑
We've only tried tomatoes and aren't planning to do any other things for the time being, but are very interested in hearing about your experiences and any tips you have with home canning.
Thanks for dropping over. I hope you're having a fine Friday and are up for a great week-end.
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