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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Preserving Tomatoes

It seems everyone today is living in the fast lane. Families are involved with activities involving work, school, shopping, church, children, etc. and this leaves them little time for meal prep so they are forced to buy processed foods from the grocery store to help prepare meals faster. Home processed tomatoes can be the basis for many recipes that are healthier, more nutritious and can be stored on the pantry shelf right at your fingertips. If you're unable to grow your own tomato plants (or not interested in doing so) there are many places where you can purchase them in quantity - local farm stands and farmer's markets are great places to shop.

If you choose to preserve tomatoes in jars you'll need to have a quantity of  glass canning jars - pints and/or quarts. [Tip: check with your older neighbors who may have a surplus stashed in their basements or check your local Craig's list before the season begins for better pricing (or maybe even free) before you buy new.] Additionally, you'll need to purchase the appropriate size lids to fit the jars you choose to use - small mouth or large mouth. Freezing tomatoes is a much easier process if you have extra freezer space. I have never used this method but have heard from many people who have with success.

These steps I'm providing for preparing tomatoes for preserving may appear to be overwhelming for the beginner but they are not and the rewards outweigh the efforts. Remember, these steps are for getting the tomatoes to the point of either canning them or freezing them. I do not remove the skin from the tomato as called for in many other recipes. This eliminates a rather tedious step and aids in maintaining a thicker sauce.

Preparing the tomatoes:

  • Wash and assemble a large quantity of fresh tomatoes.
  • Core the center of the tomatoes - do not peel them. If you are fussy about the seeds they can be removed with your fingers at this step. Remember to compost the cores.

  • Cut the unpeeled tomatoes into pieces that will fit into your food processor and puree.

  • Pour the pureed tomatoes into a large container.

For freezing purposes the process is complete. There is no cooking involved. Using a wide-mouth funnel and a ladle fill your pint, quart or gallon size freezing bags, label them with content and date and store them in your freezer for future use.

If you plan on canning your pureed tomatoes in jars you must follow the hot pack method:

Preparation of jars:

For preparing jars, it is recommended that you wash them in hot soapy water and rinse well. Place them in a large pot of water or water bath canner and boil gently for 10 minutes. Leave them in the hot water until needed. Then using tongs remove a few jars at a time and place them upside down to drain. They are ready to use in less than a minute.
I use a less traditional method to prepare my jars that is easier and has worked for me successfully for many, many years: wash and rinse the jars and place them in your dish drainer in the kitchen sink. Using a tea kettle (I use two electric kettles) bring tap water to a boil. Pour the boiling water into jars. Taking one jar at a time, empty the hot water out and proceed to step 3 listed below. Although this method works for me I cannot recommend it for everyone.

Step 1:  Hot Pack Process
  1. Pour pureed tomatoes into an appropriate size kettle to accommodate your yield and bring it to a boil while stirring continually. Boil for 5 minutes.
  2. While waiting for the tomato mixture to boil, place the jar lids in a small sauce pan filled with clean water and bring to a boil. Leave the lids in the hot water and remove them as needed.
  3. After the tomatoes have finished boiling, use a wide mouth funnel and a ladle to fill the prepared jars immediately with the hot tomato mixture leaving 1/2 inch head space.
  4. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to each quart jar; 1/2 tsp to each pint jar.
  5. Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean cloth or paper towel, place a clean lid on the top of the jar and apply the screw band.
Step 2:  Boiling Water Process

Fill a large kettle with the appropriate amount of hot water and begin heating it on the range. The water bath canner requires 1 to 2 inches of water above the tops of jars. This can be difficult to determine before the filled jars are in place but after a batch or two you will learn how much water you you have to add. It is always a goodtomato sauce recipes idea to have an extra small pot of water heating just in case.

Place jars on rack immediately after packing. Lower filled rack into canner. If you don't have a pan with a rack you can simply use any large kettle and place a small towel on the bottom of the pan. Jars should be covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. Add additional boiling water if needed. If you add more water, pour between jars and not directly on them (this is where the extra pot of heated water comes in handy). Cover pot with lid. When the water comes to a rolling boil, start to count the processing time.* Reduce heat slightly and boil gently for the time recommended for the food being processed. When the cooking time is up, remove jars at once and place on a rack or on towels away from heat and away from any draft. Keep jars separated to allow for air space.

After the jars have cooled, test them for seal. To do this press down on the center of the lid. The lid should be con-caved and not move when pressed.

When the jars are completely cool, the screw bands may be removed if desired but not necessary. Be sure to label the canned jars with content and processing date.

Store jars in a cool dark, dry place. If there is a possibility of freezing temperatures during storage, cover the jars with a blanket or heavy cloth. Jars may also be placed in a box and stuffed with newspaper.

* Processing times:
Pints 35 minutes
Quarts 40 minutes

Approximate Yields:
22 pounds whole tomatoes for canner load of 7 quarts.
14 pounds whole tomatoes for canner load of 9 pints.

Ideal for use in soups, stews, sauce and casseroles.

A good reference site:

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