TOMATO DIARIES PART III: SAVE FOR A RAINY DAY
Right now tomatoes are at their peak. September is tomato month, where plants are in the full swing of things and farmer's markets are flooded with boxes of ripe and flavorful fruits. The sweetness is more concentrated, and the colors are more vibrant. Prices also go down, quantity goes up, and its time to start finding free evenings and weekends to can tomatoes. Mid-September always manages to sneak up, and suddenly it's now or never for tomato canning. But come January, when it's cold and all I want is grilled cheese and spicy tomato soup, I am forever grateful for the cans in my pantry. Home canned tomatoes are so beyond anything sold at the grocery store and make a great holiday gift, or impressive mid-winter dinner party addition.
Many markets and farms have boxes of peak ripe tomatoes ("seconds"), too overripe to sell at full price, but perfect for processing and canning. Ask your local market or favorite tomato stall for case prices of market quality tomatoes as well as seconds.
I have canned Dry Farmed Early Girl tomatoes the last few years, mainly because they are so sweet and readily available at the farmers markets. San Marzano roma tomatoes are an excellent canning tomato, less sweet, but with a thicker texture ideal for sauces. Heirloom tomatoes make for a very watery canned tomato, and I find their flavors a bit too subtle. You can roast, peel, pickle or sauce your tomatoes before you can them, but after some experimentation, I found peeling Dry Farmed Early Girls too labor intensive to be worth it, and leaving them raw and whole makes them more adaptable once you crack the jar mid winter.
Canned Whole Tomatoes
Adapted from Simplebites.net
- A large stockpot or canning pot
- Rack to fit on bottom of pot to keep jars lifted (canning pots come with these)
- Tea kettle of boiling water
- Small saucepan
- Lemon juice
- Clean/sterilized glass jars with new lids and rings
- Tomatoes! A quart jar fits roughly 2lbs of Early Girl Tomatoes but may vary
Place your large stockpot on the stove, filled with water, and place the rack on bottom. Be sure that once placed on rack, jars will be a good inch below the surface of water. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, boil water in small saucepan, drop in lids and bring to a simmer.
Dump washed tomatoes on a very clean counter and line up clean jars. With a sharp knife, core tomatoes and plop them into jar. Add tomatoes to jars, using the end of a wooden spoon to gently nudge them into the jar without bursting them open. Fill jars with tomatoes, then add 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice to each jar. With boiling water from your kettle, fill up jar the rest of the way with water, leaving 1/2 inch of space at top below the rim. Use the end of your wooden spoon to press tomatoes down and remove all air pockets. Add more water if needed. Wipe down rim and sides of jars, removing any seeds or juice.
Place lids on top of each jar and loosely twist ring around top. Using tongs or a canning rack, lower jars into large boiling stockpot (Be careful! Hot water and steam can burn!). Cover with stockpot lid and gently boil jars for 45 min. Place a towel on the counter and when jars are done, remove gently from stockpot (again with tongs or rack) and place on towel. As the jars cool, you will hear the lid seals pop into place. Once completely cool, remove ring and check lid seal. Once you're sure your jars are sealed, twist on lid ring. Label your jars and store for winter!