I remember when I first started canning, almost exactly two years ago. I started with Peach Salsa and Salsa Verde. MANY hours later, I remember being super excited to have canned my own goods, but also frustrated, tired and defeated. Nearly a full day for a little over half a dozen jars. I’m NEVER doing this again, I thought. Then I canned some jam a few weeks later, some applesauce after that, and it kept getting easier. I mean, last week, I came home around 6pm with jalapenos I had no idea what to do with, pickled them and was relaxing with (homemade!) dinner by 8:30pm. It’s an easy evening task, or a few hours on a weekend afternoon. No big deal. That is, until I tried to tackle tomatoes for the first time.
Saturday, I swung by the Fort Greene Greenmarket, mainly to pick up some Ronnybrook milk and check out the heirloom tomatoes. I did neither. Instead I found myself walking to the subway (about a half a mile) with 25+ pounds of tomatoes. I’m sorry, but what the #@!!% was I thinking? I swear to you, they got heavier as I walked. Two days later, my arms are still burning from the workout. The only benefit was I decided that substituted for my trip to the gym that day.
Sunday morning I was ready to can. I opted to make chopped tomatoes. I figured I most frequently use chopped tomatoes for stews, chilies and soups, so canning them chopped, rather than whole, would save me some work later. The tomatoes were small and round, about 3 inches in diameter. Well, I guess I didn’t quite realize how many tomatoes are in 25lbs. I didn’t count them; I think I would have cried. But I’m estimating at least 200. That’s 200 tomatoes that I had to core, score, blanch, peel and chop. I know this wasn’t going to be a super quick can, but figured 3-4 hours. Almost 4 hours later I was still peeling and chopping (at least I got the blanching done…).
Then I had to cook the tomatoes, and can them, and process them. Sheesh! After my tomato “weightlifting” on Saturday, I followed up with a sauna type workout that must have melted a few pounds. Think of it as hot yoga, with more movement. Between the blanching water, tomato cooking and processing, my kitchen was about 90°F. Just a bit toasty.
I don’t mean to scare anyone, but it was a LOT more work that I was anticipating. That being said, I still think it was worth it. I ended up canning 9 pints. I would have had at least 3-4 more, but I saved some of the chopped tomatoes for gravy making tthat I’ll freeze rather than can, due to the acid levels. Plus, they TASTE so much better than any canned chopped tomatoes you’ll find out there, organic or non, with or without salt.
So the moral of this story is can your own tomatoes–they taste amazing and you’ll be able to eat locally year round. BUT make sure you have a good day set aside and give yourself a break from the gym for a day or so; you’ll be getting quite a workout. I’m such a masochist, that I plan to get another couple barrels to make more gravy and some marinara sauce for canning. Next time the tomatoes and I are taking a cab though.
Chopped Tomatoes (adapted from Food in Jars) makes 4 pints
- 6 pounds Roma or paste tomatoes, cored and peeled
- 4 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, divided
Roughly chop peeled tomatoes an place in a large stainless pot, retaining as much of the juices as possible. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30-35 minutes, until juices thicken. Stir regularly to prevent burning. Add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each clean, hot pint jar. Ladle the hot chopped tomatoes with their juices into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Gently tap jars on towel-lined countertop to help loosen air bubbles before using a wooden chopstick to dislodge any remaining bubbles. Whip rims, center lids and screw on bands. Process in boiling water bath for 35 minutes.