Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Canning For The First Time? Try Tomatoes!

I know that most gardens are just getting started, so if this seems a bit like I'm putting the cart before the horse, don't worry. It might be that you're thinking about canning for the very first time and I wanted to help you make the decision about what to try first.

It's tempting to start out with green beans or peas, yes, but they take a lot more time and have a lot less room for error than tomatoes do. With beans and other such vegetables, you have to process them in a water bath canner or pressure cooker for about four hours to make sure they will be safe to store and eat.

If you have never tried your hand at canning before, then tomatoes are by far the easiest and safest food to try. Since they are highly acidic, they are less likely to harbor bacteria that can grow inside the jar and make you sick. They do not need to be processed in a water bath canner either, so getting them to seal will be much easier and faster. They are an absolute joy to can, in my opinion!

Why Start With Tomatoes?
Aside from the details I've already touched on, tomatoes can be used for so many different recipes, it would be a travesty to let a single one go to waste. Freezing is definitely an option, but in that case, you are dependent on a freezer. Canning means that they will stay on the shelf and be safe to eat for years to come. To me, that just seems the better option.

Here are just a few of the different things you can use tomatoes for"
  • spaghetti sauce
  • pizza sauce
  • soups
  • stews
  • homemade ketchup, bbq sauce or other sauces
  • tomato gravy (an Appalachian favorite!)
How To Can Tomatoes
You will want to thoroughly wash all of your jars and rings and rinse well. I usually set my jars on a cookie sheet and stick them in the oven, set to about 180 degrees, until I'm ready to use them. I keep the rings in a pot of hot water on standby.

Start a pot to boiling with plain water and pour this directly over your cleaned tomatoes. Make sure you've removed the stems and any bad spots as well. Leaving the tomatoes in the scalding water about 2-3 minutes will allow the skin to release and you can simply slide it off, usually in one layer.

Here, you can decide whether you want to cut the tomatoes up, can them whole or cut them into a dice. Either way, just put them all in a large pot and start cooking them. Bring them to a rolling boil and in the mean time, add one teaspoon of salt to each jar you plan to fill with tomatoes.

When you're ready to fill the jars, a canning funnel can really come in handy. To start with, it makes it so much easier, but it also helps keep the mouth of the jar clean. Unlike a regular funnel, a canning funnel has a mouth that is much wider and allows for more food to flow through without stopping up the works. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have one of these.

Once you've filled the jars, leaving about one half inch of headroom between the tomatoes and the top of the jar, you will want to clean the rim of the jar. With a clean, dry towel, cloth or napkin, gently rub the jar top all the way around. Leaving anything on the rim, even if you can't readily see it, can cause the jar not to seal properly. If this happens, you will lose the contents of the jar.

Next, take a lid and a ring from your hot water bath and firmly attach them to the jar. My grandmother sometimes left the rings off entirely and simply sat an apple from the orchard on top of each jar, but we won't risk our lives in such a manner here today!

There's no tried and true timing to when the jars will seal but you will hear popping, probably, up into the late evening hours. Some seal right away and some take a few hours and either is just fine.

I'm going to leave you with a great video that actually shows this process, step by step. The gentleman in this video does things just a bit differently in certain instances than I do, but hey, we're all a little different. I'm sure you'll find things that work for you as well, that others might not do. At any rate, please enjoy the video and be sure to drop a comment to let us know what you think!

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