My dad and I made a plan last Thanksgiving to get together for an end-of-summer tomato canning adventure. Yes, you read that correctly: we were already thinking about preserving tomatoes before it was time to plant any.
According to my dad and grandma, I come from a family who did some serious canning. My grandmother grew up on a dairy farm, where her parents made pickles, sauerkrauts, sauces and jams throughout the summer months. I never got to meet my great-grandparents, but I did get to taste a batch of my great-grandmother’s raspberry jam eleven years after she passed away.
The jam had been hiding in an opaque, wax-sealed container in my grandmother’s fridge. Curious about what was inside, my dad and I broke the seal and discovered the jam (which was perfectly intact). I was in first grade and had zero knowledge about canning and preserving. I’d always assumed that jam was only a factory product made exclusively by Smucker’s—so I had a lot of questions such as, “why is Grammy Annie’s so much better?”. I felt a connection with her that day, even though she’d passed away a few years before I was born.
My life couldn’t be more different than my great-grandmother’s was at my age. She lived on a farm, I live in a city. She raised cows, I raise two cats. She grew her own crops, I buy mine at the grocery store. And while I certainly don’t need to preserve my food the way she did, I still like to. It gives me a chance to eat summer fruits and vegetables during the months when warm weather and fresh, juicy tomatoes are a distant memory.
To keep us fed for the upcoming chilly months, my dad placed an order at his local farm in New Jersey for 90 pounds of plum tomatoes. We got my stepmom, my husband, my grandma, and a family friend involved—and made a weekend out of boiling, peeling, juicing, saucing and roasting. Here’s what we ended up with:
10 lbs of tomatoes got halved along the equator and placed face-up in baking dishes with extra virgin olive oil and small heads of garlic. We slow-roasted them in a 275° oven for about 4-5 hours, until the tomatoes were puckered, but still juicy. The garlic was soft and fragrant, and peeled easily. We slipped the tomatoes and garlic into jars with salt, crushed red pepper, dry thyme and a splash of red wine vinegar. We covered them all the way to the top with extra virgin olive oil, making sure everything was fully submerged. We’re not sure how long they’ll hold up (as we did not seal them the way most food safety people would recommend), but we suspect they’ll keep for a few months in the refrigerator. Truthfully they’ll probably get eaten before any mold could even think about growing.
*inspired by Tara O’Brady‘s Soused Tomatoes
The remaining tomatoes got flash-boiled and shocked in ice water to help loosen their skins. We pared out the woody cores and peeled the tomatoes. Then we halved the tomatoes along the equator, squeezed the juices and seeds into a bowl, and quartered the tomato halves. We simmered the tomato chunks with a pinch of salt, allowing the juices to evaporate and the flavors to develop. After an hour or two of simmering, we funneled the hot sauce into heated pint jars with 1 tsp of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt per jar, and boiled the jars.
Puréed Tomatoes with Roasted Red Pepper
Some of the sauce had a little extra time on the stove. We boiled a bit of it down to a thicker paste and puréed it with roasted red peppers. Into heated half-pint jars it went with 1/2 tsp salt per jar (no lemon juice this time), and a 35-minute-long boil in the canning kettle.
Remember all of those juices from the boiled, peeled and squeezed tomatoes? We ran the juice and skins through a food mill, leaving us with about 9 quarts of tomato juice. We boiled the juice and canned it in heated 2-quart jars with 4 tsp of lemon juice and 2 tsp salt per jar.
I forgot my camera at home during our canning adventure, which is probably for the best. My hands and clothes were far too dirty to be handling electronics—plus, I’m a little relieved I could focus on time with my family without worrying about lighting and styling our experience (imagine that on my Grammy Annie’s to-do list).
I did snap a photo once I got home (see above), right before I hid each of our creations in my pantry and refrigerator. There they’ll stay for as long as I can stand it—I’ve got 10 months until next year’s tomato harvest, so I’d better make these jars last.