Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tomato Canning Fest 2009

We'd been planning on canning tomatoes for the winter season for a while now. Just waiting for tomatoes to be at their peak and for the prices to drop before setting out on our culinary adventure. Finally, last Thurday was the day to go to the market and buy -- are you ready? --132 pounds of tomatoes! And are you ready for this? For a mere 20 cents per pound!

We bought two big boxes of tomatoes.

While I washed all the canning jars, John washed the tomatoes. He transferred tomatoes to a big plastic basin and washed them in the bathtub. When you're washing 132 lbs of tomatoes, you want to maximize your efficiency quotient. Or something like that.

We used every single large pot, pan and bowl within a 5 mile radius.

We decided to raw pack the tomatoes in their own juices. So John started coring tomatoes and making the puree in the blender.

In the meantime, I was manning the canning operations. I heated the jars and the rings in one pot and the lids in another to 180 degrees, being careful not to boil the lids. If you boil the lids, disaster ensues. The gummy red ring on the lid won't work properly if you boil it. And we all want to reduce our chances of botulism in February in Dushanbe.

We managed to figure out our assembly line, grateful we found an extra table-top electric two-burner stove. We heated the jars in the two big pots and when the water temp hit 180, one by one we took a jar, filled it with citric acid and salt, packed it with quartered tomatoes and filled it with the pureed tomatoes. And then of course, the careful wiping of the rim, the exact placement of the lid, the finger-tight ring twisting and putting back into the water bath.

Once all seven jars were back in the water bath and the water started boiling, we starting counting down our 45 minutes. Once that was reached, we turned the heat off and let the jars hang out for a while to equalize. Sometimes I like to do that, too. Equalize.

We repeated this process I don't even know how many times. I do know that I picked John up at 8.15 am and he left around 4.30 and I finished the last batch around 6.00 pm. I now have a newfound appreciation for cooks that stand on their feet all day long.

As novice canners, there were definite learning curve issues. After the first batch, we learned to pack the tomatoes tighter to avoid "float". We learned that you can't get all of the air bubbles out and some fact checking on the internet seems to indicate that some are ok as long as you have a tight seal. And all 24 pints and 11 quarts sealed properly.

After sitting untouched for 24 hours, this is what our bounty looks like.

Not bad for a days work.

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