How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…. I love thee in a caprese. I love thee in a marinara with garlic and fresh basil. I love thee straight from the vine. I love thee with fresh mozz atop a pizza. I love thee so much that I cannot imagine the long, cold winter months without a taste of your summer sweetness. Thus: I spent yesterday afternoon preserving thee in jars for those chilly days that would come all too soon.
I didn’t think I’d be devoting my afternoon to this endeavor, but 1/2 bushels of tomatoes were only $18 at the local farmer’s market so I readjusted my plans. I would so much rather have my own tomatoes to use for sauces and stews in the winter than buy cans from the grocery store – the flavor was so much better and I knew exactly what I was ingesting. Plus, I tend to use tomatoes as a base for many of my deep winter slow-cooking braises and soups that I never seem to have enough on hand, so I figured I could spend a beautiful summer’s afternoon indoors.
Once home I dug out my quart jars, washed them with soap and water and got my large canning pot filled with water and heating on the stove. The sterilizing and then sealing of the jars in the boiling water are by far the most time consuming steps in the canning process. I put the jars I was going to use (today’s batch would be 7 quart jars, which will use only about 2/3 of my half bushel, but my canning pot can only hold that many jars at one time and I didn’t feel like standing over a hot stove deep into the evening) into the water bath to sterilize for ten minutes once the water started to boil. I also put the lids that I would need into a pan on the stove and covered them with water. Once they boiled for a few minutes I put the pan aside for later use.
Next I washed and de-stemmed the tomatoes while boiling a second sauce pan (more wide than deep) half-full of water on another burner. I also prepped a large mixing bowl half filled with ice and water. Once the water on the stove top started to boil, I placed my tomatoes into the pan for about 30 second each, next moving them to the ice water for 1 – 2 minutes, and then finally to a colander to drain and finish cooling. At this point my kitchen had water and tomato juice covering most surfaces.
I was dreading the skinning step, but it was even easier than I remembered from the last time I canned: once the tomatoes were cool, the skins really did slip right off, with only a few so stubborn that I needed my paring knife to fishing them off. I was trying to come up with a creative use for them, but helping out in the compost was the best that I could summon.
Next, I placed about half of the tomatoes back into the (cleaned) sauce pan with just enough water to cover them and turned the heat on medium high, waiting for them to boil. Luckily I realized in time that some of the tomatoes would be too large to fit into the jars whole, so I halved and quartered the bigger fruits.
By now the jars had been sterilized so I carefully, only burning myself slightly, pulled them from the water and got them ready for the tomatoes. In each jar I put 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid (lemon juice can also be used) and a teaspoon of salt. The former is to balance the ph for storage, the latter is for flavor.
Once the tomatoes and water had boiled for two minutes I filled the quart jars, leaving about a half inch headspace. I used a plastic knife to release any air bubbles, cleaned the rim of the jars and then put on the lids, only screwing on the rings loosely. These jars all went back into the canning pot and boiled for 45 minutes to finish sealing.
Sure my kitchen floor was damp and my towels were stained with red juice. But I knew when I pulled those jars from the cupboard months later, when there might be snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees, that I would remember this day, the sweat dripping from my brow (more from the humidity than the exertion), and the satisfying pops I heard as the jars sealed in the taste of summer.