Canning jelly and grape juice was so sweet and simple that I got brave enough to try tomatoes the next time. Our small garden yields haven’t been enough to can, so I purchased a box of organic tomatoes from the UT Farmers Market. They were a mix of various heirloom varieties. I remembered from Canning College how to sterilize all jars and lids before using them. I recalled how to blanch the tomatoes to easily remove the skins. I used recipes from the So Easy to Preserve book for canning simple crushed tomatoes as well as from-scratch salsa. The salsa isn’t quite as thick as store-bought, but it has some body to it. It’s a comfort to think that we’ll already have tomatoes for making chili or soup in the middle of winter.
|Cooking Basil-Garlic Tomato Sauce|
|Ketchup and Tomato Sauce|
The first two days of solo canning went so smoothly, and the fresh market tomatoes were so good, that I got really brave. I decided to make my own tomato sauce to use for pasta, as well as my own ketchup. I found the recipes for water bath canning those foods from Fresh Preserving, the folks who make the Ball canning jars. Then I proceeded to nearly waste more than 40 pounds of tomatoes. How did I do it? I forgot the most important rule of canning, which is to follow the directions precisely. Here are some tips, some of which I did not follow closely enough.
1. Make sure your stove and pans are compatible for canning.
I have a glass cooktop, which requires a flat-bottomed canner per the stove’s instruction manual. I made the mistake of purchasing the more common ridged bottom canner that is not recommended for smoothtop stoves. I feel pretty confident about my results because I achieved rolling boils for processing. Yet, there is a safety question when dealing with cooking temperatures and times that are designed to kill harmful bacteria. The wrong pan may not maintain a steady enough hot temperature. Some pans could also damage the stove’s surface.
2. Plan ahead, down to the last detail.
Of course, professional chefs do this all the time. I’m not a chef. When I cook an everyday recipe I can afford to skip or substitute an ingredient if I feel inclined. Not with canning. Even the size of the jars is specified in a recipe. I ended up trying to use a quart jar when I should have used a pint, so I had to increase the amount of lemon juice. The size of the jar can also influence processing times.
3. Timing is everything.
I thought I had everything under control. Yet, the sauces weren’t thickening up like I thought they should. Then, I had to turn off the stove and let the hot, covered pans sit for a while so I could pick up one of my children from an activity. When I returned, the sauces still weren’t thick, so I ended up overcooking them. They reduced more than they should have, yielding half of the amount of finished product that the recipe called for. The pasta sauce did finally thicken up a bit and seems usable. But the ketchup was a disaster. It is still thin and tastes a bit like liquid smoke. I even wonder if I let the blanched tomatoes sit in their ice bath too long before I got them all peeled and quartered for cooking. Perhaps trying to complete both recipes at once is what caused my disaster. I fessed up to my Canning College teacher, Heather Guinn of the Anderson County UT Extension Office that I had made mistakes. She tried to reassure me that homemade ketchup is typically thinner than what we buy at the store, and that it might thicken a bit more after it’s done cooking.
4. Follow all instructions, especially for safety. I’m keeping all of my information sheets from Canning College in a safe place, along with my So Easy to Preserve Cookbook. Next time, I’ll be sure to try one recipe at a time so that I can get each step exactly right.
5. Use only the freshest, firmest produce available. As instructor Guinn told us, make sure you have all your supplies in the kitchen before you start picking vegetables from your garden. Likewise, there’s no point in buying days-old produce that has been or will sit around longer before you preserve it. You want the most nutrients possible; so it should truly be fresh picked.
When you can, buy organic, per the Dirty Dozen list.