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Nothing Beats A Homegrown Tomato

This past weekend, we canned tomatoes for the very first time. And not only that, they were tomatoes we grew ourselves, and from heirloom seeds!!

tomatoes 1  

tomatoes 2 

tomatoes 3 

Aren't all those fresh veggies gorgeous?!!  (In the second picture, Two Socks is a kitty that recently adopted us.  She's a great garden helper!)

We were going to attempt this on Saturday, but after taking our three ring circus (aka the three canine furry kids) to the vet - the puppy for the first time (oy vey!) - we were too exhausted to start in the afternoon.

 hard to find good help 

It's hard to find good help! 

So on Sunday we dove in. First I washed all the tomatoes and weighed them in batches. I’m REALLY glad I thought to do that. Since we've never done this before, I realized that would be a good way to help us track how many jars we will need in future endeavors. It’s tough to gauge that when you’re a newbie. While I had plenty of jars washed and ready to go, I didn’t want to heat more of the dome lids that we would need. Maybe they’d be fine, but I just have this thing in my head that I don’t want to repeatedly heat the lids before they actually get used in the full canning process.

We ended up with 30.5 pounds of tomatoes! And that's not counting all I’ve been eating in the last week or so. They are so gorgeous and I’d forgotten how INCREDIBLE a homegrown tomato tastes. They actually have flavor, unlike those you buy at the grocery store.

Next, we boiled a pot of water on the stove to blanch the tomatoes for about 30 seconds. The skins on these are a little thick, so sometimes it took maybe 15 seconds more. We did this in small batches.

We had a cooler of ice water ready and once the tomatoes came out of the boiling water, they went immediately into the ice bath. We discovered that if we left them in there a few minutes to really cool them down all the way through the skins really slid off very easily.

I sliced them horizontally and scooped out most of the seeds. I then cut them up into chunks.

Once they were all diced, we put about ¼ of them into our big enamel stock pot and mashed them with a potato masher while bringing them to a boil to create some good juice for the whole batch. Once they came to a boil and the juices were released, we added the rest and brought them to a boil.

Now here’s where we hit a snag. It was 103 degrees plus really high humidity outside…in other words, miserable. We thought about setting up our outdoor cooker at the end of the house covered by trees, but that would also mean carting pans, jars, etc., etc., back and forth. So we started the water bath canner on the stove inside. That just didn’t work. After about 45 minutes, the water still wasn’t boiling! We were getting frustrated. The tomatoes were ready to go and so were the jars and lids. I finally put the lid on the tomatoes and turned the heat off. I didn’t want to turn them into sauce! We gave up and quickly set up the outdoor propane cooker. I swear, in addition to the larger burner/flames, I think the 100+ temps fired that sucker right up and in 10 minutes or less the canner was at a full rolling boil (granted the water was at least very hot from its eternity on the indoor stove). We actually got two pots going and were finally in business! 

So lesson learned, you just can’t beat the little portable propane two burner outdoor cooker when it comes to canning. Someday, we plan to have a nice deck that is covered. Ideally, it would be great to have a covered carport with an outdoor kitchen set up – counters, water, etc. But honestly I’ll take any space that’s covered to keep that brutal sun off our heads.

We ended up with 15 pints of diced tomatoes (in their own juice) and two pints of just juice.

15 pints  

One of our favorite parts of canning is hearing the lids “ping” after they come out of the canner and cool down. We always joke that “another jar got its wings”.

In addition, we put 11 pounds of home-grown tomatillos into the freezer in bags of one pound each. Making verde sauce or canning those was just too much to tackle in one day and I had read you can just freeze them whole. I think what I’ll do is thaw them out as
needed and make fresh batches of verde sauce when we need it. I can even make a batch on a weekend and use it for a meal during the week.

With the next batch of tomatoes, I’m planning to make rosemary basil “sun dried” tomatoes in our dehydrator. Tomatoes are quartered (or cut into sixths or eighths, depending on the size of the tomato), then marinated in olive oil, smashed garlic, fresh basil and rosemary and salt and then dehydrated. Don’t those sound DIVINE?! Stay tuned…I’ll let you know how those turn out.

Until next time, worms rock.

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