Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Jarring Tomatoes

Well here we are almost to the middle of August already. Where did the summer go? Soon the leaves will turn and pots of chili and stews will replace grilled steaks and cheeseburgers. I just got back from vacation and went down to take a look at the garden. The tomatoes are flourishing and will be ready to harvest in another four or five weeks. I had a false sense of hope back in June when Sasha, Bailey's Golden Retriever gave chase to our newly adopted stray cat through the tomato garden. Mario nearly had a cow and convinced me that the tomato plants were ruined. As much I as enjoy a nice tomato from the garden, I don't look forward to all the work required to bring them in and can them. So I was secretly proud of Sasha on that day.

But it was not to be. If anything, the trampling of the tomato garden encouraged growth and I can see we have a bumper crop this year. Italian families have a tradition where every September, Tomato Day is declared in the family and all family members are called in to help. And unless you want to swim with the fishes, you'd best show up and be prepared to work. I have no such luxury. Mario picks them and carries the bushels to the stove and I put them all to the jars and store them for the winter. So it takes us at least a week to complete the task. Thank God we both drink wine and love Pink Floyd, so we relax into it and enjoy the music and make a good time of it. Sometimes I boss my music onto the play list too. Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark and the like. :)

Italians make sauce with their tomatoes, but I don't like to back myself into a corner like that. I keep them neutral so I have a lot of choices down the road like jambalaya, chili, tomato soup, bisque, omelets and so on. Plus making tons and tons of sauce is so much more work. If I need a sauce, then I can make it as I need it. And don't feel like you can't jar tomatoes if you don't have a garden! Buy a few baskets of locally grown tomatoes in mid-September when they're at their ripest and jar them up. You will thank me for this suggestion in late January when its minus 30 degrees and a blizzard outside and you can just open a jar and enjoy a burst of summer!

Buy lots and lots of Mason jars. I use the large and the small ones and then I can select whichever size I need according to my recipe. A small jar will hold about 5 tomatoes and the large will hold 8 or 9. Boil the jars and the lids for at least 15 minutes to sterilise them. Lay out some clean tea towels on a very clean counter top and use tongs to remove the jars and lids from the water. Place the jars upside down on the tea towels and also the lids. Don't touch them again after they've been sterilised.
Now bring some big pots of water to the boil and drop your tomatoes into the water. Within a minute or two, the skin will break open. Remove them from the water with tongs and put them into a large strainer or a big bowl. Do this in batches or you will surely become depressed and overwhelmed. I do about 40 tomatoes at a time. When they are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut them into wedges. Now take one jar at a time and fill with the tomatoes. I wouldn't have to tell you that you have clean hands, and smoosh them tightly into the jar. Put a teaspoon of salt at the top of the jar with a teaspoon of white vinegar, and place the seal top and ring on the jar tightening as much as you can.

Now some lucky people have proper canning pots. Most likely they own food processors and deep fryers too. I own none of the above, so I use my big turkey soup pot for the next step. Place as many jars as you can in a standing up position into the pot and add enough water to cover all the jars and about an inch above the tops. Put a dinner plate on top of the jars and a brick or a rock or a weight on top of that so the jars don't float all around and bob up and down during the boiling process. For God sake, don't use your good china plate either. Cover and boil the canned tomatoes for 25 minutes and turn off the heat. Let everything cool down enough to handle so you can remove your jars. Let them cool on the counter overnight and store them for the winter. This is a lot of work, but it's fun work and imagine how proud you'll be to serve a recipe with tomatoes you jarred yourself! Well, let's be honest. This puts you on Goddess level!

This is how they look in the jar. And this is what homemade tomato soup with tomatoes you jarred yourself looks like! I'll teach you the recipe in the next blog.

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