Thursday, October 24, 2013

Preserving Tomatoes

Today I finished processing a bunch of tomatoes, and although it was a bit of work, it felt very good being able to put my quarts of tomatoes onto my pantry shelf.  My family goes through a lot of tomato products.  We eat pizza, we eat spaghetti, we eat lasagna.  We like tomatoes on our tacos, we like tomatoes on our salads, we like tomatoes in our soup.  My kids would eat ketchup on pretty much anything.  They even dip their carrots into it. With all these tomato based foods, how do you decide how much to make of pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce to last you?  Simple, you don't. 

Now, if you are just making something tomato based for your pantry, consider just canning plain tomatoes without adding anything to them.  Spices, salt, and pepper can easily be added later with a little planning.  But you wouldn't be preserving your own tomatoes if you weren't doing a little planning already, so just take this into consideration. 

Basic tomato base recipe- makes 6 quarts or 12 pints

30 lbs of tomatoes- any variety really, I added everything I had although most of them were of a "paste" variety
Citric acid or lemon juice

1. Start with dicing 6 to 8 tomatoes and add them into a large cook pot on LOW heat.  My stove gets really hot really fast, and there isn't a lot in the pot yet, so be careful you don't burn anything. The heat can be turned up later as the pot becomes more full. 

2. Stir those around and keep adding more diced tomatoes until your 30 pounds is gone. Crushing them is also very helpful, but for whatever reason, after I started this, I found that I did not really have anything that would crush very well, so I did not actually do that to them.

3. Cook them down until they get a nice even deep red color. It will start to look less like water, and more tomatoe-y (if that makes sense).

4. Keep close, and stir on occasion to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. Nothing worse than getting that burned taste in your hard work.

4. After I cooked them down to my satisfaction (this took several hours, so be patient), I put my paste through the Norpro Sauce Master.  This was super easy, and it made trying to get all the peals out of my tomatoes seem like quite the breeze.  If you have ever sat and tried to peal all the skins off of tomatoes in the past, then you will truly be able to appreciate the effortlessness of this machine.  It's hand crank, which I prefer.  And it was very easy to clean afterwards.  I was easily able to wash the screen with a baby bottle brush.

5. I then put the sauce into clean, hot quart sized mason jars.  This will easily fit into 6 quart sized jars, or 12 pint jars.  Add either citric acid to each jar before adding the tomatoes or add lemon juice. 

Lemon Juice
Pint- 1 1/2 tsp
Quart- 1 tbsp

Citric Acid
Pint- 1/4 tsp
Quart- 1/2 tsp

Leave 1/2 inch of head space.

6. Wipe the edges of the newly filled jars, and put in the canner. Process for 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts after the canner has reached a rolling boil. Wait 5 minutes to take them out.  Put them some place cool to store and leave them alone for 24 hours. You will know you have preserved them successfully when the tops are pushed down.

Now- you have your tomato base. 

But what can you do with it?  The possibilities here are just absolutely endless.  But for now, let's keep it simple.

Italian Season blend
Basil- 4 parts
Thyme- 4 parts
Oregano- 4 parts
Rosemary- 2 parts
Sage- 2 parts
Garlic powder- 1 part

I have also put out a blog in the past on how to make a mix similar to Tony Cachere's cajun seasoning (it's a favorite at my house).

To make this into spaghetti sauce, add the following to your base- I make the quart size jars for spaghetti sauce

Your italian seasoning mix to taste
Salt about 1 tsp to a pint, 2 tsp to a quart

Fresh black pepper
More garlic???  (I love garlic)
Onion diced
Celery chopped
Green onion chopped
Bell pepper diced

Let this sit on the stove after it has come out of the jar and simmer on medium heat until the ingredients are well incorporated.  Taste it often to know where you are at. 

To make this into pizza sauce, add the following to your base- I make the pint size jars to use for pizza sauce.
Fresh black pepper
Garlic powder
Olive Oil- 2 tbsp to a pint jar
Red wine (optional)

And if you want to get really high speed with the homemade pizza sauce, you can go ahead and make a from-scratch pizza crust, too.  By this time, I have made so many pizzas, that I think I have perfected the perfect pizza crust.  Check out that recipe here.

Now, we are all about saving some money.  Money saved, is money earned.  So, I am going to try and encourage everyone who has any intention of doing any large amount of preserving to try and grow some tomato plants to use in your canning.  This is so beneficial for everyone for so many reasons.  It's just generally good for your health to get outside and experience nature.  It's good that you know where your food is coming from specifically, and it's good when people take control of what goes into the food they are eating.  Try to grow your plants and limit the pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and every other -icides. 

You can grow a tomato plant in a pot, you can grow it in a box, you can grow it in the ground, or almost anywhere.  You can grow it in a cage, or up a trellis, or train it up a stick.  It's all up to you.  Look into your specific location to find out what tomatoes grow best in your area, and I would also recommend trying to stick with heritage and heirloom varieties so that while you are eating all the wonderful tomatoes you grew, you can take some of the seeds and save them for next years harvest.   The only thing you really, really need to know about tomatoes is that they HAVE to be rotated every year, and cannot go into the same plot of ground for four years.  This is because tomatoes can be susceptible to disease and bacteria that gets into the soil where the tomatoes grow, and it takes four years to starve it out. 

So, lastly, this is the kind of tomato that I just used to make the paste.  Unfortunately, I did not grow my own this year due to our move, but NEXT YEAR, I will have tomato plants.  I'd already bought these seeds in anticipation and was kind of excited when I saw someone with the same variety at the market.  This tells me that they will do find in this climate and area. 

In the farmers' markets in South Carolina, a pound of tomatoes cost about $1.  Here, at the farmers' markets, they cost about $2.50.  I have found that everything in Minnesota generally costs more.  Anyways, I used 30 pound of tomatoes today to make 6 quarts of tomato base.  The total cost (had I actually paid for all of it) would have been $75.  The cost of a case of mason jars here is about $9.  So, the total project had I paid for the tomatoes, would have cost me $84 for 6 quarts of tomato base.  That's totally unacceptable in my book.  I can't afford that, and I don't know very many people that even if they could- why would they? 

Had I grown my own, I could have easily had 24 tomato plants that would have blown that 30 pounds of tomatoes out of the water for the cost of the seed packet.  A whopping $2.50 plus the $9 for a case of jars.  To keep cost down, I would put them in the ground and cut sticks from the woods to use as stakes.  Yes, it's a lot of work.  But isn't saving money almost always back breaking labor? 

The garden is a labor of love though.  There is the difference. 

Check out other heirloom seeds at Seed Savers- and get the catalog.  I always find their catalogs to be very pretty. 

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