Thursday, July 10, 2014

When Life Hands You Tomatoes...Preserving Tomatoes Part One

You make salsa. Obviously! This is Part One of a series I will use to show the various ways that I preserve tomatoes. 

I think the interest in canning, at least in the circles I'm in, has been increasing. People like having pretty jars of New Jersey produce sitting on their shelves for the winter and they're nice to give as gifts during the holidays for out of state family and friends. 

Usually people who have never canned before are apprehensive to begin, or afraid of messing it up and wasting the produce or getting someone sick. The truth is if you follow only a few simple steps it is pretty much foolproof, and it is possible to teach yourself with internet technology. I have had bumps along the way and learned the hard way at times, but the more I do the more I learn. I continue to learn every time I take on a new canning project. 

My favorite cheat trick that is wonderful for first timers are the preserve packets you can find in the grocery store. To mix up the batch of salsa I made today, I used this brand. Their product is consistent and comes with easy to follow instructions. I got mine at the end of the season last year at tractor supply, and they were 75% off! So be looking for those end of season sales. I guess using a mix packet isn't ideal for everyone, but with three small kids it makes it possible for me to preserve double what I would be able to other wise. Not much thinking or planning is required, which is perfect in my book :) 

Here's how I did it:

1. I started with about 12 pounds of plum tomatoes that were given to me, for free! Great start, since my tomatoes aren't ripe yet. Plus I didn't grow any plum so it will be a nice variation in flavor. I like salsa with plum tomatoes.
2. Start a couple large pots of water boiling, place tomatoes inside, and scald for three minutes. It may take longer, but just wait until you see the skins start to peel away from the rest of the tomato. 
3. Let them cool, and peel and core the tomatoes. Skins should slide right off. Discard the cores (compost, if you have a bin)
4. Place all the tomato flesh in one pot, and with a hand blender or a fork, mash to desired consistency. I like smooth style salsa, so I puree mine pretty well leaving a few larger chunks.
5. Put the pot on the stove and turn on medium high heat. Add seasoning packets and bring to a boil, simmering 10 minutes. (follow instructions on package for amounts to add per pound of tomatoes)
6. Prep your jars. I needed nine pint jars for about 12 pounds of tomatoes. To do this, you submerge them in very hot, almost boiling water, until the jar is very hot. Also submerge the lids and rings. A neat trick I used this time is to put all of my lids and rings in a colander before submerging them, that way you don't need to fish around the pot with tongs for the tiny lids.
7. Ladle the hot salsa into hot jars, and wipe the mouth of the jar to ensure it is clean and dry. Affix lids to jars and twist the ring until it is just tight (not overly tight).
8. Submerge in your canning pot and process (boil) for 40 minutes. 
9. Remove from pot and set the jars somewhere to cool. They shouldn't be disturbed for 24 hours. Jars will make a popping sounds, and you'll know they've sealed if you can push on the center of the lids and they don't move.

And of course, if anyone has questions you can call (if you're a friend), comment or email me. Or invite me over and we can preserve something together! It would be fun.

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