The Big Tomato Payoff

Friday, September 19, 2014

Heirloom Tomatoes-Bird Back 40
Break it Down! Stop! Tomato Time!

Is your garden like mine? Heirloom tomatoes coming out of your ears? It is that time of year for us heirloom aficionados. Long after the hybrids have played out and stopped producing, the heirlooms move in and take over -- delivering harvest after harvest after harvest.

And if the weather holds? Yet another harvest!

What does one do when nature delivers a boatload of heirloom tomato goodness? A couple like yours truly and the wife that is Venus drags out the canning equipment and starts preparing for some very big canning projects. We can't eat 50 tomatoes in one or two sittings. But we'll make darn sure that each one of them finds it's way into a canning jar of whole tomatoes, tomato sauces or salsa.

First Steps: Wash and Core Tomatoes
There's nothing quite like a warm bite of salsa on a Monday Night Football game played in a snowstorm. That's the payoff, my friends, the big tomato payoff.

This most recent project pays homage to a home-canning professional by the name of Sharon Howard, who plied her trade during decades of gardening in the Alberta, Canada area. I first became aware of Sharon many moons ago when I grabbed one of her recipes for canning dill pickles. She was kind enough to share many tomato sauce and stewed tomato canning recipes that were decades old, resulting in some of the most ridiculously delicious sauces we have ever created.

But on this particular day last August -- the job facing us was fairly simple. My back had healed up to the point where I could actually bend and pick a bounty of a harvest without a nerve or a disc flying off the handle and into the next backyard. The job on this day would be placing as many whole tomatoes into one-quart canning jars and processing the haul through a pressure canning process.

Skinned Tomatoes
The most tedious part of this process would be removing the skins from the actual tomatoes. That's job I leave up to the wife that is Venus. My job is to boil said tomatoes first, in a pot of water. Then place those tomatoes I've stuck in boiling water for one minute into an ice water bath.

With perfect red, round and smooth tomatoes -- those skins will slip off quite easily. But heirloom tomatoes aren't red. They aren't round either. And they are anything but smooth. Heirloom tomatoes are rather unwieldy, cat-faced beasts. It makes the job of peeling off the skins a little tougher, but it's still well worth the effort when those cold winter months roll into town.

Pack Each Jar Full!
As you might be able to guess, this process takes a little time with 50-100 freshly harvested tomatoes. But as we've come to learn in previous years, anything less than 20 one-quart jars of whole tomatoes is going to leave us short when we need them. And I cannot tell you how much I detest the assignment of driving to the store (in cold weather no less) to pick up a can or two of whole or sliced tomatoes.

And do you think our sauces are going to taste as good with something that came out of a common cannery? Perish the thought! Yep -- we're spoiled alright. Mighty spoiled. But it's also spoiled in a good way.

Summer Goodness in a Jar
After the skins are off -- the task gets fairly simple. Once those one-quart jars are washed and sterilized through the boiling water bath process, it's time to add a tablespoon or two of processed lemon juice to each jar, cram them with as many peeled tomatoes as possible, wipe the rims of each jar, seal and process through a 30-minute pressure canning process.

Then end result on this day? 18 quarts of whole tomatoes. Add those 18 quarts to five others that we had put through the canning process earlier this summer, and the Bird household is stocked with whole tomatoes for winter use.

Under Pressure
Ah -- but that's just part of the canning process. Because you can't make a tomato-good pizza sauce without adding a little finished tomato SAUCE to those whole tomatoes. Know what that means? It means another harvest is three weeks off.

You think sauce is important? Well, don't ask me! Rob Schneider of Saturday Night Live fame made sauce famous with his signature lines from skit involving a restaurant called "Hub's Gyros: "You like a de sauce, eh? De sauce is good, eh? I get you more sauce!" Three simple lines. Non-stop laughter.

Simple instructions for canning whole tomatoes can be found here and here.


Chris James said...

Our tomatoes and zucchini were absolutely fantastic this year. I am enjoying the fruits of our labor with fresh tomato sauce and zucchini bread.

Rox said...

Thank you for the canning tip. Everything I have read about canning has to do with relish recipes. I just want to can tomatoes for later use as tomatoes, not relish. Thanks again.