Holding Down the Fort and Canning Tomatoes

September 8, 2011 · 18 comments

I had sort of a quiet catch-up day here at home today while the rest of my sick and recovering-from-being-sick family took group naps, read books, and lounged around. Levi (almost 4) has been sick since Saturday, and I keep thinking that he’s over this nasty bug, but then he’ll relapse back into a lethargic state. Tonight he fell asleep around 5:30 pm, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to sleep all night. Charlotte (just turned 2) is acting almost fine, but is still having a few “issues.” Henry has it the worst of us all. He fell prey to this horrible stomach virus last night, and today, for the first time ever, he cancelled horse appointments to stay home in bed. That means the man is REALLY sick. Miraculously, I feel more or less fine. I was down and out all day Tuesday but woke up doing much better yesterday morning. My parents who were saints to take care of me and my sick kids at the beginning of the week are both sick now, too. Overall it’s been awful, but I’m hoping it can only get better from here, though I may call the pediatrician again in the morning if there’s not some substantial improvement.

I spent a good chunk of the day today picking and canning tomatoes. I don’t have a whole set of beautiful how-to photos because I was in big-time production mode and simultaneously worrying about the sickos. For tips, techniques, and safety guidelines about canning, I’d direct you toward Oregon State University Extension Service’s food preservations resources. They have lots of good stuff on their website, and they have a food safety/preservation hotline staffed by certified volunteers. How cool is that?

Here’s a question for you…

How do YOU preserve tomatoes?

I am partial to the raw-pack method where you do the boiling water dip to peel them, then stuff them into jars, add a little citric acid, and boil them. I feel like it takes the least amount of prep, and I like the consistency and taste when I open them up in the winter. Raw-packed tomatoes do have a few downsides, though. They take up a lot of space/jars, and they don’t all seal consistently. I’ve done nine 7-jar batches so far (I did batches 6-9 today), and I’ve gotten a total of seven jars that didn’t seal the first time. The problems is that the lids allow juice to boil out, which is fine until a seed gets stuck in there and breaks the seal. I usually just wipe the rim of the unsealed jar, put a new lid on it, and boil it again with the next batch, but it bums me out to waste time and propane on hot water bathing jars a second time. Does anyone else have this problem?

(I also always dehydrate a few. Sometimes I’ll do a batch or two of roasted tomato sauce with roasted peppers and then freeze it. It ends up a little on the sweet side, so I often cut it with a jar of raw-packed tomatoes when I’m ready to use it come wintertime.)

Briefly, I wanted to plug a product that will be a fabulous investment for all you fellow canners out there. A few years ago, I bought one of these propane burners kind of on a whim. It was on sale at Bi-Mart (a regional household/hardware chain) for $20. I knew a few home brewers who swore by the set up, so the burner seemed like a good accessory to have at the time.

This type of propane burner is often called a “crab cooker” or a “turkey frier” because they’re awesome for heating up a big pot of liquid fast and keeping it boiling for a long time. I just checked, and you can get one kinda like mine on Amazon here, but shop around a little online or check locally to find a good price. The first year I lived in the cabin, I tried canning on the two-burner stovetop, and it was a near disaster because of the mess and the fact that it took freaking-forever to boil a giant pot of water. I think this turkey frier may have preserved my desire to ever can anything again. I just set it up in the driveway outside the cabin and put my pot on to boil away. It is so nice to keep that vat of hot water out of the house on the hottest days of summer when I’m doing my canning.

(That’s our cat E.B. in the background.)

If you’re a canner or you want to be a canner, go out and get yourself one of these things today. If you don’t already have a good refillable propane tank, get one of them, too. (I think they run about $40). My canner pot that I got at Goodwill circa 2001, just sprang a little leak, so I splurged on a brand-spankin’-new one. I think it cost me $14.

Be well, everyone, and happy canning!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Mac September 9, 2011 at 7:02 am

Have you ever heard of “Putting Food By”? It’s a great canning, pickling, preserving guide.

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Camille September 9, 2011 at 8:50 am

I do have an older copy of it, though I’m not sure where it is at the moment. The few times I’ve cracked it open, I noticed that the boiling times (of the older edition) don’t match up with modern Extension guidelines, which is a little concerning. I also have a vague memory that it suggested sulfering all dried fruits, which seemed unnecessary. I’m lucky that my mother in law (one of two) and a good friend both took a fairly intensive series of classes to become certified Master Preservers, so I usually go to one of them when I have a question about food safety/preservation.

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Amanda W. September 9, 2011 at 9:06 am

Certified Master Preserver – that is COOL.

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Camille September 9, 2011 at 9:12 am

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/douglas/food/dcmfptc

It’s kinda like being a Master Gardener.

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cynthia September 10, 2011 at 3:57 am

i’m a master garderener…this is waayyyyy cooler, lol!

Mo September 9, 2011 at 8:40 am

Yes!!! We use the exact same burner outside for canning (and crawfish boils, and brewing beer). This was my first year canning tomatoes and I have to say, this was my favorite recipe: http://goddesshobbies.blogspot.com/2009/08/preserving-food-roasted-tomato-sauce.html only I cooked mine down a bit more and used an immersion blender to blend it all up. Created an amazing flavor. I’ve had a heck of a time processing jars with the tomatoes, of course it never occurred to me that there could just be a seed causing all the fuss. I think after my 3rd try (I canned on Saturday, Wed and Thursday). I only messed up one jar yesterday! I took it out and the lid popped off. I just stuck that jar in the fridge. I froze a bunch, too, in the beginning because I was feeling overwhelmed. Now I wish I had more tomatoes! I didn’t grow nearly enough this year, but we went to a roma you pick that was $0.25 a lb! That was cheaper than I could have grown them!

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Camille September 9, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I usually do a similar roasted sauce, too, if I have the time.

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Amber September 9, 2011 at 8:49 am

The propane burner is a great idea, especially because I’m down here in the Northern Sacramento Valley and the stove really heats up our little house. Your blog is so intriguing–thanks for sharing so much of your life. My husband is not really the pioneer type, but I’ve been trying to slowly work us into a more self-sufficient lifestyle, thanks in part to the practical advice of experienced folks like you.

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Amanda W. September 9, 2011 at 9:10 am

I haven’t done any canning this year – still mourning the loss of my tomato garden when we moved. I should get over it and get some bulk tomatoes from GTF, but we’ll see if I get around to it. Summer seems to be slipping away so fast. Do you also do pickles and dilly beans and other delectables?

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Camille September 9, 2011 at 9:16 am

We don’t eat a whole lot of pickles, and we always seem to be gifted a few jars to get us through the winter, so no, I’m not much of a pickler. I have done dilly beans though that was years ago. I’ve been thinking of doing up a batch or two of corn or zucchini relish (both are really good), but we’ll see how much time/motivation I have.

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Mo September 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

Oh, I hope you share your zucchini relish recipe! I have zucchini coming out of my ears and I was trying to figure out if I should just freeze it or what. I’d rather make a fun relish! We’ve done lots of pickles this year and I have so much jam made, peach, sour plum, marmalade, pluot! I’m happy that I haven’t had to buy pickles or jam in months. (we got through about a jar of both a week!)

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Eve Geisler September 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

We used to have a burner like yours, but it got left at a corn roast and never was returned! About the juice coming out of the jars…. That used to happen to me and I started screwing the lids down tighter. I used to be afraid of screwing them on tight, fearing some kind of horrible explosion, but the lids expand in the heat and loosen.
Yesterday I did 6 jars of tomato sauce. I seeded the tomatoes, but ran them through a blender without skinning, so I eliminated the boil and dip step. This is a busy time of year. I usually am glad by the first frost as it means the end of canning tomatoes.

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Camille September 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm

From what I hear, you’re supposed to tighten the lids but not give them the full-arm torque to finish it off. I learned recently that you’re never supposed to tighten them up after boiling no matter how loose they may be at that point. I think it’s really the seeds that cause problems, but I’m way too lazy to de-seed my tomatoes.

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Marlyn September 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Camille, do you not cover your jars (with water, not a lid) when you process them?

I did two methods this year. 1) Peel (like you did), crush (with my fist), boil, and hot pack. This is what I’ve been doing for almost 40 years (starting with my mother when I was a kid). We don’t process (water bathe) these — thy tomatoes go into the sterile jars at a hard rolling boil, lids go on immediately. I know this is not an “approved” method but it has worked for me for a very long time — 100 or so quarts a year and over my lifetime maybe 1/2 dozen jars that weren’t perfect when opened. 2) A variation on the recipe Mo posted above. I halved the tomatoes, drizzled with EVOO and sea salt and roasted them at 400 for an hour. Then I milled them. These I processed.

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ecomum September 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm

This year I weaseled my way into my friend’s annual tomato processing day. In about 5 hours, we managed (3 women, 2 kids working, 2 kids preforming theatre, and a dog) to process 7 bushels of tomatoes as sauce. The secrets to success were a tomato mill (though, you could easily do it with an old hand cranker, just takes longer), one of those propane burners, and a big clean oil drum.
We used the burner & a big pot to boil up a bushel at a time, then run them through the mill. Then we bottled, and capped, and placed the jars in layers seperated by cardboard in the big oil drum, which had been set over a cinder block stand high enough to let us slip the burner in under it later.
Once all the jars had been filled, and the oil drum was full to the top with layered jars, we filled the drum up with hot water using a hose hooked to an indoor tap. Then, slipped the propane burner under the drum. It only took the oil drum cum preserving kettle about an hour to come to a boil (using a 3 x 3 cement paving slab as a lid), then we boiled it for an hour more to heat process. The next day, when the bottles had cooled, we were able to remove the bottles.
The whole job took less than 2 tanks of propane, and not too much work!
We ended up with about 7 cases of quart jars — well enough to keep our two families fed through the winter.

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cynthia September 10, 2011 at 3:55 am

the lazy canner! i core the tomatoes, run them thru my blender with a splash of water, pour them into a pot and cook them down. then i jar them up and process them. this way i use seeds, skin and all. a yummy final product.

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Lacey September 10, 2011 at 5:47 pm

yes! I always want to do tutorials–but, when your hands are covered in tomato juices, or peaches, or your up to your elbows in apple sauce it’s just tricky to pick up the camera and take a few shots! but, the real experts at the univ. probably do a more thorough job than I would anyway. Lovely tomatoes–what a thrill it will be to pop open some summer in a the dead of winter!

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Nicole June 10, 2014 at 6:59 am

This is the same set up my boyfriend and I have for home brewing. It’s much much much better than boiling on the stove!!
-Nicole
Mercantile519

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