Tomato Talk

(Yay! section 3 of the Catamount knit along is live)

It’s that time of year when you can’t tell from the harvest if we’re in summer or autumn.

harvest
The biggest sugar-baby watermelon I’ve ever harvested next to some of the smallest winter squash. A few tomatoes, summer squash, broccoli, and a GIANT bag of tomatillos. Anyone have a good tomatillo recipe?

The weather feels the same way, like it can’t decide if it’s summer or autumn. But I’m getting out of bed in the dark now so that’s a clear sign of the change of seasons. Also there’s a danger of frost in the coldest mountain hollows tonight. Yet another great reason to live on the side of the mountains and not down in the valley.

It must be tomato canning season, because I’ve gotten more then a few questions from friends who know me about canning them. Fresh local tomatoes are one of the best things about summer. And like many others, I ascribe to the idea that canning them now makes for better tasting tomato meals all winter then buying those foamy pink round things the grocery store sells labeled as tomatoes.* So here’s my tomato advice, even though no one here has asked, because opinions are one of the things I do best!

Equipment:
The big black with white speckles canning pot is totally worth the investment. I have a wire jar rack, but I’m not convinced it’s as useful as they claim.
The magnetic lid lifters are worth TWICE their weight in gold (except gold’s not magnetic) and for several years I couldn’t find one, so I did this chopstick like thing with butter knives and dropped the little lids everywhere – not good for sanitization.
Get jars in lots of shapes and sizes.

Setup:
Wear comfortable shoes! Standing in the kitchen all day is surprisingly hard on your feet.
Plan a whole day for your first batch, it always takes longer then you think it will.
Think about how much pasta sauce you use in a meal and use appropriate sized jars.

Processing:
A squeezo or something else to separate the seeds and skin from the juice and pulp – totally worth the price of admission (but not a requirement)
If you don’t have a food mill to separate the skins and seeds dip the tomatoes in boiling water just until the skins split, they’ll be much easier to peel.
Don’t use less acid then the recipe calls for but change the spices all you want.

I use boiling water bath canning for my tomatoes. Yes, I’ve heard the rumor that agriculture extensions are considering changing their advice to pressure canning for tomatoes. I just don’t think it applies to my tomatoes. Super-market tomatoes have been bred to grow in fertilized-watered sand, ship well, store for a long time, and ripen off the vine. All this means a lower amount of acid in the fruit. Some are even marketed as “low acid!” like that’s a good thing (which it probably is, if you have acid reflux problems) That is bad news for canning these tomatoes. But for those of us canning with tomatoes grown in fields of dirt by local farmers (the delicious, amazing, fresh, flavorful tomatoes that are actually worth canning) well I’m assuming my tomatoes have enough acid to can in a water bath. When in doubt, add 4T of 5% vinegar per quart of tomatoes to the recipe. That’ll up the acid enough for boiling water bath canning.

*I have this theory that even the “vine ripened” tomatoes at the store are picked green. They’re just picked green vine and all and allowed to ripen on their little sections of vine in the giant ripening warehouses of industrial agriculture. I don’t actually know this, but I suspect it…

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4 responses to “Tomato Talk

  1. I can admit to being one of the many asking questions!

    I would also like to say that my heartburn is far, far worse when I eat local tomatoes than when I eat store bought ones. I blame higher levels of acid :)

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