Canning tomatoes

My friend W is taking classes to become a Waldorf teacher. It’s an amazing curriculum based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies about childhood development. For kindergartners, Waldorf teaching emphasizes learning by doing seasonal activities–this teaches the kids that life is a cycle and humans have developed rituals to connect them to the seasons. Children at that age like to feel like there is a plan, that there is a consistent thing going on.

I can’t help but to feel the same way about canning tomatoes. Going on three years now, Bill and I make our pilgrimage to the lovely Blue House Farm, where our friends Ned and Ryan grow the best dry-farmed tomatoes ever. Since the tomatoes aren’t watered during the summer, the flesh is quite sturdy and the fruit taste is concentrated. Once canned, the tomatoes remain whole and, dare I say it? taste better than the fresh fruit. It’s some kind of alchemy, canning.

This year, Bill went to Pescadero solo (I had to work) in October and picked several buckets and boxes of tomatoes. Enough to share with our friends even. And so I began the ritual, once again, of putting up a year’s worth of tomatoes (about 52 jars, one for every week). This year was different in that I used the pressure canner for about half of the jars. My friend W came over and we processed tomatoes late into the night. She even stayed up until 2am and ended up sleeping in our guest room.

Usually I do water bath canning. I sterilize the jars in the oven, then pack as many raw tomatoes into the jar as possible. I top off the jars with leftover jars of already processed tomatoes from the year before, or make a tomato juice by putting a bunch of the less than perfect tomatoes into the blender. Then I add lemon juice to the tomatoes (just to make sure they are acid enough and to retain color), screw on the lids, and process for an hour and a half. Yes, that takes forever. Even with a huge canning cauldron, I can only fit 9 jars.

Enter the pressure canner. Same exact process with the jars, except I don’t *have* to add the lemon juice. The temperature gets to 250 degrees, so any botulism is killed by this high temp. I closed the lid to the pressure canner, let it vent steam for about 10 minutes, then put on the stopper and process for 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes to let the canner lose pressure. So, effectively, the p.c. cuts the processing time in half. And it gives me peace of mind.

But how do the tomatoes taste? you ask.

Bill and I did a blind taste test and found that…drum roll…the p.c. canned tomatoes taste better, more tomatoe-y, richer, and more perky. Of course the water bath toms are great too. The canned tomatoes are wonderful pantry items to use in soups and stews, pasta sauces, pizza sauce.

But the real show-stealer this year was some slow-roasted tomatoes from our garden. I picked all those pesky cherry tomatoes–the sungolds, the currants, the volunteers–drizzled olive oil over them, then stuck them in a slow oven (230) to cook for a few hours. The result is a candy-sweet, smoky tomato paste. Some people might call it a confit. This I jarred up and canned as well. It works great to add a small jar of the oven-roasted tomatoes to a regular jar of tomatoes to make pasta sauce. As a pizza sauce, these slow-roasted cherry tomatoes are the best thing ever. Next year I plan to roast the dry-farmed tomatoes as well. Every year, the tomato canning process is being perfected. It is wonderful to learn something new while keeping the ritual intact.

11 responses to “Canning tomatoes

  1. We are interested in Waldorf education for Alexandra. I’d love to get in touch with your friend W to find out more about it.

  2. we fire-roasted some on the grill using mesquite chips before we canned them. Some were the variety called Amana Orange which we canned separately. They look beautiful in the pantry next to the red ones. Delicious too.

  3. You are AWESOME for canning all those tomatoes! My friend Connie and I canned just a few tomatoes and we thought THAT was a sum of work. Pressure canning sounds like the microwave of canning.

    I am going to slow roast tomatoes next year too, you’ve convinced me.

  4. duane: you are *killing* me. now i really need to go out to georgia.
    christine: try it, you’ll like it. or do what duane did.
    heather, check out: eugenewaldorf.org. it runs k-8, but there are waldorf high schools, too. usually they are private schools. but i wish i had gone to waldorf, it’s all about engaging their senses! alex would love it!

  5. One of my friends teaches at a Waldorf school; it has a lot to recommend it. My wife and I also canned a TON of tomatoes from our Oakland backyard this year, and couldn’t be more delighted.

  6. Hey Novella, yuck, the interent can keep us in touch, or non-yuck, not sure…..i moved out of Seattle….thanks so much for the van stay, the tour of built in progress chicken coop, the MuD online edu (colnd’t quite grasp) the self-conscious smoking count cigs, the Odwalla diet as dishwshr, u R amzng, best of lUck..if i ever get 2 oakland, will hollar Hi — You ever get back too shELton? i sometime, in blue moon exponential, visit slight the Virgnai west hills roots i stemmed ceells out of…

  7. You will love the flavor of the roasted tomatoes canned! After tasting that flavor, I can’t go back to the old way.

    Found you somehow from the Eastside Egg Co-op, our old hens were their first ones.

    Nice blog.

  8. Mmmmmmmm, nothing better than home-grown/canned tomatoes! &, the olive oil, oven-roasted ones – ever tried dehydrating them? Another great way to “put up” those peskily proliferate cherry tomatoes we all end up w/ wayyyy too many of. . . not to mention, can sound extra-cool/self-sufficient/cosmopolitan/etc. by saying you make your OWN “sun-dried” tomatoes – best if accompanied by a disdainful snort when talking to those who, *disdainful snort*, BUY them. & pay ridiculous amts of money for . . . shriveled up, dried tomatoes, duh.)

    If you’d like to experiment w/ a much easier/lazier/quicker way of tomato-canning, you might consider trying the “open kettle” method. I don’t know what the actual, technical term might be & suspect that might be a colloquialism, since I’ve never seen or heard “open kettle” being used anywhere but around here. At any rate, all you do is pour/ladle/whatever your cooked/boiling tomatoes (or apples . . . or anything else that’s naturally-acidic, thus not requiring water-bathing or pressure-canning) into your hot, sterilized jars, quick wipe the rim of your jar & screw your hot, sterilized lids on & . . . voila! That’s it!

    Then, just set the freshly-canned jars somewhere, out of the “line of traffic” to cool & listen for the lids to “pop” so you’ll know they sealed. &, be sure that NO ONE touches them in the meantime, either. (A few years ago, I got ummm, shall we say “very strongly chastised” (certainly not to be confused w/: cussed the hell OUT) for fondling some freshly-canned tomatoes at a friend’s house, while admiring them & oohing & ahhing appreciatively –before they’d popped. &, guess what? The ones my dumb, canning-illiterate-at-that-time self had messed with didn’t pop, so she had to re-batch those jars. Oops.)

    Other quick/easy/lazy things I do to speed up the process:
    – Sterilize jars in the microwave – not only faster/easier, less heating up of the kitchen/house thus, less sweating (& swearing); less “energy” use, gas or electric, stove-wise, but . . . also helps weed out the jars that’re too old/tired for another canning use – or, have a hidden flaw somewhere – b/c they’ll crack.
    – Don’t mess w/ peeling the tomatoes (I don’t peel an-y-thing, since so much nutritional value’s lost if you do so, but . . . I do/would if I were using something that was raised “conventionally”, originating from somewhere that used pesticides, insecticides, etc. since, y’know how that’s where most of the residue of that crap ends up: in the peels. Icky.). Okay, so then you’ll have to deal w/ the little peel pieces in your finished product . . . which don’t bother me one bit, but which SOME picky people (esp. those accustomed to “pre-fab/storebought junk”) will bitch abt. Just tell them to pick them out & shut up. & then, throw their “pickings” into your poultry/pig/compost/whatever “slop” container. That’s what I do, anyway. 
    – Throw those bazillions of cherry tomatoes you’re overwhelmed with riiiiight on in there, into your kettle of the “regular” ones you’re cooking for canning. Yep, whole. B/c we’re not peeling, anyway, so what the hell, right?

  9. I have recently learned how to can. I am enjoying it very much. I am still trying to learn all I can. Thank you for sharing your information with us.

  10. May I ask what pressure you canned the roasted tomatoes at and for how long? I’ve been trying to find this recipe, and so far….it’s been difficult.

  11. Rita mercer

    My manual says 35 minutes for tomatoes, I can do it in a shorter time?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s