On Thursday, my husband came home from the farm with ten pounds of tomatoes:
Now, there is nothing in the world nicer than fresh tomatoes, but we were expecting another ten or so pounds to come in on Sunday, so we had to think fast. The solution? Run out and buy a gigantic canner:
Okay, so we weren't planning on buying a gigantic canner; we would've settled for a more modest size, but there aren't many places that actually sell canners these days, so we had to make do with what we found, which was this one. Should the occasion arise, we shall be able to can nine quarts of produce at a time. I have no idea where I'm going to put it.
By the way, I'm just going to give you a summary here of what happened next. If you want actual factual information, please don't start canning without going to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. I do not want to be responsible for an outbreak of botulism if I can help it.
So, back to the tomatoes. I decided to can them whole, with orange rind and vinegar. Since some tomatoes are acidic and some less so, you can only can them in a water bath canner if you add acid to them in the form of lemon juice or vinegar. The first step was peeling and coring:
To peel tomatoes, chuck them in a pot of boiling water for about thirty seconds, then remove them to a bowl of cold water and the peels do literally slip off when you pick them up.
Next, you have to clean the jars and lids. You want to boil the jars to sterilize them. The lids you can't boil, because it'll wreck the sealing stuff, but you need to simmer them and attach them while they're still hot:
Once the jars, lids, and tomatoes are ready, you start filling. I tried to fill my jars with an even number of red and yellow tomatoes, and I added a generous couple of pinches of orange rind, salt, sugar, and vinegar. I also filled the jars up with juice that was leftover in the bowl after I peeled and cored them. With tomatoes (and other high-acid foods, I believe) you need to leave a half-inch of headspace (the space between the liquid and the top of the jar rims), so I measured and filled accordingly.
There was plenty of juice for each jar, and some leftover for me to drink with a pinch of salt and a splash of vinegar, over ice. I don't normally drink tomato juice at all, but this was probably one of the more delicious liquids that has ever crossed my tonsils. But I digress:
After filling the jars, you need to wipe the rims clean with a damp cloth to ensure that they seal properly. Then, all that remains is to throw (gently) the jars into the boiling canner, and boil, in this case for an hour and twenty-five minutes. Then you pull them out, let them rest for about 24 hours, and check the seals to make sure they're on properly:
There you have it, all nice and concave. The ones in the back are a bit brownish, because I started seasoning the jars with sherry vinegar, but I ran out, so I added some balsamic into the mix. And none too soon, because we did, indeed get ten more pounds from the farm this Sunday, which I'm planning to do (though probably a plain batch this time) today or tomorrow, as well as some dilly beans from the remainder of the bean crop.
To sum up: canning does take a lot of time, and it makes for a very hot kitchen, but it's not really all that hard work, and it is pretty rewarding. Assuming that all went well and I didn't actually create a potentially poisonous situation, I'll have lovely ripe tomatoes sometime in the dead of winter and feel mighty smug about it.