It is that time of year again...tomatoes are here. Get your fill while they're in season. And to make the experience last, why not try your hand at canning? It doesn't require as much specialized equipment as you'd expect or been told or think- a little improvisation goes a long way in the home kitchen.
I canned a couple of batches of tomatoes the other week after our local farm stand's tomatoes started coming in, an event I look forward to the moment the prior season ends after the first frost.
Since I am not particularly earnest in my canning (my last canning experience was probably five years ago) I don't have the pressure cooker or the various tools that a more frequent home canner would own. I don't have the wide mouth funnel, the can forceps, the bottle racks - oh, I don't have anything, really, except the jars that I pick up when I need them.
When choosing a tomato for canned sauce, I try and pick out tomatoes that contain less water - the meatier they are, the less I'll need to cook down the sauce, and, so the theory goes, the fresher the sauce will taste when I open it up in the dead of winter.
For my sauce I decided to roast the tomatoes to caramelize them a bit and enhance the flavor. After about 15 minutes of roasting in a 375 F oven, the tomatoes internal temperature begins to rise and the resulting steam bursts the skins:
After another 20-30 minutes, the skins begin to blister and wrinkle, sugars begin to caramelize, the tomatoes give off more water and the flavor of the tomato deepens and intensifies:
Because these tomatoes were especially watery, I had to cook down the sauce for a very long time. But first, because I decided I wanted seedless sauce, I ran my tomatoes through a food mill which removed the skins and seeds and produced a fine, velvety tomato puree. Using the food mill was surprisingly slow (much slower than using a chinois, or so I'm telling myself). My mother and I tag teamed the food mill. Thanks mom.
In a separate pan I sauteed some garlic with chilies and dried oregano and basil. I added it to the tomato puree (sometimes I roast the garlic with the tomatoes, but this time I didn't). And cooked the whole thing down until it was thick. I added a couple of teaspoons of fresh lemon juice to increase the acidity - canned products need to be more acidic to keep bacteria at bay.
Meanwhile, in a massive lobste rpot, I was boiling (uh 'sterilizing') my jars and lids. While the sauce was still piping hot, I carefully ladled in the sauce leaving a 1/2 of headroom, wiping down the mouth of the jar with a paper towel doused in boiling water. I then sealed the can and processed it in a hot water bath (boiling) for 45 minutes. Since I didn't have a proper rack to place in the pot, I used a small pot lid to give the jars something to rest on inside the pot. The processing time and acidity were both tips I researched before beginning the process - I made sure to check out a few online and printed resources first. Botulism isn't something I want to cultivate at home.
At the end of two days of sauce making and about 28 lbs of raw tomatoes, I had only 6 12-oz jars and 6 16-oz jars, or just over 10 lbs of sauce. Not a terrific yield. Before the summer ends, I'd like to put away another large batch of sauce. In past years I've simply frozen sauce I've made; this year, with all my things in storage and my life still in limbo, it is easier to make shelf-stable product that I carry with me wherever I end up moving to. It'll be the perfect taste of summer during the January darkness.