Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yes You Can ~ Tomatoes

What do you do with a whole mess of unwanted tomatoes? When I say "unwanted" what I mean is these are a varieties that Mom and I bought on a whim, and they are not the first ones we reach for when we're making sandwiches or salads. The main harvest of the paste tomatoes for sauce is still a week or so away, and the "unwanted tomatoes are piling up. So, in the jar they go.

I've been through the canning routine before. Several times. And I am still operating on a small scale. I've decided one thing from my experience this weekend. This is a project that needs two people. Or 4 hands. Or something more. I'll just share a few of my pit falls with you and perhaps you can learn from my experience, or share some of your owns to help me get better organised.

The first thing I do is turn on the central air. Because, let's face it... any self respecting mid-century farm wife, in my situation, had she had the opportunity, would have turned on the central air. And I have it, so canning day is one of the top 3 reasons to use it. Then, I empty my kitchen. I don't mean "clear a work space". I mean empty my kitchen. Saturday is the day I clean, and when I clean the kitchen, I really do take everything save the appliances right out. Ask my husband. For this photo, I left the pictures on the wall, and the towels on the stove, but by the time I've cleaned up, those will be gone too! Because, after two hours of canning tomatoes, my kitchen will need to be cleaned. I even take up the braided rug. This is essential.... I already learned that lesson!

Next I assemble my canning paraphernalia, get out my trusty Ball Blue Book and station it on the dining room table where I can get to it for a referral if I feel I'm missing something. (one time I forgot to add lemon juice to increase the acidity, but the people on iDig forum assured me with heirlooms it wasn't a necessary step, and it turned out OK... as in, no one died from botulism)

Then I ask my husband to set up the turkey fryer outside the kitchen porch, and I'm ready to go.

My crew assumes their positions. Mitey Mite hunkers down in the "kitty bomb shelter". She weathers all maelstroms in the small, central room that is the linen closet. If she even thinks she hears a rumble of thunder, she heads straight in there, then cries and wonders why no one else has gone to the safe room in the center of the house. Kitchen cleaning, and canning day are a double whammy.

Tim takes the high road and heads out side to do a little "weeding" along the edge of the apple orchard. (No, I don't know how he got it cut and on the bucket with not a leaf in the lawn, all by himself... I was setting up canning.)

I assemble every large pot I own on the stove top, and start boiling about 10 gallons of water. One for the jars. One for scalding the tomatoes. One for the lids. One for good measure. I wash and core one strainer full of tomatoes. The basket turned out to hold two strainers full. The six jars turned out to hold two strainers full plus... Oh gosh, I'm out of tomatoes... plus a batch of largish "cherry tomatoes" that are good for nothing else... still not enough... plus the ripest of the Costoluto Genovese I'm saving for sauce... I dash around the house rounding up likely looking tomatoes and plunking them in the boiling water. A couple of jars end up a little light anyway, and I top them off with boiling water and remember the lemon juice this time.

This is where it becomes obvious that emptying the kitchen and scattering trivets everywhere was a wise move. I juggle stock pots full of boiling water pouring, splashing and plopping tomatoes everywhere. Sometimes I carry scalded tomatoes one at a time from the stove to the sink with tongs, squish tomatoes into jars and fish out stray pieces of skin. Tomato seeds are stuck to every surface. I get mixed up and put the tomato in the slop jar and the skin in the canning jar. I wish for an extra set of hands to core tomatoes while I stuff jars. My beloved graniteware is again pressed into service. It lends a sense of timelessness to my tomato struggle.

This time I've given the turkey fryer plenty of time to get to a rolling boil. I check it before I'm ready to put the jars in and it's boiled out a good portion of the water. I grab the "for good measure" pot and fill the canner back up, refilling and replacing the pot on the stove without ever turning off the burner. Repeated trips through the screen door lets in a blue fly and I wind up with one flip-flop on and one missing.

The jars go in the bath precisely on schedule. Eyebrows raised... how? Within minutes, the canning bath discolors. Uh-oh, I have a crack. I hope it's just one and I hope I'll be able to figure out where it is without lifting the wrong jar and having it explode tomato juice all over everything. I start the clock and head back inside to start my "real job" which is cleaning the house. Tomatoes have to simmer for 45 minutes, plus another 5 for every thousand feet above sea level. I round up and figure 55 minutes to an hour is good.

I check the fryer every ten minutes to make sure it's still burning and steaming. I trust Tim has given me a full propane tank, but I know a well placed splash can put it out. After half an hour I bring a pot of boiling water out to top it off. Ten minutes later I stick an ear out in the porch, and something doesn't sound right. The fire has gone out, but the gas is still flowing. I relight the flame and note the time. It takes 5 minutes to get a hard boil back up. I add 15 to my finish time.

At 4:10pm I turn off the flame, and pull the wire basket up to rest on the lip and cool the jars a bit. Tim brings them in for me and sets them on the stove top. I've put down a paper towel hoping to pinpoint which jar is cracked, but it's immediately obvious.

So THAT'S what happens when you dilly dally and don't keep your jars hot while filling.....The other 5 are fine.

I scurry about putting the house back together and giving the rest of it a once over with the vacuum and a swiffer duster. Tim packs a cooler of beer while I run through the shower, and we head to the neighbors to unwind. Bob and Trish, fellow gardeners, have invited us over to have a little bon fire to celebrate the harvest. I'm always eager to see what they're up to. Trish is an excellent cook, gardener and home maker and she can out do me any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

...And she's done it again. I was glad I brought my camera, but I didn't linger too long over my canning woes when I saw what they had been up to today.........

Looks like it was a banner year down at the Blanchards. But Trish understands what my day has been like. My tally for the day is 5 quarts of tomatoes. And theirs... I can't even begin to add up the poundage in my head! Oh well, we all deserve a beer anyway.


  1. My goodness, it looks like they even washed their potatoes !

    You described your tomato experience so well that it felt like Melissa and I were standing beside you with tomato seeds in our hair. If it's any consolation, our experiences tend to run toward your end of the scale. I'm off to see about replacing or repairing everything I managed to break this weekend.

    Tell Tim good job on the tree. I was most impressed !

  2. Can I come up to learn how to can? I want to learn, and you can use extra hands =D