Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trying New Things - Canning Tomatoes

Seems like I do a lot of confessing on this blog, so if you'll forgive me (you will, won't you?) I'll share another one with you. If you are what you eat, then it's no wonder I eat a lot of chicken, because that's what I am when it comes to doing new things. One big ol' scaredy chicken. I guess when your childhood accomplishments are received with statements like "Well of course you got straight As...of course you won the talent show...." you tend to start thinking that failure is not only not an option, it's completely unacceptable.

My parents meant well. They really did.

So when it came time to start canning last year, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. After reading "Putting Food By", a book which warns about the risks of botulism due to improper canning on almost every. single. page. I was convinced that I'd surely do something wrong like, oh I don't know, maybe leave a speck of dirt inside the canning jar and kill my entire family with food poisoning! It didn't matter how many times friends or family would say, "It's not that hard, you can do it!" I was completely convinced I'd make some tiny mistake that would prove fatal.

Yes, I have dramatic tendencies. And a huge fear of failure.

So the only canning that happened last year was whatever my husband undertook. And between you and me, I got a tad bit jealous. And embarrassed at myself. Sitting in the living room with my little ones, I could hear him out in the kitchen, laughing and having a good time with the big girls. And guess what? Of all the jars of jams, preserves and apple butter he canned, not one gave us food poisoning.

This year, our tomato crop is coming in beautifully, and I've decided that I'd be dog-gone if I didn't get at least a few quarts put up. Bless his heart, my husband didn't bat an eye when I asked him if he'd walk me through my first time canning, he just smiled and said, "Sure thing, honey, any time you're ready." I think he must have known I'd ask eventually.

(Have I mentioned lately how much I love my husband? And what a lucky woman I am to have someone so patient and understanding with my drama-queen, emotionally-challenged self? Because I so am lucky to have him.)

And, as you're about to see, it's really not that hard after all.

First, we get the jars and lids ready. (Sorry, I didn't include a shot of the lids simmering. I ordered a neat little gadget to hold the lids in the simmering water, but it didn't arrive until the day after we canned. Now that I've overcome my fears, I'll be using it and sharing my thoughts on how well it works soon.)

You need to have a big bowl of ice water nearby because you want to blanch the tomatoes before processing them.

I don't know who discovered "blanching", but they were a genius, I tell you. Put your vegetables in boiling water for 30-45 seconds, pull them out and put them in ice water to stop the cooking process. What do you get? Vegetables that retain their freshness and have an amazing color. Seriously, aren't those some of the most beautiful red tomatoes you've ever seen? (And they weren't even Photoshopped, honestly!)

Give the tomatoes a chance to chill, then core and peel.

Oh, did I mention that another benefit of blanching is how easy the skin comes off?

Lots of them just slid right off.

Tomatoes are a "high-acid vegetable", which means you don't have to use a pressure canner, but you do want to add an acid to your jar to raise the pH level. Two tablespoons of lemon juice for a quart jar does the trick nicely. (It's a good idea to put the lemon juice in the jar before the tomatoes, just so you don't accidentally forget it.)

Fill the jars with tomatoes and a little hot water, use a rubber spatula to make sure there aren't any air bubbles, put on the lids, twist the rings finger-tight, put them in your big pot of boiling water and put the lid on. Once the water returns to a rolling boil, let them sit in there for 45 minutes (40 minutes for pints). Pull them out, set them on the counter with a towel over the top of them until they cool. If you hear a "ping" sound, it's the lids sealing into place properly. If you don't, you can keep that jar in the fridge for about a week and use them right away.*

Basically, that was it!  We had one jar that didn't seal properly, so we used it the next night for pizza sauce and oh my goodness, it was delicious! (And no one got sick to their stomach, either!)

I'm so elated from this experience that I'd like to make a little proposal to you. I'm going to try something new (to me) every week and share my results, good or bad, here every Tuesday, and I'm inviting you to join me. If there are things you've always wanted to try but haven't, may I be so bold as to suggest that this is a great time to do it? Whatever has been holding you back, whether fear, lack of time or whatever, don't put it off any longer. It can be as big or small a project as you want to make it...it doesn't even have to be finished in one week. It just needs to be something you've always wanted to try but just hadn't worked up the gumption to do before. Ever wanted to learn how to knit? Make a quilt? How about something even simpler, like planting some herb seeds in containers and growing them in your kitchen? Or maybe something purely creative, like painting with watercolors? It doesn't matter what it is, it doesn't even matter whether or not we "succeed". The real success will be simply in trying. I hope you'll join me.

*Please note that these are not fully detailed instructions on the proper method of canning tomatoes. For an accurate step-by-step procedure, I highly recommend Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.  


Q said...

SO glad you tried it. Canning is like foreign-older-child adoption. All the books are full of dread and despair and trouble. Food poisoning, botulism, RAD and food hoarding. But what we don't see and hear about are all the pantries across the country bursting with canned produce and all the families with happily situated children.

Congratulations on conquering a fear!

Mika said...

I'm in...today, I make pickles! Ok, maybe tomorrow. We'll see. I'm scared I'll screw them up.

Soul sista'!

Wendy said...

Q, love the comparison...so true!

Mika, You. Can. Do. It. Deep breath and....GO!

Sheila said...

I love to make jams & jellies, haven't done it in so long..your making me want to drag the big pot out & try it again! I want to make salsa & green tomato pickles!

Wendy said...

Sheila, I'm betting you've got some awesome recipes! Go for it!

debbie said...

Good job wendy!!


Wendy said...

Thank you Debbie!

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