Keeping with the theme of color that I seem to have inadvertently started in my recent posts, the past few days have been colored red. No, I have not started a communist revolution. I've been canning tomatoes...lots of them. This is something I have been meaning to do for years, but my reading of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle coupled with my involvement with the Central Vermont Localvores, has moved thought to action. So, this past Saturday, I went to the Farmer's Market and bought two flats of tomatoes from Cate Farm. That is about 25 pounds of tomatoes. Aren't they beautiful? It's amazing to think that on the same land that was covered in snow and frozen solid in March, sprung these gorgeous tomatoes. Now, if I were to really be canning enough food for the winter, these two flats wouldn't just barely scrap the surface of the amount of food needed to ensure that my family didn't starve (or have to eat parsnip soup for 4 months).
After spending a day admiring my tomatoes, I was ready to get to work. First, I of course washed the tomatoes. They are organic, but all of the information that I read about canning gave very strict directions about washing and/or sterilizing pretty much everything involved in the preserving process.
After washing, it was time to get the thin skin off each and every tomato. In order to do this, you bring a big pot of water to a boil, drop the tomatoes in for 30-60 seconds, lift them out and drop them in cold water, and get ready for peeling fun. The tomatoes skin pretty much starts peeling on its own during the boiling/cooling process. The skin then just comes right off with very little effort.
Peeling skin off tomatoes reminds me of a gross hobby I had in grade school that entailed me covering my hands in elmers glue, letting it dry, and then peeling it off. The art teacher did not like this hobby, but it was simply addictive.
OK, back to canning or pre-canning. After peeling all the tomatoes, removing the stem and core, and slicing them in halves and quarters, my kitchen table looked like a tomato shrine.
Now it was time to make the sauce. I threw a little water in a saucepan (do not use oil for sauce if you are canning!). Then, added onions, tomatoes, dried oregano, dried basil, and garlic powder. I went with simple because I figured I could always add other veggies or spices when I am ready to use the sauce. Then I let it simmer for 2 hours. I know what you're thinking, 2 hours is a long time to watch a tomatoes simmer. During this 2 hours, however, there is other work to be done.
I sterilized all the jars and lids in bath of boilin water. Isn't that picture cool? Kind of spooky, huh? You should do this shortly before your sauce or tomatoes are ready because you will want the jars to be hot when you fill them with sauce.
It is almost time to actually put the tomatoes in the can. Before putting the sauce in, ADD 2 TABLESPOONS OF LEMON JUICE PER QUART. This is very important because it prevents spoilage. OK, it's time. Put the sauce in the jar, screw on the lid, place the jars in the big ass pot of boiling water, and put the lid on. The time that you need to leave the jars in boiling water or process varies depending on the state of the tomatoes you are canning (sauce, halves, etc.) and the your altitude. To find out how long to process your sauce and more information on canning tomatoes, I found this site and this site very useful.
So, after all this work, I have six quarts of yummy local organic tomato sauce that I can dig into on a cole winter's night. There is nothing efficient about the canning process, but like knitting, I enjoyed the process. Also, in a time when so much of our work is removed from basic survival, it is a pleasure to actually take a few steps other than taking out my debit card to feed myself. Plus, if you think this sauce looks good now, imagine how good it will look when our yard looks like this. Sorry for the reality check, but that winter thing is why people preserve food.