What if you could open a jar of tomato sauce in December that has the same vibrant flavor as the heirloom tomatoes you can find this summer at the CFM? Flavor that you know is all natural because you put it there yourself? Gather a bushel or a peck this Saturday and practice a few preservation techniques: freezing, oven drying, and canning.
Freezing: To remove tomato skins, put the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. Take them out, and plunge into an ice water bath. The skins should slide off. Then halve or quarter, removing the seeds and stem areas. Give them a squeeze to get rid of some of that moisture, and set them in a colander while you work on the rest. This will give you a thicker tomato sauce when you cook them. When done processing, fill freezer bags (don’t overfill!) and remove excess air using a soda straw. Place on a tray or flat shelf in freezer so they will freeze flat, then store.
Oven Drying: Dehydrated tomatoes can be used in any cooked food where you would add cut tomatoes. Only use the best tomatoes! Cut in ¼” slices and remove seeds, but not pulp (optional). Salt lightly to draw moisture if desired.
Cover rack in oven or a cake rack with cheesecloth held on with close pins. Place cut tomatoes on rack ½ to 1” apart, cut side up. Heat oven to no more than 140°F and prop the oven door open 4” for airflow. It’s helpful to have a small fan blowing through the crack in the door as well, and make sure to watch carefully as they finish drying because they may scorch.
Equipment: Hot water bath canner with Rack – any large pot will do, but it must be at least 3-4 inches deeper than the height of the jars in order to allow for the jars to be covered by at least 1-2 inches of water at a rapid boil, Jar lifter – used to lift jars from hot water bath, Lid lifter, Non-metallic spatula, Canning Funnel (nice to have), Small pot for lids
Step 1: Check and Prep your jars
Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse, but do not dry. Check jars for seal by running your fingertip around the mouth of the jar, discard any jar with a chip. Place on rack in canner, fill with cool water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Do not boil. Jars should be kept hot until you are ready to use them.
Set screw bands aside. Lids should be placed in a small pan and brought to a simmer (180°F) over medium heat. Do not boil. Lids should be kept hot until you are ready to use them.
Step 2: Prep food
Use only “perfect” red tomatoes for canning*. Blanche tomatoes for less than a minute to remove skins. Remove from boiling water; plunge into cold water to stop cooking. Trim green areas, remove core, and leave whole or cut into pieces.
Step 3: Fill the Jars
Using the jar lifter, remove one jar at a time and set it on a towel on the counter. If you are using a funnel, place it in the jar. Ladle the food into the jar, leaving the headspace (space between the food and the top of the jar) specified by the recipe you are using. Using a non-metallic spatula, slide down between the food and the inside of the jar a few times to remove trapped air bubbles. You may need to add more food to adjust the headspace.
With a clean, damp cloth, wipe the jar rim and threads to ensure a tight seal. Using magnetic lid lifter, remove lid from hot water and place on jar. Attach screw band – do not over tighten; the jar will vent during the canning process.
Return filled jar to elevated rack in the hot water canner. When the rack is filled, lower and begin processing.
Step 4: Heat Process the Jars
When all the jars in the canner are filled, adjust the water so that it covers the jars by at least 2 inches. Put the lid on the canner and bring the water to a rolling boil. The listed processing time for the recipe starts once the water is at a full boil.
Step 5: Cool the Jars
Once the food has been processed, remove the lid and turn off the heat, allowing the canner to cool for 5 minutes before removing the jars. This allows the pressure inside the jars to stabilize. Lift the jars without tilting. Set jars on a heat proof surface on a dry towel and let cool – do not disturb lids while the seal is being formed. You’ll hear them “ting” as the vacuum forms. Properly sealed lids are concave and don’t move when you press on them. You should be able to remove the screw top and lift the jar using only the lid. If the jar has not sealed properly, you must either reprocess it or refrigerate it and use it within a few days. Jars will need to cool for 12-24 hours before being stored in a cool, dry place.
* Article adapted from an original handout written by Trish Percy, who taught a tomato preservation class at the Coppell Farmers Market on July 9, 2011. Trish represents Feed Texas First (www.feedtexasfirst.org) which fosters food independence for North Texas.