Welcome to Growbox Hill

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Canning tomatoes

Tis the season for some more canning.. Fa la la la, for winter cooking...

Picked up 10 pounds of tomatoes the other day- had to let them sit a couple days to ensure they were all perfectly ripe. Now they are 7 pint and a half jars, and 5 half pint jars of canned tomatoes. I could have probably done a 6th half pint, but I didn't throw the extra jar in for sanitizing, oops.

10 pounds ripe tomatoes
Bottle of lemon juice
Salt- optional
Jars- 7 pint and a half, 6 half pint. 
Biggest stockpot for big jars
Smaller stockpot for cooking tomatoes and to can the half pint jars
Smallest stockpot for blanching- wash out and reuse for keeping heat on tomatoes for second round
1 large bowl for icebath
1 large bowl to hold the tomatoes after shocking
1 small pot for heating lids in water
cutting board and knife
jar lifter, cap magnet, something to disturb air bubbles out
damp towel, to wipe your jars with
large dishtowel, to lay like a tablecloth on your counter to work on- there's lots of water splashing about.
White vinegar- helps keep mineral deposits from sticking to the jars if you have hard water, this goes into the bathwater.


Prepare your tomatoes. Get boiling water going in the smallest stockpot, and set up a big bowl with icewater. Have the second large bowl empty and ready too. Have your canner prepped with the big jars at well, but don't put it on the stove yet, it will just get in your way.
Score the bottoms of your tomatoes with a sharp knife in an X- this helps slip the skins.
Plunge the tomatoes a few at a time into the pot, and let sit for 30-60 seconds, just until the skins start to crack. Then plunge into the icewater to let them chill out for a moment.
As you are rotating in your tomatoes and icebathing them- pull the cooled ones out of the icebath and into that empty bowl. Once you are done, dump the icewater- you will be using this bowl again.
After you have blanched and shocked all your tomatoes, time to prep them for canning.
First, slip off all the skins- toss the tomatoes into the bowl that held the icewater. Trust me on this, it's way easier to slip the skins and get them all off before you start chopping into the tomatoes than it is to do it while chopping.
Second, after you have slipped all the skins, proceed to knifework. Core, quarter, and cross quarter the tomatoes. If there are any icky spots, now is the time to cut them out. As you chop them up, toss them into smaller stockpot- it will get filled! After several tomatoes, you can turn the heat on to medium low to get the tomatoes started, and mash them a bit with a potato masher. Keep chopping a few and mashing in a little till all the tomatoes are cut up. Remove the pot from the handy front burner spot to the back burner, and keep the tomatoes steaming but not quite burbling, stirring with the masher.
Now put your canner onto the stove and hit it with high heat. It will take a while for it to really get going and sanitize the jars, and the tomatoes take a while too to start softening and breaking down.
When your pot with the jars hits boiling, turn up the heat a bit under the tomatoes to really get them burbling good and hot for canning up. 
Once your jars are sanitized, remove them from the water and allow to air dry for the couple moments it takes. Then place 2 Tablespoons lemon juice into each jar. Add 1 teaspoon salt, optional.
Now fill, debubble, wipe, and lid jars in standard canning fashion.
Once they are all filled, drop them into your big pot, and set the timer for 45 minutes. This is the time given to quarts.
On to half pints...
Scoop out all the rest of the tomatoes into your smallest stockpot to keep it on heat till you are ready to use. Scrub out your smaller stockpot right quick and set up your half pint jars in it, and sanitize.
Pull your jars, let air dry.. Then 2 teaspoons of lemon juice into each. 1/2 teaspoon salt, optional.
Fill just like the big jars.
Place into the pot, and set the timer for 40 minutes. This is the time for pint jars.

Doing jars in the pots in rotation means you can keep going, and don't have to wait around for the big pot to be free.

Don't forget- when using off sized jars, or smaller jars than suggested- Use the next step up in time. For example, use pint time for half pint jars, quart time for pint and a half jars. DO NOT step up jars and add time for this. Better to over time with this than guess and be under time.

Lemon juice is a critical ingredient here. Tomatoes are one of the higher acid foods, yep. But not quite high enough on it's own to be completely safe without the addition of lemon juice. Botulism kills folks. If the tomatoes are too acidic when being used, add a bit of sweetener when cooking up- I generally use either plain white sugar or molasses depending on what I'm cooking.

This is what 10 pounds of tomatoes looks like all canned up and cooling. The box in the background is the box I picked up the tomatoes in. This was taken while still hot, I've taken off the rings for them to cool overnight. In the morning, they will get wiped down, labeled, and the rings loosely screwed back on for the pantry shelf. Why am I putting the rings back on this time? Because on the bottom shelf they are more likely to get banged, and the rings will protect from damage or accidental seal popping that way. Loosely screwed so that if the seal does break, the ring does not hold in a possible re-seal. And if a jar gets knocked over and unseals, less chance of total dumping in the pantry, lol.

As a side note, I now have enough pint and a half jars on the bottom shelf that I have found it necessary to use the boxes the jars came in for storage. And I now have empty boxes that need filling.

Other diddlydo's today...
Last night I put the last two zucchini shredded up onto the dehydrator. It only took up 2 trays, so I chopped up the tail end of the celery before it went ick, and yep, trying once again the celery growing thing- I forgot to water the last one and it died, lol. I also sliced up three big onions while they were still good and filled the last three trays with them. So a bit more for the pantry instead of the compost pile, yay!
I cleaned out the crunchy corner of the pantry today- We had a handful of boxes crackers- a little bit in each, and all stale. None of them bad, but kind of past fresh cracker eating action. So I spread them all out over a couple lipped cookie sheets, toasted them in a 350 oven for 15 minutes or so to toast and unstale them, swapping them out halfway through, then ground them up in my mini-processor to crumbs. The result smells wonderful! I used a recycled coffee can to store them in the pantry.

What will I use these for, and why didn't I just toss them for the birds? Reading up a lot lately has led me to knowing processed starch bits humans consume in general isn't very good for wildlife. A nice little junk food sometimes. And I figured stale bread makes good bread crumbs, so why not cracker crumbs? Yep, it's a little chunky- if I want the grind finer later I can always grind some more. And cracker crumbs can be used for most other crumb applications in cooking.

As a total aside in yard stuff.. I dumped out and cleaned out the counter bucket for the compost pile recently. When I dug in a hole in the newly dumped pile of horse poo in the compost area.. I noticed heat and steam coming out of the pile!
And I seriously need to weed down that area- the new infusion of plant food has really driven the plants crazy. I will have a mound of holy shit come springtime. And now I'm really getting a decent feel for what we do in kitchen scraps for feeding worms. And sheesh, now I know I do need insulation on the worm boxes to proceed.
I need to do a bunch of cleanup in the yard actually. To the firepit and the compost heap. Now that the goodly neighbor has offered up a fixed tractor wagon for me to use, I think some cleanup will go faster. We still need to save up and get one ourselves, but this makes some yard stuff much easier. Several barrows is great exercise, but still..

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