No, this is not the start of a good joke!
There is nothing like the warm, bursting flavour of a home grown tomato. With the warm weather we’ve had this summer, you might have a bumper crop that even you can’t enjoy before they’re destined to go bad. Your best solution? Canning.
Canning may sound like something out of pioneer days to many people, but it’s actually a fairly simple process that will allow you to enjoy the ‘fruits’ of your labour (oh yes, we went there…) for months to come.
Canning Vegetables 101
Contrary to the name, you’re probably not going to be putting your gorgeous crop into metal cans. Indeed, the term ‘canning’ comes from an 1810 patent of the tin can as a method of preserving food safely. It’s still used to refer to the process of preserving despite the fact that many people who put up pickles or other vegetables at home are using glass jars patented by John L. Mason, with the threaded screw lid.
After that little bit of history, let’s look at the process of canning:
Depending on what you are canning, there are two methods: pressure canning and water-bath canning. There is a simple rule as to when to use which: if you are canning vegetables that are being placed in a brine or have high acidity, such as pickles, you can use the water-bath method. Anything low acid? Use the the pressure canning method.
Tomatoes are the wonderful exception! With tomatoes, you can use either method. While tomatoes don’t have a consistently high acid level, they are relatively high in natural acids. You need only add a little extra in the process to ensure that botulism spores don’t develop, no matter which method you choose. Like what? Citric acid powder is one option, as is used in commercial developments, but a readily available option is bottled lemon juice. Just 2 tablespoons of bottled juice per litre of tomatoes should do the trick!
How much time required to process your tomatoes depends on how you’re going to can them: crushed, whole or half tomatoes in water, in tomato juice or with no liquid. Your best bet is to look up a recipe that
- Wash the tomatoes thoroughly;
- Peel them;
- Core and seed them.
Some recipes call for you to jar your tomatoes raw (called cold packing); others say to blanch / heat them first (hot packing). The consensus seems to be that hot packing is best with tomatoes, as they will lose some of their liquid in the process and be less likely to separate in the jar.
Bernardin, the well known makers of jars and other canning accessories, has a variety of recipes on their site worth perusing, including Canning Whole or Halved Tomatoes.
Don’t Like Canning?
If canning whole / half tomatoes isn’t something you want to try your hand at, there are a lot of other great ways to make use of your crop!
Tomato sauce — what’s spaghetti night without a great sauce? No need to buy jars of sauce at the store that don’t even really have great flavour. Plus tomato sauce are a great base for chili, stews and a variety of soup recipes. The beauty of making your own sauce is you can flavour it however you want: spicy, lots of herbs or simple salt and pepper. You’ll need about 5 lbs of tomatoes for a litre of sauce, if you like it thin, 6.5 lbs for a thicker sauce.
Alternatives? How about barbecue sauce, seafood cocktail sauce, pizza sauce. You can have homemade pizza night anytime with your very own base.
Tomato paste — with a few extra ingredients, you can create small jars of thick, luscious tomato paste that is a great addition to stews and soups.
Fresh salsa or pico de gallo — whether with tortilla chips or as your base on delicious bruschetta, you will enjoy the flavours brought from your garden to the table.
Gazpacho — chilled tomato soup is going to be the reminder of summer that you can enjoy for a while longer!
Frozen tomatoes — invest in a vacuum sealer if you want to do this, to ensure a minimum of air that will cause the tomatoes to fall apart. Obviously, they won’t have the same texture as fresh, when thawed, but this is a great way to keep them handy for making your mom’s favourite sauce recipe. Some people call for blanching them first, but that’s not necessary. Wash, dry, core the tomatoes, cut them up and freeze them flat and make them easier to store. You can store them for up to 9 months… or until your fresh batch is ready to pick off the vine!
Roasted tomatoes — slow roasting your tomatoes intensifies the flavours, like sun dried. You can preserve them in oil or you can freeze them to add to your cooking as you need, for months to come! It takes 3 or 4 hours but the flavour is so worth it!
If you want to get ready to grow more tomatoes next year, to enjoy some of these recipes or canning your harvest “Fact: The natural soil types found in the Mississauga area aren’t necessarily conducive to that perfect vegetable garden. Most of the area is comprised of three soil compositions, two of which are heavy in clay: heavy clay and coarse clay. These can be difficult to plant in, being too heavy or too compact.” (Source) All you need to fix that is some high quality vegetable soil.
Whether you choose a vertical garden, a raised bed or starting in a greenhouse, we’ve got 33 Awesome Tips for Planting, Growing and Harvesting Tomatoes. Get started this winter indoors and get a jump on the season next year!