"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Canning Tomatoes (Staple Supply)

My tomatoes didn't do so well this year - a combination of early blight and some more recent malady that causes the vines to wither before the fruit is ripe has severely limited my tomato supply. Not that I would have had enough tomatoes to can in any case - I only planted about sixteen plants, of varying type. But I had hoped to have plenty of tomatoes for eating out of hand. Instead, we have only been able to pick a few here and there. There are lots of green tomatoes still, but I doubt they will ripen, at this point. Whatever I decide to do with the green tomatoes, it will not be what I did last year: Canning Wrap Up (Green Tomato Chutney) Green tomato chutney, while delicious in very small quantities, is not a solution for what to do with several pounds of unripe tomatoes.

However, I did very much want to can tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are a staple on my pantry shelves, as I suspect they are on most people's. Usually, I buy a case of diced tomatoes at Costco and go through the eight cans in a month. I have maybe twenty or thirty recipes in my weeknight dinner heavy rotation, and probably a third of them call for a can of diced tomatoes. Tomatoes are a highly seasonal crop - the only place in the United States that produces winter tomatoes is south Florida, and the conditions under which those tomatoes are produced (Warning, Politics Ahead) are such that I choose not to buy them. You can also get fresh tomatoes in winter from Mexico, but conditions there are almost as bad.

I don't go so far as to try and find out where the tomatoes in my favorite brand of canned tomatoes are sourced from. I might be able to do that, with a few hours on the phone, but I feel I have done my duty if I try my utmost to furnish the pantry with canned tomatoes made from fresh local summer tomatoes, canned by my own hands. Then, when I inevitably have to buy tomatoes in January or February, I can at least console myself with the memory of all the home canned tomatoes I used up first.

Therefore, I ordered a crate of organic romas from my local grower. For $30, I got enough romas to make 12 pints of sauce. More, actually, but twelve pints is as many as I can can in a day (I need a bigger kettle). Naturally, I chose the hottest day of the year to do my canning. Why is it that all canning takes place in August? There must be a reason...

My tomato sauce contains nothing but tomatoes, garlic, and salt, to make it more versatile. There are still about 15 pounds of tomatoes on the counter, which I have neither the time nor the jars to can. I think I will follow my sister's advice and simply freeze them whole. She tells me that washed tomatoes can be frozen whole and then, when you want to use them, you simply run warm water over them and skins loosen and can be easily slipped off.

It certainly would be less time consuming, not to mention less energy intensive. But then, would I really feel as industrious, as virtuous, pulling a ziploc out of the freezer as I do opening the cupboard to see a row of gleaming ruby jars?


Olive said...

Aimee the problem with your home grown tomatoes wilting before they ripen is more than likely calcium deficiency. This can be corrected by adding dolomite lime to the soil at planting time.
I NEVER buy tinned tomatoes from the supermarket, don't know where they come from. I was told that Australia rejected canned tomatoes from China because they were fertilised with human excrement, so, they sent them (the tomatoes) to Italy to be canned and now Australia buys tins of tomatoes from Italy!!! The mind boggles.
On another note, I only can (preserve) pure tomato sauce, I find it better to add salt, garlic etc. at the time I use it and that's because I don't know what It will be used for when I put it in the bottles. Frozen tomatoes work well, I used to do them like that but find that they take up too much valuable freezer space. I didn't put them in bags, only loose, that way they fill in some of the small spaces between the parcels of other stuff.

Aimee said...

Olive, thanks for the information! I never would have thought of calcium. I know my soil needs amending - it's hard clay, lightened only with compost. I'll lime the garden patch before I plant next year!

I don't have an issue with freezer space, we have a large chest freezer and can put a quarter steer, a half hog, and a goat in there all at once! Of course, that wouldn't leave much room for tomatoes...

Penelope said...

I'm gonna feel plenty virtuous when I pull out my frozen tomatoes.

Aimee said...

I froze the rest of them.

Jerry said...

If you want to ripen green tomatoes inside, keep some apples near them. They'll ripen a lot quicker because the apples give off a chemical whose name I can't remember just now.

We have lots of trouble with blossom end rot here and that is apparently a calcium deficiency too, so it was nice to see the dolomite lime tip from Olive (which was one of my grandmother's name). Thanks Olive!

Cheers and good luck.

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