Second year gardener here! I was thrilled to finally see lots of red in the garden this week!
That's right. Tomato season is upon us!
Our garden did fabulous last year, with the exception of tomatoes, as we tried planting them in pots that didn't have good drainage. We planted three tomato plants in a raised garden bed this year, and have found that to be very successful. Ironically, tomatoes are one of the only things coming up well in the garden this year, due to pests that have completely taken out some of our other crops in mid-season. While I'm still sad that I've lost more than half of what we planted this year, for now I will relish in the fact that I have tomatoes to eat fresh and to can for the winter!
Even though I didn't yield tomatoes from our garden last year, a friend gave me their extras, so I was still able to enjoy fresh garden tomatoes last year and for the first time put up salsa, sauce and stewed tomatoes by teaching myself how to preserve vegetables using a canning system.
Yesterday, I put up my first big batch of canned stewed tomatoes from this year's garden. I use stewed tomatoes most often when I make vegetable beef stew, which in the fall and winter, I make frequently. Some people like to add onions, celery, garlic, celery salt and more to their stewed tomatoes before canning. For me, I season my stewed tomatoes with salt and pepper and nothing else, that way I can use additional seasoning for specific recipes.
When I can stewed tomatoes, I process them without a pressure canner, using a large pot and boiling water. Last summer, I invested in large canning pot that came with all of the necessary canning tools. My canner holds seven quart jars and was purchased from Amazon.
Certain things are not safe to can without a pressure canner. Tomatoes are one of the few things that I will can with boiling water. When canning with boiling water instead of a pressure canner, you need to be careful of the acidity levels. This is why lemon juice is added to each jar before processing. The lemon juice helps raise the acidity level of the tomatoes, making them safe to preserve with boiling water.
To can seven quarts of stewed tomatoes you will need the following:
15-16 pounds of tomatoes
1/4 c. salt, or more depending on taste
2 tbs. pepper
any other additional seasonings
7 tbsp. lemon juice
7 quart jars, sanitized in boiling water
large canning pot and tools
The first thing I do when preparing to can is to get organized by making an assembly line of sorts.
15 pounds of tomatoes ready to be weighed....check!
Big pot and strainer filled with boiling water....check!
Bowl of cold water....check!
Cutting board for peeling tomatoes....check!
Cutting board and knife for chopping tomatoes....check!
Giant bowl for chopped tomatoes....check!
Canner filled with water on the stove boiling.....check!
Clean jars and lids nearby.....check!
Canning tools and seasonings nearby...check!
Wearing an apron to catch any tomato splatters.....check!
Ok, I'm ready to can!
Step One: Weigh 2lbs of tomatoes on the scale. I do 2lbs batches to make things easier. That's about 6-8 sm-med tomatoes.
Step Two: Place weighed tomatoes into boiling water for a couple of minutes, or until the skins begin to crack. This will allow the skins to peel off effortlessly.
Step Three: Strain tomatoes and place in a bowl of cold water or ice water.
Step Four: Peel the skins.
Step Five: Rough chop into bite size pieces and pour into a large bowl.
Step Six: Repeat steps 1-5 until 15-16 pounds of tomatoes are chopped.
Note: I usually do an assembly line, so once I pull the first batch out of boiling water, I put the next batch into bowling water....and so on and so on, so I'm always busy doing something and never waiting.
Step Seven: Once all tomatoes are chopped, empty boiling water and remove strainer. Fill the pot with the chopped tomatoes. Add salt and seasonings. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Step Eight: Put one tbsp.. of lemon juice in each jar and fill each jar with cooked tomatoes, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Add a little water to each jar if necessary to leave 1/2 inch headspace.
Step Nine: Put lids on jars. Process in boiling water for 25 minutes. Listen for the "pop" to make sure jars are sealed.
This is only my second year having a garden and trying my hand at canning. Canning has already been easier this year, just because I know what I need to do to be organized. I'm hoping that our small garden yields enough tomatoes this year for me to can another big batch of stewed tomatoes, some tomato sauce and some fresh garden salsa! If so, I'll be sure to keep you posted. Until then, happy canning everyone!