Life Would Not Be As Good Without Home-Grown Tomatoes
“There’s two things money can’t buy and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes!” That’s a line from a song that says it all if you’ve ever tasted that summer sweetness of a tomato right off the vine. My grandmother, who used to live in a small town down in southern Illinois, always had a patch of tomatoes and other vegetables growing in her backyard. My sisters and I would spend weeks at a time with her over the summer and every evening those super red juicy tomatoes would be served in slices with supper. Her little patch would produce enough to share with all her neighbors and we would even be allowed to just go pick one and eat it right out there in the sunshine when ever we wanted. No tomato ever went to waste with her unless a squirrel made off with one and couldn’t eat it all. She would can everything she could get her hands on. Many sweet childhood memories involve that lovely lady and home-grown tomatoes.
I just acquired two huge bags full of very ripe beefsteak tomatoes from my dear friend Gayle. She and her husband have 12o plants producing away in their backyard. Every flat surface in their house is covered with tomatoes. They sell them to passers by, but what really has to go she either cans or gives a bunch to me. How blessed am I! In my own garden I have two varieties of basil to add to some of the jars for added flavor.
Canning has become a favorite pastime for me and my husband. It’s great having a partner through all the peeling. In the end we get a product superior to anything we would purchase at the supermarket. Since we’re the ones doing the selecting, and processing, we know exactly what is going into the jar which by the way is far better for us than tomatoes in metal cans containing BPA a chemical which scientists have noted some concern relating our health.
It’s really easy to process dozens of tomatoes. It just takes a bit of time but if you have a friend helping, it’s quality time.
First you boil two big pots of water. One will be for blanching the tomatoes and the other will be the water bath. We used a pressure canning pot. Blanching the tomatoes for just one minute helps the skins slide off very easily but first you will need to remove the core with a paring knife. Once all the tomatoes are peeled sterilize the jars in the other pot of water and set them aside to dry. You could also just run them through a sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher. Sterilize lids and rings in hot water as well. A few minutes should do but keep the temperature of the water just below boiling. 180° is Pasteurization temperature and it won’t allow the waxy seal in the lid to become damaged.
Now the fun part…filling the jars with tomatoes. Just smash as many as will fit, releasing trapped pockets of air and leaving a half inch of head space at the top. Wipe the rims clean with paper toweling and place the clean lids on top. Screw the rings on top just to hand tight and lower the jars into the boiling water bath. We made several variations; some had bits of the purple speckled basil and lettuce leaf basil added and some we left salt free. If salt was added it was only 3/4 teaspoon per pint. A quart would get a whole teaspoon. The jars need to boil for 40 minutes completely submerged to ensure a good seal and kill all bacteria.
Canning tomatoes in the peak of ripeness makes opening one up in the winter a lovely reminder of those beautiful sunshiny summer days. So make sure you store up plenty of homegrown tomatoes while you can because like the song says, “All winter without’em is a culinary bummer.”