Whatcom Locavore: How to can your own tomatoes for winter meals

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 10, 2013 

10 Locavore Tomatoes

When canning tomatoes, stick to recipes from reliable sources that have been thoroughly tested.

JOAN GING — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

In the life of a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible), summer is a time for both enjoying the seasonal harvest bounty and planning ahead for your winter food supply.

Instead of providing a recipe this week, here's the process I use for canning tomatoes. It's a classic method, not something I invented.

For safety's sake, I don't experiment with canning recipes. I stick to recipes from reliable sources that have been thoroughly tested.

A good place source for canning information is the WSU Whatcom County Extension office. Visit their website at whatcom.wsu.edu, or call Cheryl Kahle, food safety information assistant, at 360-676-6736, ext. 8.

Yeager's Sporting Goods, 3101 Northwest Ave., Bellingham, is a good place to buy canning supplies and equipment, which can be found in the store's basement.

HOW TO CAN TOMATOES

Note: You can easily scale these quantities up or down for the amount you need. Quantities shown below will make 8 to 12 quarts, depending on the size of the tomatoes and how tightly you pack them.

Ingredients

20 pounds fresh organic Roma tomatoes (I get mine from Terra Verde, Everson)

Lemon juice

Ice

I use commercial lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed, because the acidity is standardized. This is a rare instance where I use a nonlocal ingredient. Having the proper acidity is crucial to canning food safely.

Tools and Supplies

Nonreactive canning pot (see details below)

12 quart-size (or 24 pint-size) canning jars, lids and rings

Optional: Rack for jars (fits inside the canning pot)

Jar tongs

Lid lifter (plastic stick with magnetic end)

Long chopstick or narrow spatula

Slotted spoon or strainer ladle

Sharp paring knife

3 nonreactive mixing bowls (small, medium and large)

1 medium saucepan

1 large saucepan or Dutch oven pan

2- or 4-cup glass measuring cup

Work Area Setup

Equipment should be nonreactive (glass, stainless steel, granite wear, etc.), because canned tomatoes are acidic and will react with materials such as aluminum.

Before you begin, run your jars through the dishwasher on the highest heat setting. If you don't use a dishwasher, you can wash by hand and then boil water in your canning pot and submerge the jars for 3 to 5 minutes to sterilize.

Start setting up your stove area by filling the canning pot about 2/3 full of water, cover with lid, and put it on your largest burner over high heat. It will take awhile to reach a full rolling boil.

The canning pot must be large enough to hold several filled quart (or pint) jars completely submerged in water, with at least an inch of water over the lids.

Next, fill the large saucepan (I use a medium-size stockpot) or Dutch oven with about four inches of water for blanching. Put that on the stove over high heat to bring it to a boil, too.

Finally, put a couple of inches of water in the medium saucepan and place it on the stove, but don't turn on the heat yet. This will be used to soften the sealing ring around the edge of the lids.

Now set up your sink area. Fill your medium-size mixing bowl about half full of cold water and add ice. After blanching the tomatoes, they'll go into the ice water to stop the cooking and loosen the peels.

Spread a clean dish towel on the counter beside your sink. Put your clean empty jars on it.

The last work area you'll need is a cutting space. Place your tomatoes to one side, the small mixing bowl beside them, and then the large mixing bowl. The paring knife should be handy, too.

CANNING PROCESS:

When everything is in place, begin by rinsing your tomatoes under cold water. Discard any tomatoes with spoiled or moldy spots. Blemishes caused by growing against a stem can be cut away and the rest of the tomato used.

To trim the tomatoes, first remove the stem and the core underneath it. The "core" of a tomato is a cone-shaped area directly beneath the stem, perhaps a half inch deep. Put the stems and cores into the small mixing bowl.

Next, flip the tomato over and cut a half-inch "X" through the peel on the bottom. Put the trimmed tomatoes into the large mixing bowl.

When you've trimmed a bowlful of tomatoes, put batches of a dozen or so in the boiling water in the medium-size stockpot or Dutch oven to blanch them. Leave them in the boiling water for about 30 seconds to one minute. Use the slotted spoon or straining ladle to remove them and plunge them into the ice water.

Meanwhile, move the small bowl containing stems beside the ice water. Also, turn the heat to high under the medium saucepan for warming the lids. Place about a dozen lids (not rings) into the pan and make sure they are covered with water. When this pan comes to a boil, turn it down to simmer.

When tomatoes are cool, their skins should slip off easily. Use the paring knife if some places don't peel easily. Place the skins in the bowl with the stems. If you like, you can use these later to make a rich tomato sauce.

Place the peeled tomatoes directly into your canning jars.

Repeat until all tomatoes are in jars.

Leave about 1/2-inch of space at the top of each jar. You can press gently to push the tomatoes into the jars a little more tightly.

When you've filled as many jars as your canning pot will hold, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to each quart jar (or 1 tablespoon per pint jar). Using the glass measuring cup, add hot water from the blanching pot to fill each jar to 1/2-inch below the rim.

Using the chopstick or spatula, slide it down the sides of the jars to release any air trapped beneath the tomatoes. Use a clean towel to wipe the rim of each jar so it will make clean contact with the sealing rings on the edge of the lids.

Use the lid lifter to take a lid from the pan where they are warming and place one on each jar. Screw on a ring until finger-tight. They do not need to be really tight.

Place the jars into the boiling water in the canning pot, leaving a little space between them. Cover the pot and continue to boil over high heat for 45 minutes (quart jars) or 40 minutes (pint jars).

When processing is finished, use the jar tongs to remove the jars and place them back on the towel beside your sink to dry and cool. Do not disturb the lids.

When the jars are completely cool, press on the center of each lid to test the seal. The center should already be depressed and should not move up or down when you press. You can then gently remove the rings, if you like.

If a jar is not properly sealed, you can retighten the lid and ring, checking first to make sure the rubber sealing stripe on the lid is intact and has no gaps or lumps, and then process the jar again in the canner for 45 minutes as before.

Repeat until all your tomatoes are canned.

Now step back and enjoy your work all winter!


LOCAVORE RESOURCES

You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.

Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham

Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996

Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959

BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720

Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham

Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060

Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699

Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859

Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158

Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden

Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747

Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151

The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869

Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433

The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190

Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639

Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden

The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797

Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398

Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637

Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020

Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or nancy@whatcomlocavore.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.

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