To-may-to, ta-mah-to

Last weekend I found myself channeling my amazing Italian grandmother as I stood over 30 pounds of tomatoes I kind-of sort-of accidentally-on-purpose brought home. I’m sure this would have been nothing to my grandma in her canning prime (I remember what the cellar of my grandparents’ farmhouse looked like, and the shelf my dad tells me my grandpa built especially for her and her jars), but this was only the second year I’ve put up tomatoes. Go big(ish) or go home, right?

I need to buy stock in the Ball company

It turned out to be a pretty awesome success and I managed to put them all up in one perfect fall Sunday, even with occasional breaks to watch the Browns get their first win and the Bears beat the pants off the Steelers. By the end of the night, I had 22 jars of various sizes and only 2 tablespoons left in the pot. I call that a day well spent.

I had enough tomatoes to experiment with, so I wanted to try three different styles: whole, crushed, and sauced. I found that each style has its pros and cons, but it’s worth making a little of each. As for the type of tomato to use, I like Romas because they’re on the smaller side, which makes them easier to get into jars, and don’t have a ton of water that needs to cook out later, but you can use whatever tomatoes you like to cook with.

So many jars

Since it didn’t occur to me to take in-progress pictures, I’ll try to add some after the few final jars I plan to put up this weekend (just one more basket of tomatoes, I swear!). Otherwise I see a whole lot of pasta sauce in my future, thankfully my dad also sent me his old pasta maker. Or chili. I have plans…

**Quick note–These acidification, headspace, and timing guidelines all come from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which is a fantastic resource on canning in general. You can also check out my Canning 101 post from last year for some tips.**

Whole or Halved Tomatoes

Pros: About as straight-forward as it gets. Whole tomatoes have the least amount of hands-on time (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the fastest or most fool-proof, see Cons). They can be transformed into crushed tomatoes or sauce depending on what you decide to make later.

Cons: While they’re faster to get into the jars, they take twice as long to process compared to sauce or crushed tomatoes. They also seem to have a higher chance of not sealing due to the air bubbles that inevitably get trapped in the tomatoes. It’s also hard to get whole tomatoes in anything smaller than a pint jar (very annoying if you’re left with just three and a half peeled tomatoes).

How to: Cut out the tomato stem, cut an X in the skin, quickly blanch in boiling water, and peel off the skins (reserve if you plan to make sauce).

To each hot, prepared jar add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint (a 1/2 teaspoon of salt per jar is optional). Press tomatoes into jars until the spaces between them fill with juice, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air pockets in the jar and adjust headspace by adding tomatoes as needed (halve or quarter a tomato as needed). Process in a boiling water bath for 85 minutes.

Whole

Whole tomatoes in their own juice (some of the liquid siphoned during canning, but as long as the jar seals, it’s ok).

Crushed Tomatoes

Pros: After canning whole tomatoes exclusively last year, crushed tomatoes might be my new go-to. They’re forgiving in terms of the amount of tomatoes you have and the size of jars you want to use (anything from half pints to quarts will work), and you can used any remaining whole tomatoes (or jars that didn’t seal) to make crushed tomatoes. I also think it feels less rushed than the process for whole tomatoes.

Cons: Really all I can come up with is that it’s a bit messier than canning whole tomatoes.

How to: Cut out the tomato stem, blanch, and peel (save skins for sauce).  Quarter enough tomatoes to measure about 2 cups. Transfer to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Crush tomatoes to release juices.

Continue cooking at a simmer, stirring occasionally, while adding additional peeled, quartered tomatoes as you go. Continue until all tomatoes are added, then boil gently for 5 minutes.

To each hot, prepared jar add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint. Pack tomatoes into jars until the spaces between them fill with juice leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air pockets in the jar and adjust headspace by adding tomatoes as needed. Process pints in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

Crushed

Crushed tomatoes with a lone air bubble.

Tomato Sauce

Pros: Tomato sauce has the potential to use up almost the entire tomato (skins and all), producing the least amount of waste. It’s also easy to adjust the thickness of the sauce depending on how long you let the sauce cook down on the stove before canning, and using the skins also helps to make a thicker sauce. Finally, you don’t have to go through the process of blanching and peeling tomatoes (my least favorite part of the process)

Cons: If you don’t have a good food mill or don’t feel like pressing the sauce through a fine sieve, this is probably not going to be your favorite method.

How to: Wash tomatoes very well. Quarter 6 tomatoes and place in a large saucepan. Crush tomatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to avoid scorching. Add more quartered tomatoes (and any leftover skins from making whole or crushed tomatoes), stirring and crushing as you go. When all tomatoes have been added, boil, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are soft and juicy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Working in 2 cup batches, blend tomatoes, skins, and seeds until the sauce is as smooth as you can get it (it won’t be perfect). Press through a fine sieve or food mill to remove large bits of skins and seeds. Discard skins and seeds.

Return sauce to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil until volume is reduced by at least one-third for a thin sauce. For a thicker sauce, cook until reduced by half.

To each hot, prepared jar add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint. Pour sauce into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (note this is different than for whole or crushed tomatoes). Remove any air pockets in the jar and adjust headspace by adding sauce as needed. Process pints in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

Sauced

Sauce made with whole tomatoes, including the skins.

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4 thoughts on “To-may-to, ta-mah-to

    • Haha, thanks :-) I have plans for pasta sauce and chili primarily, probably some tomato soup too and a few new recipes. I don’t think I’ll really have trouble getting through them!

  1. Great post Christina, thanks for the pros & cons, it’s so helpful to see in writing, and your photos look great.

    Sometimes you get so overwhelmed by the pressure to get those tomatoes into jars, you go a little crazy trying too many things. That randomness makes the canning experience less organized & enjoyable and sometimes restricts the recipe-usefulness later.

    Shelf space is a consideration too – some of the whole tomato products contain a large volume of water which makes me process & store more jars.

    I try to get leaner & meaner every year…

    • Thanks, I’m glad it was helpful! I agree on your last point on the shelf space as well, which was another reason I started moving towards crushed and sauce. Last year I think I put up half the amount of tomatoes as I did this year, and they used the same number of jars (which is significant in my small apartment kitchen!)

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