August 11, 2011 by Sara Kreidler
Building on last night’s theme of “I need to put up all of this stuff pronto,” I canned a small batch (2 quarts and 1 pint) of crushed tomatoes today. I followed the recipe from the Ball Blue Book and the tutorial at Food in Jars. But before I delve into the process of canning crushed tomatoes, let me say this: the pictures that you are about to see are really pretty awful. Canning is fun, but it can be a little nerve-wracking (at least it is for a novice like me), and it’s hard to make sure you’re following all of the steps properly and take good pictures. Or at least it’s hard for me. Ok. Let’s proceed.
I like to get everything I will need laid out on the counter before I start canning. This what my counter looked like for this project: towels to protect the counter from the hot jars, the Ball Blue Book, a wide mouth funnel, a container of citric acid (more on that in a minute), clean and dry canning rings, a big mixing bowl for adding extra hot water to the canner, a chop stick for removing air bubbles from the filled jars, and oven mitts.
Then I filled my stock pot (on left) half way with water and brought it to a boil. Behind the stock pot is a medium sized pot filled half way with water and inside it my flat lids are simmering. On the right is the canner. I put my well washed, empty jars in the canner, filled it with water to cover, and brought it to a simmer.
Marisa at Food in Jars recommends coring the tomatoes before blanching. The Ball Blue Book instructs you to core the tomatoes after blanching. Last year we cored the tomatoes after blanching and it worked well enough, but I decided to do half of the tomatoes one way and half the other and see which method worked better. So here we see one cored tomato.
Peeling the tomatoes is very simple — you can just press on the peel with your thumb and it starts to pull right off. There were some stubborn spots, and I used a sharp pairing knife to peel those spots. I also cut off and discarded bruises and bad spots.
Next, I cored the tomatoes and placed them in a bowl. I repeated the same process of blanching and peeling the rest of the tomatoes (the batch I cored before blanching). The verdict: core the tomatoes before blanching. Coring tomatoes after blanching is trickier because the tomatoes are hot and slippery, and I think you lose more juice in the process. The tomatoes that I cored before blanching held up beautifully and were easier to peel.
Once all of the tomatoes were peeled, I took 1 quart jar out of the canner using a jar lifter, dumped the water that was in the jar back into the canner, and recovered the canner. I placed the hot, empty jar on the towel covered section of the counter and added 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid. Acidifying your tomatoes with either citric acid (1/2 teaspoon for a quart, 1/4 teaspoon for a pint) or bottled lemon juice (2 tablespoons for a quart, 1 tablespoon for a pint) is important because it insures that the tomatoes are acidic enough to be canned safely in a water bath canner.
Please take a moment to laugh with me at how stupid (and blurry) this picture is. Ok. So what I was trying to show here is that after I transferred some tomatoes into the can (using a wide mouth funnel, seen on the left), I used the handle of my favorite wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes and release their juices. And then I apparently lost my mind and decided to take a really blurry picture of the spoon sticking out of the jar since I couldn’t take a picture of me actually breaking up the tomatoes because I don’t have a tripod or an extra arm. Moving on…
Then I wiped the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel, used the magnetic lid lifter to remove a lid from the pan of simmering water, placed the lid on top of the jar and screwed on a ring until just fingertip tight (you don’t want to screw it on too tightly). I repeated the same process with another quart jar and a pint jar.
Then I transferred the jars to the canner full of simmering water, added extra water so that the tops of the quart jars were covered by 1 inch, brought the water to a rolling boil, put the lid back on the canner and processed the jars for 85 minutes.
After 85 minutes, I turned off the heat, removed the lid from the canner and let the jars sit in the canner for 5 minutes. Then I used the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner and placed them on a clean towel on the counter. And then I gasped and kinda freaked out because the solids had separated from the liquid and I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong! So I emailed Marisa at Food in Jars (I adore Marisa and her blog), and she assured me that this is not abnormal and that as long as my lids sealed properly, the tomatoes would be totally safe to eat. It turns out that separation occurs when the tomatoes cool down too much between blanching and processing. Marisa explained that this is no big deal, it just looks ugly and I can shake the jars before using to redistribute the liquid into the solids. Whew! Thanks Marisa!
After all of the lids pinged (and I cheered like I always do because I am a dork), I took the jars outside for a photo shoot (again, dork). They’re not pretty, but I’m sure they will taste good this winter. And next time I will take care to not let the tomatoes cool down so much between blanching and canning.