I received a gift from the gods in the form of local, organic tomatoes yesterday at the co op. It is super late in the season for tomatoes, and being that we just got our first frost, I'm guessing the last of the bunches got picked in this batch. I stocked up on 24 tomatoes (enough to last me 1 month) and did my first canning today!
I used the great resources from the National Center for Home Food Preservation found online at www.uga.edu/nchfp.
Here is how we did it:
step 1_get really scared about Botulism:
There is some serious risk of botulism when canning. Botulism is a bacteria that can only grow in anaerobic (no air) environments and is a very serious form of food poisoning. There are botulism bacteria on almost all fruits and vegetables even if you wash them, but they only become an issue if they are not exposed to air. Because of this, sanitizing jars and peeling the skin off of produce is important when canning.
step 2_sanitize canning jars (pint size masons) by boiling them in water for 10 minutes.
step 3_put tomatoes in boiling water for 30-45 seconds (until skins crack) and then dip in a waiting ice bath.
step 4_slide skins off of tomatoes and compost them!
step 5_halve (or you can leave whole) tomatoes
step 6_choose whether you want to 'hot pack' or 'cold pack' tomatoes:
At his stage you have a choice. You can either put the tomatoes directly into the sanitized jars -cold packing. Or you can boil them for 5 minutes-hot packing. The advantage of hot packing is you get all the air out of vegetables (there is always at least 10% air in produce). This air can potentially cause problems with spoiling. I can't say I really understand this, but I opted to hot pack because I was scared.
step 7_strain boiled tomatoes and pack into jars. Here was the interesting part: I was able to pack 12 tomatoes into each pint jar! (they lost quite a bit of water in the boiling process)
step 8_ladle boiling tomato water to fill the space in the jars up to 1/2" from the top.
step 9_free any trapped air bubbles by squishing a small spatula around in the jars
step 10_screw lids on snugly (not too tight because you want air to be able to escape while boiling (this is how the cans pressurize), and place jars into a large pot of boiling water. I used a stock pot which would just barely fit 4 pint jars.
step 11_make sure the water level is at least 1" above the jars, cover and boil for 45 minutes (time starts when the water starts boiling). While boiling, be sure to watch that the water level doesn't get too low. I had to continuously replace water because my pot was too short and water was splashing out the whole time. You want to make sure the water NEVER stops boiling, so add little amounts of water at a time.
step 12_remove jars with a jar lifter and cool on a rack.
step 13_listen for the pop! This is the most exciting part about canning (at least we thought). When the cans cool to the point where the pressure outside is different from the pressure in the cans, they seal themselves by pulling the can lids down and making a 'popping' sound.
step 14_after 12-24 hours of cooling (yeah, a long time) test for the seal (unless you already heard them pop) by pressing on the center of lid. If it pops back up, the can isn't sealed and you will have to do it over again or eat the contents before they spoil.
|food for one month!|
|peeled + halved tomatoes|
|12 tomatoes in each jar!|
|jars after cooling (tomatoes have sunk to bottom like they are supposed to)|
It doesn't really make sense to me to can produce that isn't local however. Peaches and nectarines, for example, while good canning items are never grown locally so using more energy to can them doesn't make sense to me (except that at certain times of the year they become unavailable EVERYWHERE).
By canning enough foods to last a few months we can essentially 'extend our growing season' a few months. I have thought it would be hard to eat ONLY canned foods for an entire winter. However, mixing in a few fresh foods (fruits and such) with the canned goods could help make foods more appetizing and each "almost" local all year round.