Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Tomatoes--Processing the Harvest

This picture shows one of several large piles of tomatoes harvested from our garden over the past month.   I should have kept record of how many pounds or pecks or something but really just lost track as I was so focused on keeping up with picking the ripe ones, and then processing them.  Although its a little overdue to be helpful to you this year, I thought I might write a few things about what to do with all those tomatoes, from blanching to canning and more.

After removing the stems and washing the tomatoes in cool water (I even rub them lightly with a clean kitchen sponge to get all the stuck on soil off), the tomatoes should be blanched.  If you remember from any of my past posts, blanching is very important in halting the enzyme process and therefore preserving some of the quality in texture and  flavor of the item.

In the case of tomatoes, blanching serves another helpful job as well--it makes removing the skins super easy!   First bring of pot of water to a good rolling boil, and then using tongs carefully drop 3 or 4 tomatoes at a time into the water.  I found that it usually only takes about 30 seconds and you will want to check your tomatoes.

Gently pick up a tomato with the tongs, and see if the skin has split as shown in the picture on the left. If they haven't split on their own in the pot by this time, take a fork and just prick the skin slightly. The tomato skin should split wide with little effort, (if they do not then return to the water for a little longer.)  Once the skin is split then simply set the tomato aside and continue on until all your tomatoes have been blanched and cooled enough so they can be handled.

Now, the skin of the tomato will simply slip right off as shown in this picture.  The tomatoes will be perfectly bare and ready for further processing-- which can take several different paths at this point.

One thing that I did with my skinless tomatoes was to remove the seeds (most of them as possible in a quick manner) and can the tomatoes.  Using a paring knife I made a couple of cuts in the sections and flipped the seeds out with my thumb. After de-seeding, I canned the crushed tomatoes in quart jars.  (Remember tips for successful canning: sterilize jars, fill with tomatoes, set hot lid and ring upon clean jar rim, process full quarts in water bath canner 45 minutes, check seal after jars are completely cool.)

Sometimes you will find this scene when you remove the lid from your canner full of jars--Nothing in particular was done differently, it just happens. Once in a while a jar just breaks! It is very disheartening though, and you must clean the canner to dispose of all glass fragments and tomato pulp that is floating around.
This year I canned 19 quarts of crushed tomatoes which we will use for various recipes like a nice hot pot of chili on a cold winters day!

straining tomato juice

tomato juice cubes
There was quite a lot of juice left in the container after I picked the tomato flesh out to put in the jars for canning. It was very watery and didn't taste that great as it was, however I couldn't justify pouring it down the drain.  I first strained out any seeds that happen to be left in it, then decided to cook it down, concentrating the flavor, then I poured it into extra ice cube trays and froze it.  After the cubes were solid, I transferred them to a plastic freezer bag. Those juice cubes are great when we want just a little red and flavor to add to gravy or soup, etc.

If you don't think you would find crushed tomatoes particularly useful in your kitchen, you could make sauce and can or freeze that instead.

This extraterrestrial-looking contraption is an antique tool I acquired...errr...uh...I mean borrowed (for an extended period of time..hint hint...) from my grandmother.  I didn't know what its actual name is, and I didn't think it would be very good to keep referring to it as the strainer sieve thingy, so I did a little researching.  At first I thought it was a "chinois" (French: shin-wah) which would have been rather a cool term to be able to use, however then I read further and the construction of it is different and therefore the tool I have is called a "China cap" (doesn't sound as glamorous does it?)  The chinois is a finer mesh style, where as this is a single piece of perforated metal (with holes larger than its counterpart) made into a conical sieve, which sits in a set of legs.  It is accompanied by a wooden cone/handle, a sort of pestle, and purpose is like that of a food mill--removing seeds and other coarse material from soft food/liquid.  In this situation, it smashes up the blanched tomatoes skins, seeds, and all.

This is the first time I have used our antique kitchen aid, and I was pleased with the process and outcome.  I simply took the tomatoes that had been blanched as described above, and cut them in half (because I had to be sure no yukky stuff would be inside and accidentally mash a bug or worm into my sauce! Gross!) I filled the sieve with the halves of tomatoes and then used the wooden pestle to go around and around, pressing the tomatoes into the sides of the cone, resulting in liquid and fine pulp flowing through the sieve and into the pan below, while the skins and seeds are kept separate in the cone.  I think the use of this tool really gets the absolute most out of the tomatoes, while keeping tough skin and bitter seeds out of the future pasta sauce!

I poured the juicy product of my straining efforts into heavy stock pots and started cooking it slowly over medium heat--stirring OFTEN!   It literally cooked all day, until it was reduced to almost half and had quite a bit thicker consistency. Oh yes, and it must be stirred often.  You could leave it as plain tomato sauce, however as it is cooking I like to add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some Italian seasoning.  This gives a great aroma throughout the house as it simmers, and a good flavor that is not too over powering so it can be seasoned more according to use at a later date.

And did I mention--you must stay close and stir the sauce often, paying special attention to the bottom of the pot--oh that's right I did tell you; I just don't want you to forget or go too far away from the stove. I made that mistake with my first batch and all of a sudden I could smell burnt sauce! It had started to stick and scorch in the bottom of the pan, and that made the whole batch taste sort of burnt. ( I canned it anyways and we'll use it, and it will be a reminder never to do that again!!)

Again the normal rules of canning apply--hot jars, hot sauce, hot lids, process 40 min, check seal when completely cool.

 Final product: 25 quarts of homegrown-homemade tomato sauce, plus a few dinners worth that we used right away with out canning! Very satisfying!

So, I am sorry I didn't get that info out soon enough for your use this year, but maybe you will want to give it a try with your own garden tomatoes next year.


  1. I love canning tomatoes! But I do not hot water bath them, I just cook them down, wash and sterilize the jars, rings and seals then fill the jars, etc. Also have some in quart bags for use before I did into the canned ones. Also do apple butter, which turned out amazing! Happy to see someone in the family besides the Medina branch who does this too.