Eating well in winter means you need to prepare and preserve in late summer and fall. Even if they don’t do anything else, many people like canning tomatoes. Of course, that also means you need to plan in spring so you have a sufficiency of food to put away in the freezer or on the shelf. While I did the necessary planning, deer depredations left me with no peppers and a single tomato plant with one lonely tomato. Considering that I started with 24 and 38 plants, respectively, it was more than a little disheartening. Luckily the guy who supplies my daughter’s store had a good crop of canning tomatoes. I spent today stocking up on various foodstuffs.
Those who’ve read my post on waterbathing jams and jellies will be aware that the “expert” recommendations are sometimes nothing but hooey. I always like to do a little research to see if anything has changed in the canning world before I fire up the stove. This year I was struck by the tremendous variation in recommended waterbath times from various sources. Depending on the source, diced tomatoes in pint jars “should” spend 10/35/40/45/85/90 minutes in the water bath. Our ranch sits at an elevation of 2,200 feet, so these recommendations are obviously slightly higher than for flatlander tomatoes.
Why the tremendous difference in recommended processing times for canning tomatoes? Well, first, it makes a difference whether we’re talking raw pack or hot pack. Obviously, hot pack will take less processing time because the food is already partially cooked. The next variable is whether you add liquid. Diced tomatoes without additional liquid are more dense and take a longer cooking time. If you use tomato juice (as opposed to water), the processing time is longer because the juice as well as the tomatoes must be cooked. But even in recipes that were otherwise exactly the same, some “experts” recommended waterbath times that were twice as long as others.
Here’s another of those situations where experience trumps the experts. Since I’ve been canning for about 50 years and I know that 40 minutes in a water bath for pint jars has always produced tomatoes that were safe to eat, that’s the processing time I went with. By the way, I don’t peel canning tomatoes or remove the seeds – I think the flavor’s better that way. I do add four tablespoons of cider vinegar per quart to ensure adequate acidity; it also improves the flavor. There are so many variables in terms of tomato acidity (variety, water, soil, weather conditions, ripeness) that I think it’s just safer to add the acid. Not being good at only doing one thing at a time, I also packaged and froze several quarts of chili as well as a few dozen dollops of raw milk cottage cheese (the texture suffers with freezing so it’s best used in cooked dishes like lasagna), shredded and froze a half-dozen BIG summer squash, and made some fermented bread and butter pickles. That should help get us through the Hunger Moon.