Okay, so technically I'm not posting this one from the farm. After 16 days away, I'm finally home! However, all of the work and photos shown here occurred during my stay on my parent's farm. So, I'm counting this one as my final summer "Post from the Farm".
The downside of being away for so long is that I find myself with an abundance of laundry and a complete lack of food. Upon our return, we didn't even have (drinkable) milk in the fridge. This morning while my kiddos split the last 3 waffles from the freezer, I popped open a jar of freshly home-canned tomato juice and enjoyed a glass on the deck. I confess, I've never ever poured myself a glass of tomato juice before. It always sounded kind of gross to me...especially for breakfast. But it was good!
One of the advantages to being home on the farm is the abundance of produce. One of the growers for Red Gold also farms our land. I had their generous permission to pick what I wanted. Those ripe Roma tomatoes were so thick on the vine that with two of us picking, we had three big laundry baskets filled with tomatoes in about 45 minutes.
Roma tomatoes are a meaty, pear or egg-shaped variety of plum tomato. They are an excellent choice for canning whole, salsa, or sauce.
I decided to spread out my tomato canning over two days. On the first day I made salsa. Lots of salsa....54 pints of salsa to be exact. Someone recently asked what I planned to do with so much salsa. The truth is, I've already given away 18 jars to my family. I shared 2 jars over the weekend while camping with friends, and in the two days that we have been home, we've gone through another 2 jars on quesadillas, on scrambled eggs, and with chips while watching a Sunday night movie. We are salsa lovers! Chips and salsa are the perfect solution for an on-the-fly snack when company shows up. I use a lot of salsa in recipes too...like my chicken soft tacos or my baked chimichangas. I'm pretty sure that I'll be out of salsa by the time that canning season rolls around next year.
I think that it's kind of cool that my salsa is made out of the very same tomatoes as salsa that you can purchase in the grocery.
This year I made one batch of mild, 3 batches of medium, and 2 batches of hot. It's always important to label your home-canned goods, but with this salsa labelling was especially important so that I know the level of "heat" that I'm going to get with each jar. After 10 hours of salsa canning, I was a little slap happy and took some creative liberty with my salsa labelling.
For my completely detailed account about canning salsa and my recipe, you can check out the post from last summer HERE.
Today, I'm writing the "How To" all about tomato juice.
On the dawn of tomato juice day, my phone alarm sounded and I rolled right out of the bed. This was not the day to hit "snooze". My feet landed next to the clothes that I'd peeled off the previous night (it may have been closer to morning), a mere 5-1/2 hours before. As I picked them up, I noticed that they smelled like the local Hacienda restaurant. Seeing no point in ruining two outfits, I tossed them on again and headed downstairs for my pre-tomato canning beauty regimen: tooth brushing and deodorant. While I brushed my teeth, I noticed that my hands carried the same distinct Hacienda scent as my clothes. I jumped in the car and drove the short trip to my grandparent's house, where 2 more baskets of tomatoes awaited saucing. I had a lot of tomatoes to cook down into sauce before a planned 2:00 pm departure for a weekend of camping with my husband and a group of our college friends. I needed to get a move on it! I burst into my grandparent's house with my arms full of canning supplies and...Hello Hacienda! The salsa smell hit me like a wall. Sorry grandma and grandpa. Apparently, after being immersed in the salsa smell for 10 hours, I didn't notice it by the time I closed up shop the night before. Grandma's house is supposed to smell like cinnamon and fresh baked cookies and spring flowers...not a Mexican chain restaurant! A little damage control was in order. 15 minutes later with vents turned on, a window opened, candles burning, and coffee brewing, I finally dug into those tomatoes.
I start out by washing the tomatoes in a bath of cold water first.
Then I remove them to a colander and rinse em' again.
Most people remove the skins before canning their tomatoes whole or for sauce. We have a Squeezo Strainer which presses the tomatoes for sauce or juice and removes the skins and seeds as it passes through. So in my case, I just removed any bad spots and cut the tomatoes in half, then tossed them into a large pot (I used my water bath canner) to heat and soften.
Heat the tomatoes over medium heat, stirring often until they start to "mush". Sorry for my lack of precise technical information. I do follow recommended guidelines and rules of canning for the most part, especially on processing time, but after years of canning, some of this is just intuitive. I know...I'm sharing information with the masses...I should pay more attention! Well, here's a tip: Don't fill your pot too full, it makes it tricky to stir if you do. I usually fill my pot halfway full of tomatoes for this step. Make sure you stir the tomatoes often because they can burn and stick to the bottom. When the tomatoes are ready, they will look something like this:
Using a large liquid measuring cup, pour some of the tomatoes into the top of the Squeezo Strainer. These strainers are expensive, but the company boasts a lifetime warranty. We've been using this one for over 30 years, so I believe it! I use mine for grape juice, apple sauce, tomato juice and sauce, and lots more. You can see how I used the strainer to make applesauce last fall right HERE.
Once the tomatoes are in the strainer, just push them down with the plunger as needed, turn the crank, and let the strainer do it's work.
The skins and seeds drop into a bowl at the end (seen on the left).
And the sauce and juice are pressed through the strainer holes and then slide down the chute and into a bowl.
Roma tomatoes are not traditionally a juice tomato, but the product that we were getting from the strainer was pretty juicy. This was partly because the meaty Roma tomatoes were clogging up the strainer, allowing mostly juice to pass through. I played around with the attachments, trying one with larger holes, but then seeds were passing through into the sauce. Not good. I resolved to stick with the medium sized (sauce) strainer attachment and just take it apart and clean it out every batch or two as needed.
With such a thin, juicy sauce, I realized that what had passed through the strainer would need quite a bit of time to cook down into spaghetti sauce. Plus, chopping onions and garlic and adding herbs would be time consuming. Then there was the 45 minutes of processing time once every jar was filled. My youngest sister had arrived to help out right before we ran the first batch of tomatoes through the strainer. After a quick assessment, we made the executive decision to shift gears and can tomato juice, rather than spaghetti sauce. My little sister had wanted juice anyway, so it wasn't a difficult decision. In a few hours, I was going camping and she was going to have to finish processing all of the jars.
Once the juice is squeezed, heat at 190 degrees for 5 minutes. I also added a little salt, to taste. I went with a little less than 1/4 cup of salt per 4 gallons of tomato juice (roughly).
I was rushing to get all of that juice into jars and ready to water bath, so I didn't get many pictures of the next few steps. Using a funnel, I ladled the juice into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. I went through and added bottled lemon juice to each of the jars. The recommended amount is 2 tablespoons per quart. I cheat a little and add less for the sake of flavor. But that's just me. I know that a certain amount of ascorbic acid is recommended for perfect, safe, preservation. But before the recommendation changed, we used to can it without the lemon juice. These days, I have decided to compromise and use half. If you are nervous about home canned tomato juice and safety issues, then go ahead and use the full amount and feel good about it. Once the juice is in the jars, wipe down the tops to clean off any juice that sloshed over when pouring. Then apply a heated lid and tightly screw a rim over each jar.
When the jars are ready, arrange them in a water bath canner, covered with at least one inch of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and process for 40 minutes.
Remove the jars of juice from the canner to a flat surface (I prefer a towel-covered countertop) and allow the cans to cool and seal for 24 hours.
Check the seals on each jar and label before storing.
When every last jar was removed from the canner we had 35 quart of tomato juice. According to my research, it takes about 3 lbs. of tomatoes to yield a quart of tomato juice. This means that we canned about 105 pounds worth of tomatoes for juice...or one really full laundry basket.
I'm here to tell ya, home-canned tomato juice is da bomb! These Roma tomatoes made a really tasty, hearty juice. I am very pleased with the finished product. I'm convinced that home-canned tomato juice is the reason that my chili is head and shoulders above most that I have tasted. I'll use this juice through the winter in all of my tomato-based soups and now I know that it's great straight up out of the jar for breakfast too!
As I wrap this up, I want to point out my go-to resources when home canning. First, the Jarden Home Brands 21400 Ball Blue Book and also the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (Better Homes & Gardens Plaid). This year I had a new resource, Put 'em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling which came to me with a whole care package full of canning goodies courtesy of another food blog that happen to love, The Seventh Level of Boredom.
If you've always wanted to try home canning, but just never got around to it or you're nervous that you'll make a mistake, then pick up one of these books and get started! Canning your own food gives you a sense of accomplishment AND you'll have a great tasting, high quality, economical, better for the environment product! Happy Canning!
*On another note, I know that it's been a bit since my last post and I haven't posted a meal plan and grocery list in weeks. With this post I declare: I am back! I'll be cooking and posting all this week. Next week, I promise the usual weekly meal plan will return! Stay tuned....there's good stuff on the horizon!