Daily Archives: September 28, 2008

Saving some for later: bye bye tomato season…

canned tomatoes

Every year, I eagerly await tomato season. Tomatoes, along with watermelon and corn, are a few things that makes summer (my least favorite season) entirely bearable for me, much like how Christmas sees so many people through the darkest part of winter.

I have a mad crazy love affair with dry farmed early girl tomatoes. I’ll buy pounds of them at the farmers’ market and savor them throughout the week, slicing them and eating them raw (or sometimes, with a sprinkle of sugar, a guilty pleasure)…or making them into soups, or sauteeing them with garlic and olive oil and basil and tossing them with pasta…or eating them with fresh mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar…the list goes on!

pasta with tomatoes and basil from the garden

Some people have their preferred dry farmed early girl tomato vendors–there’s, for instance, a rivalry between Ella Bella and Dirty Girl. Foodies like to debate between these two farms. I’ve done my own taste tests–but find them both so very delectable. I tried them side by side and found Ella Bella tangier, saltier…and Dirty Girl sweeter. I preferred the Ella Bellas that week. But then the next week, the tomato tastes changed again, and I found myself preferring Dirty Girl tomatoes. I presume things like the sun, temperature, soil…all the things that make up “terroir” influence the tomatoes!

dirty girl vs. ella bella

Nevermind, they’re delicious! And I will a dry farmed early girl from most any farm.

And then later on in the season, if I’ve planted early girls (like I did this year) in the garden, I’ll start eating my dry farmed early girls straight off the plant. Mrmmmm. Nothing beats a tomato fresh off the living vine. That burst of umami, the kind that tells you about every ray of sunshine that ever hit that plant and made it happy. THAT taste hits your tastebuds. It makes my toes curl with pleasure.

I had the first black krim heirloom tomato off my plant last week (yes, it’s a late bloomer) and it made me ecstatic too. Next year, along with early girls, I’m definitely planting another black krim…and will plant a momotaro to boot. Dry farmed early girls, black krim, momotaro, and odoriko are my favorite tomatoes.

tomatoes and basil

It’s officially Autumn now, my favorite time of the year. But even my favorite time of year is not without its sadness–for tomato season will soon hit its close. If you’re lucky like I am, you live in an area where that season doesn’t close for at least another month.

But even so, it’s time to think ahead. Yummy stews and crisp apples and cool and refreshing breezes lay ahead of us.

And we’ll miss the tomato. I’ll miss the tomato. Especially dry farmed early girls.

And I’m determined, this year, to not miss it TOO much. So–Connie and I got together and canned some tomatoes today.

We’re novices at canning tomatoes. I figured that even if we made mistakes, we’d make them together and have lots of fun on a balmy Autumn Sunday. We met up at the farmers’ market, where we bought about 10 pounds of tomatoes: San Marzano and dry farmed early girl tomatoes. (We also hit Blue Bottle coffee and fortified beforehand). The tomato vendors got visibly excited when we mentioned we’d be canning–they had some tomatoes in flats hidden in the truck! They could sell them to us at a discount! Then balked when we said we needed only five pounds of San Marzano.

Now WHY, we thought would we want more than 5 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes (we got another 5 pounds of early girls)?! Isn’t that an AWFUL lot of tomatoes to begin with?

canning tomatoes

Ha. We found out later, as we skinned the tomatoes and then began filling the jars. 10 pounds of fresh tomatoes does NOT make many cans of tomatoes (for us: 2 quart jars, 5 pint jars–split between two people). This may be obvious to many of you–I feel your scoffing! But it wasn’t obvious to us, two first time tomato canners. So be warned: if you want to can tomatoes and make it worth your time, you’ll want to can at LEAST 20 pounds of tomatoes.

And get the juiciest, sweetest, saltiest, most flavorful tomatoes you can find.

You’ll also want LOTS of pots of water (including a very deep, large pot for the water bath–larger if you’re using quart sized mason jars as you want the water to be at least 1 inch higher than the jars). You’ll want a huge pot to do the water bath. You’ll want a small pot in which to simmer the lids. You’ll want a medium pot in which to blanch the tomatoes (for easier peeling). You’ll want a smallish/mediumish pot to boil water or tomato juice (for filling the jars). LOTS of pots. LOTS of water.

And you’ll want LOTS of mixing bowls–to hold all the tomatoes, to rinse them, to peel them, to separate out the juices. Wear an apron.

water bath

I don’t think you need a lot of specialized canning accessories–but I do think the jar grabber is a necessity (it helps you grab those jars as you submerge them in the BOILING HOT water bath, and when you retrieve them from the BOILING HOT water bath). Before I got a jar grabber, I used a regular kitchen tong and a silicon mitt, and believe me, it was WAY too precarious a process and the canning gods were smiling upon me that day, as I did not have one mishap.

And the other thing you’ll need is some lemon juice–to bring the acidity up so that you reduce the chance of spoilage, and also to keep that gorgeous red colour. (We used the pickyourown website as a canning guide).

Our canning adventure had a good dose of giggles, as we realized, halfway through, how we really ought to have bought at LEAST twice as many tomatoes. Oops! We looked sheepishly at all the empty, sterilized jars (yes, I discovered the “sanitizing” setting on my dishwasher, and we are fairly certain it did a job similar to an autoclave–whew!)…and were like, oops. We won’t be using THOSE! Ahem. *sheepish grins*…giggle.

Nevermind the costs.  While the jars were in the water bath, we quickly calculated up the costs: approximately $10 for the jars (but we used only half so it was about at $5 investment)…$25 for the tomatoes…about $3 for the lemon juice/lemons…divided by 7…we spent over $5/jar.  Spendy.  Costwise, this project would only make sense if you were canning tomatoes out of your own garden.

I thought I might be sharing some of these canned tomatoes–but methinks that might not be happening, given the tiny yield. 🙂

But there’s something I realized that I’d definitely be doing again, go forward: I’ll be having a friend over to do future canning. My previous adventures in canning preserves have been solitary affairs–more meditative than anything. But I definitely prefer a raucous social mien around the canning! Connie and I had fun snacking during the lulls, eating a Keitt mango by the pool when the jars were safe, boiling in a water bath.

The jars are cooling now, as we keep our fingers crossed that the jars will seal properly and the lids will not budge. And I look forward to that winter day when I open a jar and get a taste of those dry farmed early girl summer tomatoes.