ou can’t hit a farmers market this time of year without being overwhelmed by the sight of beautiful locally grown tomatoes, not to mention countless other varieties of produce. But there are only so many meals in a summer day, right? What’s a dedicated locavore to do come mid-February when you’ve got a hankering for garden goodies but Mother Nature refuses to cooperate? Well, cast your worries aside, arm yourself with some canning basics and get ready to line your larder.
Recently, we had the chance to chat via phone with food preservation expert Mrs. Wheelbarrow, aka Cathy Barrow, about the hows and whys of home preserving. (Barrow is a national canning expert and cookbook author, whose recipes have appeared on NPR, the Today Show and more.)
CityBeat: Why should people preserve their food?
Cathy Barrow: Because anything you make is going to be so much better than anything you can get off the shelves of your grocery store, so let’s just start with, it’s delicious. Secondly, I preserve because I want to eat locally, and I want to eat from my own farmers all year round, and if I don’t preserve that food in some way or another, I can’t do that.
CB: So, canning for dummies — what’s your advice for first-timers?
CB: The first thing you make should be something you love. If you think apricot jam is the best or if you can’t have a sandwich without a dill pickle next to it, that’s what you should make, because once you taste homemade anything, it’s going to be better than anything you’ve ever had. That’s gonna get you hooked.
CB: What basic equipment do people need to can their own food?
CB: In terms of equipment, the most important piece of equipment, I think, is a good preserving pot, and mine is 5 quarts. I use a Le Creuset, because it’s non-reactive, even if I’m working with vinegars, so I can cook anything in it, and 5 quarts is just the right size for small batches of jam. And then you’ll need a canning pot, and I have an 11-quart stainless-steel stock pot. … One thing that I have to say that I couldn’t live without is called a “jar lifter,” and it has rubber tong-like things that help you lift hot jars out of the boiling water.
CB: When shopping for produce, what should people look for?
CB: So many people seem to think that you preserve what’s left over, but I like to think that I want to put the best product into a jar because that’s what I want to eat when I open it up.
Reprinted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving, with permission.
25 pounds ripe but firm red tomatoes (about 30-45, depending on size)
About 4 teaspoons citric acid or 1 cup (8 oz.) fresh lemon juice
Kosher, pickling or fine sea salt (optional)
Large non-reactive pot
Wash jars in warm soapy water.
Blanch, core and peel the tomatoes. Halve them and scoop out the seeds and gel with your fingers, then crush and tear the tomatoes using your hands.
When you have 1 quart of tomatoes, add them to an 8-quart or larger non-reactive pot, bring to a boil and crush with a potato masher to generate some juices. Continue to add the crushed tomatoes 1 quart at a time, mashing and heating to a boil. When they are all added, bring the entire batch to a brisk boil for 5 minutes.
All this mashing and scooping is useful for two reasons: First, the tomatoes will be less likely to separate from the liquid in the jar (only an aesthetic concern) and second, keeping count of the quarts that go into the pot helps plan for the number of jars needed.
Ladle the hot tomatoes into the warm jars, leaving about an inch headspace. Add ½ teaspoon citric acid (or 2 tablespoons lemon juice) to quart jar, or ¼ teaspoon (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice) to each pint jar. If using salt, add it now: 1 teaspoon per quart jar; ½ teaspoon per pint jar. Check the headspace — you want ½ inch, so add more tomatoes if necessary. Clean the rims with a damp paper towel. Place the lids and rings on the jars, and finger-tighten the rings.
Process in a boiling-water bath for 45 minutes if using quart jars, 35 minutes if using pint jars. A mixed batch should be processed for the full 45 minutes.
Let the jars rest in a canning kettle for 10 minutes after processing to prevent siphoning (when the liquid comes up under the lid during processing due to air bubbles in the jar).
Remove rings from jars before storing (removing the ring flattens the lid so you can more easily see if mold or bacteria got in; if contaminated, the lid will lift). Crushed tomatoes are shelf stable for 1 year.
For information on local canning classes, see CityBeat’s weekly Eats listings.