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Cooking 101 – Home Canning using a Water Bath (Tomatoes)

Here’s the third installment of the Cooking 101 series – Water Bath Canning.  This method is the traditional way of preserving high-acid foods such as fruits, jams, jellies, pickles, butters and acidified tomatoes, which is what we’re doing today.  I won’t go near pressure canners, because I enjoy how pretty my face is and don’t want an explosion removing my nose.  The steps are very simple.  I received a hands-on lesson from my grandmother in the way that she has water-bath canned for years and years.  Even though I knew how to do this, I felt it was important to preserve the tradition in our family and let her pass on her knowledge to me.  What I found was a few unorthodox steps, but still sound practice.  Her recipe comes from the 1988 publication of the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home Economics newsletter.

 Look at all this luscious fruit goodness.  Yes, tomatoes are a fruit.  An average of 14 lbs of tomatoes are needed per 9 pints.  Although tomatoes are considered an acidic fruit, some varieties have higher pH values than others, so it is recommended to further acidify them with the addition of citric acid or lemon juice which we will be doing today.  I chose ripe tomatoes with no signs of green, yellow, or orange.  I did this in two batches as I had still-ripening tomatoes in a cool spot in my dining room waiting their turn.

We’ll need some specialty equipment – a set of jar tongs, a canning funnel, and a nifty magnetized stick for picking the lids up.

This is a canning stockpot.  My grandmother just used a very large and deep stockpot that she made soup in.  Mine came with the rack for lifting the jars in and out.  We put about 4″ of water in for 7 jars and bring it to a simmer to let our tools and our lids (not the rings) sterilize slowly as we work.

Stop up one or both sides of your sink and dump your tomatoes in and drown them in boiling water.  Wait about three minutes and you can begin peeling.  Rubber gloves are recommended because, duh, it’s HOT!

Peel.  Next.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Luscious peelies.

I used an apple corer to get the stem and cores out – love a multitasker.

Chunk into sixths, eighths, or a fraction of your choice and bring the chunks and their juices to a vigorous, rolling boil for 5-10 minutes.  Putting hot, pre-cooked food into a jar for canning is called the hot pack method.  All the extension agents I’ve ever talked to say this is to keep the food from floating in the jar.  The opposite is obviously when non pre-cooked foods are placed in the jar–raw pack.

In the other side of your sink, or after you’ve cleaned your sink, lay out your jars.  We’re going to pour boiling water over them and into them to sterilize.  I know that everyone just gasped and screamed “No, you have to boil your jars IN water!”  Um, no.  My grandmother has done this for 60 years and no one has died of spoiled tomatoes…so we’ll continue.  If your jars have nicks or chips, throw them away.  We don’t want any bursting in the canner.  Use only jars specially marked for canning such as Kerr, Ball, or another similar brand.  Peanut butter, Mayonnaise and other jars you’ve washed and saved are not acceptable.

Pouring the water from one jar to another to ensure that the mouths of the jars receive some hot water.

Adding 1tbsp of bottled lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp each of kosher salt (or pickling salt if you have it) and granulated sugar.

Using a ladle to fill the jars – Each pint is just under 2 cups, so if you have a large measuring cup, that’s the way to go.

Aint they pretty?  Leaving 1/2 inch of headspace is recommended–for me, that’s to the neck of the jar.  There has to be room for the air to boil out of the jar–that’s what seals it.

This gunk on the mouth of the jar has to go – wipe it away with a cloth or a paper towel, all the way around.

This doohickey (is that a word?) is used to get air bubbles out.  Poke in, and press the contents of the jar to one side.  I’m struggilng to find another use for this to make it a multitasker.

Fish the lids out one by one and place onto the jars, then bring the canning pot to a rolling boil.

I’ve found it’s easier to get the rings on if you push them straight down and then turn.  I didn’t tighten them super tight, just enough so they weren’t loose.

Reminds you of the claw-toy machine at the grocery store, doesn’t it?  If you are using hot pack foods, like we are, it’s okay to have the water boiling when the jars go in.  If you’re using raw pack foods (not heated) you want the water hot but not boiling.  If you drop a room temperature jar into boiling water it may shatter and that’s not a good thing.

Make sure there is enough water to cover the jars by 1-2 inches the entire time.  I keep a pot of water on medium-high next to the canner so that i can quickly turn it up to boil in case my water runs low. When the water boils, set a timer for 40 minutes.  Close the lid and go read a book, stopping every chapter to check the canner. When time is up, leave the jars in for 5 minutes more, but kill the heat.  When you remove the jars, let them cool on the counter for 12 or so hours.  If the little button on the lids is flat, it’s sealed.  If you can press it up and down, it’s not sealed.  If some jars haven’t sealed, chances are they will as the temperature equalizes in an hour or so.  If they haven’t sealed in 12 hours or so, run them back through with a new lid.  If they still haven’t sealed, put in the refrigerator to use soon.

For long term storage, old timers will suggest that you remove the rings.  I don’t do this, I just loosen them a bit.  Obviously, you don’t want to eat anything you’ve home-canned that shows signs of spoilage, has a swollen lid, or whose lid has come unsealed.

This project of two 5 gal. buckets of tomatoes yielded 30 pints, 29 of which sealed perfectly and one which found its way into Francine’s Spanish Rice.  Coupled with the 9 jars I had, and the 15 I brought back from my dad’s house, I have 54 pints of crushed tomatoes to get me through the winter!

Reference: Complete Guide to Home Canning, Extension Service, USDA, 1994.
via the Virginia Cooperative Extension

Processing Times For High-Acid Foods Using A Boiling Water Bath Canner (212° F)
Fruits & Vegetables Pints Quarts
Apples (hot pack)*** 20 minutes 20 minutes
Apricots (raw pack)*** 25 30
Berries (raw pack) 15 20
Cherries (raw pack) 20 25
Dill Pickles (raw pack) 10 15
Sweet Pickles (raw pack) 10 15
Fruit Juices (hot pack) 15 15
Fruit Jams and Jellies 10 10
Peaches (hot pack) 20 25
Pears (hot pack) 20 25
Plums (hot pack) 20 25
Pickle Relish (hot pack) 10
Rhubarb (hot pack) 10 10
Tomatoes (hot pack)**** 35 45
Tomato Juice (hot pack)**** 35 40