If you have your own garden or fruit trees, what do you do with your harvest? Don't you wish you could take advantage of that mega-deal on peaches this week at the grocery store? Most people I know give their excess harvest away. Some of them freeze it – that's good & quick! But I like to can when I get a good harvest of tomatoes or get a killer deal on corn at the grocery store. It does take longer than freezing, but once you're done it doesn't take up space in the freezer and it won't matter if the power goes out or if the refrigerator dies while you're on vacation – and that did happen to me.
You will eventually save money on your pickles, corn, peaches, tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc. - not in the beginning because you have to buy new jars, but once you start reusing jars you'll really be saving money over buying cans of fruit and vegetables from the store. It's a little labor intensive up front but think about the time and gas that you spend going to the grocery store week after week to buy that stuff – and what's in it besides the produce? You can pickle a couple dozen jars of cucumbers in an hour or so and you know that there's nothing in them but cucumbers, salt, sugar, vinegar and a few spices. Once you're done making that huge batch of tomato sauce for your spaghetti dinner, it only takes a little while to can the remainder of the sauce, then it's on the shelf and ready to go for your next meal. Jars cost about $9 a dozen but can be used over and over again, all you have to do is buy new lids every time. They even have a new lid out that can be used more than once, but it's a little expensive.
Canning tomatoes is a great way to start. Because of their high acid content you only need to give them a hot water bath so you don't have to invest in a lot of equipment. If you enjoy canning you can buy specialized canning equipment and a pressure canner (which is really just a large pressure-cooker with a basket inside) but to just try it out you'll be fine with just a few things.
I would suggest that you buy the following items because they will make it easier on you and they aren't that expensive: Lid lifter (a magnet that picks the lids out of the boiling water) for approximately $2, a jar funnel (which will keep you from spilling all over the counter) for approximately $3 and a jar grabber (to get the hot jars out of the boiling water) about $5. The first time I canned I very carefully used a pair of tongs instead of the lid lifter and the jar grabber – it can be done, but it really was a pain.
You will need canning jars, rings, lids, a very large pot (to boil the filled jars), a large pot (to scald the tomatoes and a medium pot to heat water to fill the remaining space in the jars. Some people might want to use a small pot to boil the lids, but I just use the very large pot to sterilize the jars and the lids (I don't have a dishwasher, so I need to sterilize the jars). You will also needs ladles, spoons and a plastic spatula. When you buy your first set of jars they usually come with rings and lids for about $9 per dozen, the jars and rings can be used over and over again. You will need new lids each time, unless you buy special re-usable lids.
What else do you needs to get started? Tomatoes (of course) and lemon juice, that's it. You'll need about 35 pounds of tomatoes and ¾ cup of lemon juice to fill 12 quart size jars – if you don't mind spending the money on the 12 jars but don't think you're up to the task of canning that much on your first try, go with 20 pounds & ½ cup of lemon juice for 7 jars. Now, if you really aren't sure whether you're up to that either you can start by canning your Homemade Marinara Sauce (Sept 4, 2011).
Ok, let's get started!
Step one – Pick out your tomatoes. You can use any variety of tomatoes – Roma, although small are one of the best because they have fewer seeds, thicker walls and less water.
Step two – Sanitize your jars and lids. Run the jars through the dishwasher – no soap! - use the sanitize cycle if it has one – boil the lids in either a small pot or your very large pot. No dishwasher? No problem, just put the lids and place jars sideways, in your very large pot, cover with water, heat until the water boils. Very carefully take them out and put them on the counter on a dish towel, jars with the mouth up and lids with the top side down – in other words don't let the inside of the jar or the inside of the lid touch the towel. While everything is being sanitized start your medium pot of water – for filling the empty space – to boil.
Step three – Remove the tomato skins. An easy trick for removing skin from tomatoes and peaches is to boil them and then plunge them into ice water. Fill your large pot with water and bring to a boil. Put the tomatoes in one at a time and boil for about 30 seconds, and for no longer than 60 seconds. Then place them in a bowl of ice water. The skins will pinch right off.
Step four – Cut, slice or chop. Cut the stem off and remove any blemishes. You can put the tomatoes in the jar whole or cut them up into halves or smaller pieces.
Step five – Fill the jars with cut or whole tomatoes. Fill to within ¼ inch of the top of the jar.
Step six – Add lemon juice and water. Add about 2 tbl of lemon juice to each quart jar, then add boiling water to fill any gaps. Insert your spatula and carefully move around the side of the jar to remove any air bubbles – add more water if necessary.
Step seven – Put the lids and rings on. They should be snug, but not overly tight. Wipe off any tomato or juice on the outside of the jars.
Step eight – Boil (process) the jars in the very large pot. Put the jars in the pot and cover with about an inch of water, place the lid on the pot. Boil for about 45 minutes. You will need to boil longer if you live at higher elevations – for over 1,000 feet add 5 minutes, for over 3,000 feet add 10 minutes, for over 6,000 feet add 15 minutes. So I live at 4,500 feet – I boil my filled jars for 55 minutes.
Step nine – Done! Turn the heat off, remove the lid, let sit for a couple of minutes. Carefully remove jars from the water bath. Place them onto a dishtowel on the counter – be careful not to bump them or let them touch each other. Let them cool for several hours, or overnight. Once they are cool, you can remove the rings – I prefer to leave mine on but it's your choice. Now that they are cool, you need to check to make sure that they are sealed correctly. Push down on the center of the lid, if it pops up and down then they are not sealed. Put any jars that aren't sealed in the refrigerator and use them first. By the way, you will hear little, pinging sounds as the jars cool this is perfectly normal.
If you decide to can your marinara sauce instead of the tomatoes – perform steps one and two, skip steps three and four. In step five, fill to within ¼ of an inch of the top. Step six, only add the lemon juice and don't worry about trapped air. Perform steps seven, eight and nine.
If you like doing this, then I suggest you invest in the pressure canner. You'll be able to can lower acid vegetables, and because it works at a higher temperature your cooking time is a lot less. For example, the tomatoes would only need to be processed for between 10 and 15 minutes depending on your altitude. And using the pressure canner results in better flavor because you're not cooking your vegetables for as long. You can even buy a home canning kit – this is cheaper than buying everything separately but if you already own most of the equipment it may not be worth it.
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