Canning - it is one of those activities that seems to strike irrational fear in the hearts of the uninitiated. Yes, I know improperly canned foods can grow grotesque things like botulism which can kill you. But folks, for at least a couple hundred years people have been canning foods and living to tell their children and grandchildren how to do it. And the easy thing is that your canned goods will look strange, smell bad, and generally be unappealing. So you will not eat contaminated food. Really, trust me.
The canning bug bit me hard when I started my first garden and had such an abundance of tomatoes that I kind of panicked until I realized that it takes a lot of tomatoes to fill up a quart jar. Much canning ensued and jars of gorgeous tomatoes greeted me all winter when I opened my pantry cupboards, leading me to can even more the following year just for the view.
When I was living on my small farm in Cannon Falls, MN canning became a bit of an obsession. The tart cherries off my tree were canned; peaches, tomatoes, green beans and berries, also canned. I even had a pressure-caner for beets - disastrous experience, do not recommend at all. Of course you can always make salsa or tomato sauce and can that, but I prefer to have canned tomatoes on hand to make whatever I need.
Canning equipment is paramount so prepare to make an investment of about $50 total - canning pot and rack, canning tongs, canning jars with lids and rings and a metal funnel. Purchase canning jars at most TruValue Hardware stores - they sell them at the best prices and fancy cooking stores will overprice them. Some TruValue stores will also carry the canning pot with the rack and the metal funnel. If not, you may have to resort to the above mentioned pricey cooking stores or buy it online. As for the jars, buy them in the 12 packs and use the leftover jars for storage of your dry pantry goods or as containers for other food. It's a personal preference but I strongly suggest you buy wide mouth jars - they simply are easier to use and clean.
Roma tomatoes are the best tomatoes to can since they have the most bulk and the least amount of seeds and water and hold their shape well. I usually quarter them so that they are easier to load into the jars, but choose whatever shape - whole, halved, diced - you prefer.
Read the instructions carefully but realize that once you have done this a couple of times it will become second nature. One of the key things to remember is that once you have sterilized the jars, lids and bands, you do not want to touch them with your bare hands (or let them drop on the floor, etc.) to keep them sterile. Using the tongs to place the lids on the jars and the rings on the jars and then using our hands to tighten the rings is the closest you skin should come into contact with the jars. By the way, if you don't trust my easy ways with canning, read the labels on your newly purchased canning jars - Ball, Kerr - they will tell you the same instructions!
Basic Canned Tomatoes
(makes 3 quarts or 6 pints)
tongs (such as those used for turning hotdogs on grill, etc)
15-20 large ripe roma tomatoes
Bring a large pot of water to boil and drop in as many tomatoes as will fit loosely and cook (not boil) for 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and finish with remaining tomatoes. Core tomatoes and slip off the skins (the hot water bath will loosen the skins and they should peel off easily). Cut in whatever shape you prefer - halves, quarters, etc. - and place in a bowl and set aside.
Wash and dry the jars and lids. Place jars without the lids in canning pot in the rack and add hot water to pot and inside jars to cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Cover and bring to boil (this will take some time so use hot tap water). Once water is rapidly boiling, process jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes to sterilize. Place bands in smaller pot of water and lids on top of the bands so that they are easier to fish out when you need them. Place pot over medium low heat to sterilize the lids and bands. DO NOT boil the bands and lids since it will melt the the inside of the lids and they will not seal properly. You are only heating the water to a very high temperature, but not boiling.
Once jars have been processed for 10 minutes in boiling water, remove from pot with jar lifter and pour water back into pot and place jars on clean surface to be loaded with tomatoes. Turn heat back up to high to bring pot water up to boiling again. Place metal funnel in first jar and fill with tomatoes, packing them into the jar and leaving only 1 inch of space from top of tomatoes and top of jar, pressing tomatoes down. Add a pinch of salt - 1/8 of teaspoon for pints and 1/2 teaspoon for quarts.
Using tongs place lids on top of jars and carefully screw on rings, but not super tightly. Carefully lift jars into the canning pot and make sure water covers tops by at least 2 inches. Bring water back up to boil with jars in pot and THEN process for an additional 20 minutes if using quart jars; process 10 minutes if using pint jars. When processing is completed, turn off heat and remove jars, placing them on a dishcloth to cool. Lids will "pop" meaning they are sealed. The lids will seal within 5 minutes after being removed from the bath. If the lids do not pop, simply process them for an additional 10 minutes. Allow to cool on the counter for at least 12 hours. Store in your pantry and feel smug about your new-found skill!
Recipes currently inspiring me:
Catfish Fingers with Tomato Tartar Sauce at More Than Burnt Toast
Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce at Flavors of the Sun
Red Curry Shrimp with Pineapple at Sidewalk Shoes