It is tomato season in Texas and pretty much everyone I know that either gardens or shops the farmers’ markets is reveling in the magic of summer tomatoes right now. This is also the time of year when I get lots of questions about putting up tomatoes. I wish I felt comfortable posting a few recipes, but I still follow the ones in my cookbooks line by line, double and triple checking that I am not missing steps. So, what I have for you is a handful of my most trusted resources and a few tips to help make the canning process a bit less daunting.
1. Read your recipes all the way through before starting!
2. Double check that you have enough jars, lids, bands and lemon juice or citric acid on hand before you get started.
3. Make small batches. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you get through tomatoes if you start mentally breaking them down into smaller manageable batches of 6 and 3 pounds. Smaller batches can also help dampen beginner fears around making and correcting mistakes. Significantly less daunting to reprocess 5-6 jars that you forgot to acidify than it is to reprocess 20!
4. Clear a workspace for just canning. Keeping things tidy and creating a canning “zone” will help you keep your materials cleaner and create some muscle memory with regards to steps.
5. Hydrate. This is where I turn into your mom. Water-bath processing is hot. Drink water. Treat yourself to a popsicle or Topo Chico in between steps.
6. When in doubt, freeze! Can’t find a recipe for an enchilada sauce you like? Want to make one of your own recipes and not sure if it is safe? Feeling overwhelmed by the 10lbs sitting on your counter? FREEZE. FREEZE. FREEZE. I take a lot of pride in my shelf-stable homemade pantry, but the frozen enchilada sauce I put up and those last few pounds that get roasted make me every bit as happy when I pull them out of the freezer in a few months.
Ball’s recipe offerings online.
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Amazing resource on canning safety, requirements, and recommendations. I give it a scour anytime I am working with a new type of fruit or vegetable for peace of mind.
A solid and accessible approach to canning that really helped build my confidence as a newbie. All the science and PH and acidification can get a little overwhelming and it is a nice reminder that all we have to do is follow a handful of steps to get a safe product.
If you plan on adding canning to your kitchen strategy, I highly suggest acquiring a book (or two) to bump up your knowledge base and inspiration. Any of the Ball Preserving books would be a solid addition, but the one I have suggested below has a solid section on tomatoes with both recipes and lots of tips. These are my go-tos pretty much every canning season.