Saturday, August 29, 2009

Canning Tomatoes

Today I canned tomatoes. Five quarts and seven pints, to be exact. It was the perfect activity for a cool summer day at the end of August while watching/listening to the funeral of Ted Kennedy. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Last week I bought the equipment, a little dismayed by the fact that after thinking that "everyone" around here canned, pretty much everyone I spoke to had never canned. I did not like the idea of the "hot water bath" which would take over an hour of simmering, so I splurged and bought a pressure cooker. We had one-- a small one-- when I was growing up and my mother used it to cook vegetables sometimes. We were always made aware that it was a very dangerous pot, and the hissing, spinning pressure gauge on top left no doubt that this warning was true. If that thing flew off and hit you in the head, it could clearly kill you. And there was the steam. My mother seemed to do battle with the pot more than use it as a helpful instrument, and I always wondered if it was worth it.

This morning I got up with renewed energy, printed off instructions from a simple and elegant site on the Internet and laid out my tools. There was the forceps for removing hot jars, the handy tongs (yes, I paid $9.95 for a set of canning tools that also included a magnetic lid-tester, a lid opener and a wide-mouthed funnel), the lids and jars washed in soapy water drying on the towel before being sterilized, the three pots of boiling water-- one for lids, one for jars and one for the tomatoes themselves. I had a stack of towels ready. Basically, I felt like I was preparing to deliver a baby.

I also had my motley bunch of tomatoes, some blighted but most looking pretty darn good. According to what I'd read, I'd need 20-30 lbs of them, and I had no idea if this was enough. I did go out for an additional harvest before I finished, but I ende dup with more or less exactly as many as I needed for this dozen jars, one full load in my canner.

Once everything was sterilized and simmering, it was fun. Dunking the tomatoes and skinning them, doing a half-hearted job of taking out the seeds and then putting them in the jars. A twist of the lid and onto the rack. Loading the canner was a little scary-- it was hot water already, and I wasn't sure if I'd need those fancy racks (no), and ended up having to pull out the first load wearing rubber gloves to protect my hands.

Once loaded I screwed on the lid and set it to boil. While it was picking up steam, I made a couple loaves of banana bread. The whole process took about three hours, including the passive time at the end waiting for the steam to come up. Once the pressure gauge rattles, you turn down the heat and let it simmer under pressure for 10 minutes. My pressure gauge didn't rattle nicely, but rather spouted in spurts every few seconds or so. That was a little disconcerting...

After the 10 minutes are up, you just turn off the heat and let the thing cool down for an hour. That happened just as I was putting the banana bread in, which baked for an hour. I came down to take it out of the oven, and also removed the jars.

And yes, that's when I scalded my inner arm. I was lifting the rack between the two sets of jars and it splashed down and scalding hot water went all over my arm. It hurt. Then it didn't (shock, I suspect) while I removed the jars, and since then it has basically hurt like hell. I have a nice red burned patch on the most sensitive skin just below my wrist, but otherwise it's ok. I put some ointment on it and so that is that.

I went downstairs to do a little workout (take my mind off the burn-- and yes, I'm trying to work out!!) and heard the EXTREMELY satisfying sound of the jars snapping sealed. I think I heard only six or seven pops, but when I came up they all seem sealed! It is truly amazing, and I will be so thrilled to cook with these tomatoes come winter.
Now, some cleaning to do and then off to the grocery store. Tomorrow, the State Fair!
Ah, Minnesota, I embrace thee!

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