Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Adventures in Canning

I recently finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and became very interested in learning how to preserve food.  My friend Amy had some experience canning jams and beans, so we decided to try tomato sauce, a first for both of us.  We chose to make the "Family Secret Tomato Sauce" recipe from the book, also posted on the book's website

We bought "second" tomatoes from a local organic farm for $1 a pound.  Second tomatoes are just regular tomatoes that are too ugly to sell for full price; they might be shaped funny or have weird marks on them, but they still taste great, which is perfect when you need to buy a lot and are just going to mash them up anyway.  We just had to call a couple days in advance and place the order.  We bought all the spices in bulk at the Co-op, and the onions from the Organic Growers Club at OSU (they just happened to be selling them the Friday before).  

The recipe starts by calling for tomato puree from 30 pounds of tomatoes.  So, since Amy has an awesome blender ("will it blend?") we just started dropping those babies in and pureeing the crap out of them.  Pretty soon we had filled a 5 gallon pot with hot pink tomato liquid.  Very watery liquid.

Hmm.  The recipe said we'd be using a 3 gallon pot.  Did we miss something here?  Slightly concerned, we added all the spices, stirred it up, and left it to simmer while we went shopping for canning jars.    

After about 4 hours, it was supposed to have reduced to a more typical sauce-like consistency.  This is what ours looked like.  Pretty much the same, not thickened at all.        

It was 6pm on a Sunday night.  We had planned on doubling the recipe, so we still had a whole second batch left to make!  It was nowhere near thick enough to be sauce, so we were sure we had done something wrong.  

After browsing various websites, it looked like maybe we should have blanched the tomatoes, peeled, seeded and squeezed out excess juice, then pureed.  Even though that was probably the best way to do it, there was no way in hell I could be convinced to put in that kind of effort this late in the day for the second batch.  We really did want to make something worth canning though, so in the end, rather than peeling the tomatoes, we cored and quartered them, ran them through the food processor to dice them, then strained out the excess liquid.  The result was a much better tomato product.

In order to salvage the long-cooked flavor of the spices and onions that had been stewing all day, we ladled off about 2/3 of the thin tomato sauce and replaced it with the chunkier tomatoes until we had the consistency we wanted.  

Around 9:30 pm, we finally had our sauce, albeit about half the amount we were hoping for.  It tasted really good!  

The thin tomato sauce that we ladled off did not go to waste either.  It was the perfect base for minestrone.  We also used some to make chili mac!  We followed the recipe from our beloved America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, replacing any tomato products with an equivalent amount of our "special tomato base".    

In the end, even though we had some mishaps, I'm way less intimidated by canning than I was in the past.  I'm even considering attempting to make apple butter this fall, my dad's favorite!  


  1. It was a fun learning experience, right? I used my "special tomato liquid" to make vegetable soup with barley...super yummy. I also canned sweet pickle relish the other day (no dill, Robyn). I think we did a pretty good job all things considered. :-)

  2. Looks like it turned out nicely! I wish I had this much patients for cooking...weird considering I LOVE to bake. I guess I like desserts more than food :)


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