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Why-To and How-To Can Tomatoes

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Have you ever cracked open a jar of homemade pickles, or sliced into a loaf of banana bread that you baked yourself? It’s a satisfying act to break into foodstuffs like this. The experience is exciting - you’re about to taste something delicious. It’s also an act that engenders a feeling of pride if you made the goods yourself, or maybe your chest swells with a bit of adoration if the homemade goods were given to you. Food, especially food made from vegetables grown with extreme care and conviction, can provide comfort, as well as nutrition. Food like this gives us physical comfort as immediate as the enzymatic watering in your mouth, as well as physical comfort that supports you throughout the day in the way that a wholesome meal can quietly vitalize your life.

I can’t think of a better way to insure yourself a bit of comfort in the year to come than to ‘put up some tomatoes. Tomatoes, a heat-loving, summer fruit, sparkle in their summer applications. Peach and tomato salads, fresh tomato micheladas, and fast, bright pastas ribboned with basil. But the beloved tomato really has a use case all year long, and sometimes, on a dark winter day, a jar of preserved summer tomatoes is just what you need to nourish yourself. With a few jars of tomatoes in your pantry, your future self, who is maybe sick, tired, or both, can seek this simple cupboard comfort. A sweet and special dinner can come together easily with only one hard twist of a Ball jar. And if you can can 💃 enough tomatoes to share, you’re giving this jarred-up joy to someone else, so that they may stow it away and open it when they need it most.

Each summer when tomato and tomato-canning season rolls around, I think of this passage from Dandelion Wine:

“What a swell way to save June, July, and August. Real Practical. [...] Better than putting things in the attic you never use again. This way, you get to live the summer over for a minute or two here or there along the way through the winter, and when the bottles are empty the summer’s gone for good and no regrets and no sentimental trash lying about for you to stumble over forty years from now.”
-Ray Bradburry, talking about dandelion wine, though I like to imagine it’s written about bottles of tomato sauce.

Some scenes from our Pickling and Canning workshop last summer. Photos by Troy Cardona.

For many things, I cook from the hip. But when it comes to any form of canning, I’m always going to rely on the USDA’s (free, 196-page) Complete Guide to Home Canning put together by the conspicuously named National Center for Home Food Preservation The recipes in the guide are well researched and focused on food safety. Click on the link above to see the full list of canning resources or click here for a link to the tomato canning guide, specifically.

Mostly, I can’t be bothered to do anything other than can whole or crushed tomatoes, but the guide also includes recipes for salsa, spaghetti sauce, and something called “Blender Ketchup” (which is different from “Country Western Ketchup”. Don’t let the stodgy recipes names or bromidic graphics deter you; in a world of infinite internet recipes with questionable amounts of science-based food safety precautions, this guide is your answer and removes any guesswork from the equation, the rigidity of the recipes somehow more inclined to become meditative. Canning is a muscle that I’m trying to strengthen. It takes a little bit of work and the risks of a full-blown kitchen explosion are high. I’m prone to let projects like this take over the entire space. But canning tomatoes isn’t hard, just tedious, and the rewards are plenty. The one protip I’ll offer is to actually invest in a canning pot if you plan to make a habit out the practice. I canned vegetables for many years without one, and after borrowing Becky’s one year (at the VERY VERY beginning of our friendship), I realized that I was making the already-laborious project way more complicated.

To get your hands on a preservable-amount of VRDNT tomatoes, visit us (on the early side) at the Mueller Farmer’s Market.

Memories! A photo from our Pickling and Canning workshop last summer. Photo by Troy Cardona.


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