Yes, kittens, it's that time again. Time when the bounty of summer comes tumbling down all around us, when we must work like hell to preserve produce at its peak of perfection lest it slip through our fingers for yet another year.
We've not done as much canning this year as we have in years past. In 2006 in particular we frenetically canned everything that wasn't nailed down. But based on last year's successful tomato canning venture, we knew we had to do it again.
Last year, working with our friends Nick and Russ, we processed and canned 80 pounds of luscious heirloom tomatoes, netting six gallons of bright marinara sauce. This year, we upped the ante and went for 100 pounds. Gluttons for punishment, we are.
While we once again worked with ripe, organic heirlooms (luckily more ripe than our friends' quarry), Nick this year opted for a variety that was largely based on beefsteak. This not only resulted in a richer color, but a sauce with more body as well.
Canning this quantity of anything is not work to be undertaken lightly. We scored, blanched, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped all the tomatoes, reserving the excess tomato water. Then we cooked up two tremendous stockpots of marinara sauce, comprised simply of sautéed garlic and onion, tomatoes and salt and pepper. Then, we stuffed a large sprig of basil in each jar, filled them with sauce, and processed the canned sauce in two even larger pressure canners at 11 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes, working in batches. We then left the jars to cool, their contents bubbling volcanically for hours.
It so happens that 80 pounds of tomatoes is about as much as we could accommodate even in these monstrous pots, and so we tried to can the remainder simply as is. But during the pressure canning, the meat and water of the tomatoes separated, leaving lava lamp-like configurations that we didn't think would hold up so well. So we opened them up, drained and reserved the tomato water, and cooked down the meat to hearty homemade tomato paste. The water makes for a fantastic braising liquid (including, as we discovered, for Rancho Gordo Rio Zape beans) or soup base.
It's hot, sweaty, grueling, back-breaking and above all messy work, but a bottle or four of wine got us through. Each couple came away with 12 quarts of luscious sauce, plus tomato water and tomato paste, to have on hand to offer a ray of summer sunshine during the upcoming dark winter days. We've vowed to make it an annual tradition.
Note: The above sites are using boiling-water method to can tomatoes. Tomatoes are marginally within the appropriate acid level to prevent spoilage by this method. To ensure safety, either add acid using lemon juice or vitamin C; boil for at least 45 minutes; or process in a pressure canner.