The Fruits of Our Labors: Tomato Canning 2013

Saturday we processed our annual 100 pounds of tomatoes, a project we undertake each year with both excitement and trepidation. While we thrill at the idea of having a year's worth of home-canned tomatoes on hand, it is a project that is undeniably grueling.
So why do it? I'll put it this way: We used up the last quart of last year's tomatoes just three days before taking this project on. We haven't purchased a can of tomatoes in the store in nearly seven years.
We are fortunate to have access to beautiful San Marzano tomatoes from Mariquita Farm right now, and they're all we've canned over the past few years. They have the highest yield of flesh, thin skins and little in the way of seeds and internal good. Also, they have an intensely rich tomato flavor.

As we do every year, we have a strict method that keeps the process on the rails: To start, we core the tomatoes (made easier with a StemGem -- thanks, Sean!), then blanch and shock them in a cooler of ice water. Once shocked, the tomato skins slip off pretty easily, and we drop them and the seeds into the same colander as we left the cores. Be sure to save those bits and pieces!
We modified our process in a few ways this year. Courtesy of our friend and neighbor Philip, we used a Green Star Juice Extractor to puree the tomatoes rather than simply crushing. It added time, to be sure, but the results were worth it, with a smoother, more consistent puree that also seemed to reduce the amount of tomato water we end up with. Ultimately, from the pureed flesh alone, we canned 33 quarts. (Two jars unfortuantely failed, meaning we lost two quarts of puree to the canner. Dangit.)
For the second year, we used Northwest Edible's technique for extracting more puree from cores, stems and seeds, wherein they are cooked down and then passed through a food mill. This netted us another three quarts of very rich, smooth puree. 
In order to cook down the cores and such, as it was getting late on Saturday, we put them into pots and left them in a low oven overnight. That did successfully break down the flesh, but also generated a fair amount of tomato water that we kept separate. As there was still a good amount of flesh in the water, I ran it through a jelly bag, netting nearly another two quarts of puree.
Side note: We pressure can our tomatoes, but if you are squeamish about pressure cooking in general, you can water bath can your tomatoes by adding 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart (or 1/4 teaspoon per pint) of tomatoes. 
Our feet hurt, our backs hurt and the kitchen looked like a still from Dexter, but it was worth it. In the end, we got just short of 38 quarts of gorgeous tomato puree. The remaining tomato water was cooked down and will also be canned, and we are currently drying off the skins and seeds for tomato powder. For the first time, we are netting 100% yield from our tomatoes. It feels good, and it's so satisfying to have a fully stocked pantry again. 

Sauce from different parts of the tomato

Was there any difference in taste among the purees produced from the four methods: juicing the meat of the tomato, core and skin recovery, water from the cores and skins and water from the meat of the tomato?

Also, using the juicer how do you separate out the seeds? I used a Foley food mill last year (my first year) and it worked fine but I wouldn't mind a faster method.

The tomato water definitely

The tomato water definitely has a thinner flavor, and seems a bit more acidic as there's no pulp to temper the flavor. We actually did not separate the seeds, and so the tomato powder included the skins and seeds.

Thanks for your response. By

Thanks for your response. By separating the seeds I meant from the puree destined for the sauce. Did the juicer filter them out or did you send the result from the juicer through a strainer or what?

I'm trying to set up a process as far in advance as possible so I can tweak it with early tomatoes before going whole-hog later this year.


Ah. In this case, yes, the

Ah. In this case, yes, the juicer did that work for us. In the past, we were squeezing out the seeds and their goo, and crushing the meat separately. For this year, we got a food mill attachment for our Kitchenaid, so we'll see how that goes.

one thing I have learned is

one thing I have learned is if you use your jars for freezing also they tend to crack in the canner. I solved this by buying kerr for canning and ball for freezing. I still use both for dry goods and refrigeration.

Good to know

Good to know, but I don't use my jars in the freezer (it's too small!) But it sort of makes sense -- that's a lot of expansion and contraction.

Laughing as I scrub berry

Laughing as I scrub berry stains from our floor!

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