Greetings, Hooch and Home readers! I make up the South Carolina contingent for Hooch and Home and this weekend was all about canning. We get some truly stellar produce in this area of the country and I have been working to take advantage of it through various methods of preservation since the spring of 2013. Spring’s first strawberries are just too tempting a lure for anyone vaguely interested in canning, so my canning story (like almost all others I’ve seen) began one fateful April morning with a bucket of the world’s most beautiful strawberries.
This weekend, however, was all about tomatoes. Out of all the preservation I do, canning diced tomatoes is perhaps the most practical–no fancy techniques or interesting flavors here. Just plain tomatoes, ready for use in anything from local fave Tikka Masala Lentils to spaghetti sauce to vegetable stew. We use diced tomatoes a lot in my house, so putting up as much as we can while the prices are best is a summer weekend priority.
Since my living situation does not allow for anything but container gardening on a pretty small scale, I get almost all of my produce from the Farmer’s Market and my strategy is thus: get as much as you can process in the next day or two for the lowest price. After getting a 25lb. box of overripe tomatoes for $5 last summer, I was hooked on preserving the less-than-perfects. Usually market vendors are more than happy to unload the “uglies” at a discount.
Canning Diced Tomatoes
Special Equipment Needed:
- Canning jar tongs (or some other way to remove glass jars from boiling water)
- Canning funnel
- Canning (pint) jars, lids, and rings
- Pot big enough to fit several pint jars with room for one inch of water above the lids
- Citric acid
- Tomatoes: one pound makes about one pint…or so (always prep an extra jar just in case!)
N.B.: Safe canning practices come with a lot of rules and guidelines to follow. I highly recommend consulting the most hallowed Ball Book for a primer on canning in general. Marisa at Food in Jars has a great round up of Canning 101 posts, too. I spent a lot of time in the library with various cookbooks when I first started canning. Safety should be the highest priority when dealing with any sort of food preservation, so always follow the rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Aside from the hullabaloo of preparing your jars, canning diced tomatoes involves just three basic steps:
- Peel the tomatoes.
- Dice and briefly cook the tomatoes.
- Process in a boiling water bath (or pressure cooker, if that’s your style).
With regard to the first step, I absolutely hate blanching pretty much anything. So, when I found a website that suggested broiling tomato halves just until the skins are loosened, I knew my canning life was made so much easier.
After coring and cutting in half, arrange the tomatoes on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place on a rack about six inches from the broiler and cook until the skins have loosened. I tend to wait until most of the skins have visibly split.
Once the tomatoes are finished, pull them out and peel while still hot. Any combination of tools that works for you is fine, but I tend to use a pair of tongs and a fork. Once peeled, the tomatoes are ready to be diced.
I like to put my cutting board over the sink and place a bowl under one corner to catch the delicious tomato water, which will come in very handy in this post’s cocktail! I don’t mind the seeds and tomato gel, but if you do, feel free to remove before the cooking step.
Add the diced tomatoes to a pan and bring to a low boil. Cook for about five minutes until the tomatoes start to break down. I’m not entirely sure why this step is included, but I suspect it helps with the dreaded “fruit float” all canners are sworn to fight.
At this point, you should have already prepared your jars, lids, and rings for canning. As the rule goes, hot fruit should go into hot jars, so I prep my jars while the tomatoes are broiling and leave them simmering on the stove until I’m ready for them.
When the tomatoes are just about ready, take the jars out of the hot water and add 1/4 tsp. citric acid* to each jar. Then, using your handy canning funnel, add in the cooked tomatoes and leave about 1/2 inch head space. Then, in the step I most regularly forget, wipe down each jar’s rim with a clean, wet paper towel.
Place lids and rings on all your full jars and add back into the hot water bath. Process the jars for 35 minutes, starting the timer once the water has come to a full boil. Keep some hot water handy to add to the pot if the water level gets low. Thirty-five minutes is a long time and my pot always spits out enough to drop the levels low enough to be a problem. While the jars process, make the cocktail outlined below and put your feet up (or start on the next round!).
Once the timer is up, remove the jars from the pot and let them rest on a towel on the counter. Get really excited every time a lid pops sealed. Leave the jars relatively undisturbed until cool. Label and place in a cool, dark spot to store until a recipe demands them!
*Successful, safe canning depends on a certain amount of acidity in the food to be canned in a boiling water bath (pressure cookers are game changers when it comes to this). Tomatoes ride that line pretty closely, so always add citric acid or an appropriate amount of bottled lemon juice to your tomato preserves, according to the recipe. Citric acid is easy to find at most grocery stores that have canning supplies.
Tomato Water Bloody Mary
As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of vodka or most Bloody Mary cocktails, this combination came as quite the delightful surprise. It has the great flavors of a standard Bloody Mary, but doesn’t feel like a full meal in a glass. It’s eminently customizable, but I like the basic recipe just as it is. Best of all, it uses up the excess tomato water that I’ve let go down the drain in the past. After tasting this cocktail, I will never let it go to waste again!
Other recipes I looked at called for making a tomato (and other assorted vegetables) puree and then letting the puree strain for a long amount of time. If you’re really desperate for tomato water Bloody Marys, I’d say go for it. Otherwise, just let this drink be your reward for a long afternoon of canning.
Ingredients for two servings:
- 1 cup tomato water
- 3 tbsp. pickle juice
- 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 4 oz. vodka
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: Worchestershire sauce, fresh or prepared horseradish, Tobasco, sriracha, bacon etc. etc.
Mix all the ingredients together and divide into two Mason jars, full of ice. Adjust flavor to individual tastes.
Garnish with a pickle (or three) from the juice you used.