My parents have always had a garden, have always grown tomatoes, and have always canned tomatoes. Most of the canned tomatoes end up being used in my dad’s somewhat famous salsa. The rest are used in stew, vegetable soup, chili, tomato soup, etc. Our garden has always been behind my parents house, but the crop hasn’t had a great yield for the last few years. We all knew that the ground had all of the nutrients sucked up by past crops. Since my grandma bought a house in Republic with a nice big backyard, my parents moved the garden up to her house. This year, they planted somewhere between 50 and 65 tomato plants. Crazy, right? They are now picking and canning tomatoes almost every other night. As of last weekend, they had over 80 jars and plenty more to go. I helped them can the weekend I was home.
Those are just the “ripe” ones my mom picked that morning. You can see the dune buggy in the background. It’s pretty cool.
We canned an entire bucket and a cake pan full that afternoon. It gets very messy so we lay towels down on the floor.
You start by boiling the whole tomatoes in hot water until the skin breaks. This makes it easier for the skin to be peeled off.
Then we dump them in cold water and start peeling the skin off and cutting out any nasty parts. My mom did this part while I boiled. I remember doing the skinning as a kid and my arms would itch because of all of the acid in the tomatoes.
Once the pots are filled with the peeled tomatoes, they get to cook for awhile. Honestly, I have no idea how long we cooked them. My parents “just know” because they’ve done it for so long. It’s probably just long enough for them to cook down a bit. We had three pots just from the bucket and pan of tomatoes.
That might give you an idea of how much it cooked down.
Once the tomatoes are cooked down, you’ll need canning jars, flats, and rings. My parents buy the flats and some rings every year, but only a few jars. We keep all of the jars that we use throughout the year. My sister and I save them, too. We also save the rings. The flats, unfortunately, are only good after one use.
My parents have this down to a science and have a fabulous assembly line. Here are the steps:
1. Mom hands a hot jar to Dad and adds another jar to the water to start heating up.
2. Dad fills the jar with tomatoes using a very specific funnel with a wide bottom that fits perfectly in the jar and a spaghetti spoon.
3. He pokes a knife down into the tomatoes to get them to settle down into the jar. Then he adds juice using a measuring cup to top the jar off.
4. Dad wipes the top of the jar off and mom places a flat on top.
5. Dad screws the ring on the jar tight.
Like I said, they have it down to a science. We’ve also canned sweet corned and cherries, but not as often as tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are all canned, there’s quite a bit of juice left. We can that, too, because it’s really great for tomato soup. I don’t know how many jars of juice my parents have canned this year, but I’m sure it’s at least 30 by now on top of the 80 jars of tomatoes.
They mostly can quart jars, but they will can pints or pint and a half. That’s what we had at the end of our canning session. It’s really kind of awesome to hear the pops when the jars start to cool and seal. Then we always take a permanent marker and write the year on the top of the jars. I made stew yesterday using a jar from ’12 and a jar from ’09. I don’t think I have ever used tomatoes from a grocery store in a can. I always have some jars on hand. And nothing tastes better than homegrown tomatoes…except maybe homegrown sweet corn.