Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Can Can, Can You?

I've had that title floating around in my head for a month.  I apologize again for the break.  I can only blame my usual 2 excuses - life and laziness.  However, today, the dishes are done, the laundry can wait until Saturday, and I am procrastinating the menial chores of dying my hair and peeling pears.  What a transition into the purpose of my blog!  Pears!  I am peeling these pears to make pear butter which I hope to can a LARGE batch of early next week.  For those of you who will receive this pear butter for Christmas, be excited, be very excited.  Also, be prepared, because the photos in this post do not include pears.  They include tomatoes I canned earlier this summer.  I realize that in today's culture very few people my age can and preserve their own food.  In fact, my husband and my sister-in-law, Briana, are the only "twenty somethings" I know who continue this age old practice.  It is my hope that with the current push of "going green" more people will pick up the torch and continue.  It's a way of making sure there isn't a waste when you grow your own food.  It's a way to support local farmers when they sell their fresh produce.  It's a way to reduce household trash and in turn save money as the jars used to contain the food are reusable and they lessen the need to buy canned foods at the grocery store. For me the most important reason for canning is having access to food that tastes, in my own opinion, ten thousand times better than that which you can buy at the store.  Below, I will chronicle the process I use to can tomatoes.  I use the water-bath method of canning for tomatoes because they are high in acid and quite honestly the pressure function of a canner scares me a little.  One day I will embrace it when I am forced to can products which necessitate that method but, for now, I stick with what I feel safe with.  Please note, I would prefer it greatly if you wish to learn to can for you to purchase the Ball Complete Guide to Home Preserving for specific instructions rather than using this post.  It's a matter of food safety and I don't want to be responsible for your botchulism in case I leave something important out.

I began this journey with tomatoes.

LOTS of tomatoes!  My Grandaddy provided all of the red ones.  We grew these little yellow beauties!

They're called Yellow Jelly Beans, a sweet variety of grape tomato that I am still gathering in mass quantities, sometimes up to 50 a day.  You may notice the "x" marks at the bottom of each tomato above and below.

I do this because I have to prepare the tomatoes.  I take out the cores, any "bad" spots and bruises, and then I mark the bottoms with an "x".  This helps me when I take the skins off.  From this point I quickly blanch the tomatoes and then submerse them into an ice bath.  The "x" lets the steam and hot water get under the skin so that I can slip it right off after the blanching process.  The comes the jars.

It doesn't HAVE to be a Ball jar.  It could be a Kerr.  It could be a Mason.  There may be another brand but I don't know about it.  However, what is more iconic than a glass jar.  They are used for more than home canning.  Some people drink out of them.  Some restaurants use them as their primary drink vessel.  Then again, so do moonshiners.  Not that I've ever drank moonshine or know where I might be able to find it or know people who may have made it.  Not me.  Not ever.

So after preparing the jars, making sure they are clean and sanitary, I stuff all of the tomatoes I can into each jar with some salt and citric acid while leaving proper head room.  If you need a technical description of head room please refer to the book I recommended earlier.  The end up looking kind of like this.

All of those red tomatoes filled up 5 quart sized jars.  All of those yellow tomatoes filled that one little half pint jar.  Amazing, huh?  They'll be spectacular when the weather gets cold and I have no options for home grown delicious flavor packed tomatoes.  Then I follow the instructions in the book to process them.  For water bath canning it takes approximately 90 minutes in boiling water.  Believe me, it warms the house up.  It's a shame you can't can in the winter.  I suggest having some lemonade nearby during this process.  It helps cool you down.  The upside is, if you need a facial, just peek in on the jars.  The steam does wonders.  Anyway, this is what they look like when they come out.

Then you wait.  Within 10 minutes you will start to hear the most glorious noise.  Pop, Ping, Pop.  Those are the seals.  As the jars cool on the outside, the tomatoes inside are still raging hot.  The gap in temperature causes suction and all of the air is forced out and those little seals just suck in and make a wonderful noise.  The one you hope for and dream about.  Maybe it's not that revolutionary to you but it is to me.  Just try it once, you'll share in my joy.

Gross Out Alert and Side Note: To those of you that watch True Blood - look at the red tomato jars.  Do they not slightly remind you of the jar of "Talbot remains" that the King of Mississippi carries around?  Maybe it's just me.

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