Saturday, 31 May 2014

Preserving Tomatoes Without Gadgets & Expensive Equipment

Tomato Season 

It's the last day of Autumn and who would believe we'd still be picking tomatoes?
Unusually warm weather continues to ripen the ones still hanging on the bushes. Between Brian and I we planted approx 60 plants in October last year. I know.. Crazy!, but we can never have too many tomatoes.. can we?   Our cellar is stocked with all of the standards; sauce, chutney, chilli sauce and preserved puree. We enjoyed them in the hot weather juiced with our greens and abundance of cucumbers and zucchinis. We ate them raw in salads and cooked up in tomato and onion pie. But still they keep landing on the kitchen table by the bucket full and of course I couldn't even think about wasting them.
I've noticed some of my friends bringing their glut of fruits and vegetables to share with work mates because they don't know what to do with them. Whilst I agree that sharing is a lovely thing to do, I also think it's a shame that they went to all the trouble of planting, watering, nurturing, picking the crop, just to give it all away.
When we put our heart and soul into growing food we really need to know how to preserve it so we can enjoy it later in the year. Why buy cans of tomatoes of dubious origin, quality, and perhaps dangerously, packaged in plastic lined cans when we can reach for a jar of our own preserves? Foods grown in our own organically enriched soil and preserved without additives is the ultimate in self sufficiency. Many are put off because they think they need special equipment and loads of time to preserve food, but that really isn't the case at all.
I prefer to preserve in jars so I can store in a cupboard or cellar rather than freezing and taking up precious freezer space. 
Here's an easy way of preserving tomatoes using a large pot, a cook top and some recycled jars.  The method is the same for a large amount of tomatoes or just a few.

You don't need fancy expensive jars, but they must have metal lids with the thin rubber layer on the inside. My jars are all collected and donated by my friends because we never buy anything in jars.
Wash and dry the jars. I never sterilize my jars and have never had any produce go off, but if you feel the need to sterilize them just place in a cool to moderate oven for a half an hour.

Wash and roughly chop tomatoes. Cut out any discoloured bits. Fill the pot to the brim and add a good bit of salt.  For this size pot I used 2 desertspoons of salt. Salt must be added because tomatoes are high in acid and will ferment, oozing out of their jars if not salted. Ugly and smelly!
They must also be very well cooked to prevent fermenting.
Bring the pot to the boil with the lid ON and then simmer with lid OFF for at least three hours on low heat. You will be expecting the liquid to reduce by a quarter or a third. Stir regularly so the bottom doesn't catch and burn.

Take off the stove and use a stick blender to puree the mushy, well cooked tomatoes. If you don't have a stick blender, cool the liquid to lukewarm before blending in small batches at a time in your blender. Don't blend while hot!

Now the puree must be heated again so that it is poured into jars while hot.
Fill jars to 1/2 centimetre below the top and screw the lid on tight immediately. Set on a wooden board or table to let the jars cool. Listen for the lids to pop as they vacuum seal.
After a few hours, or next morning, run your finger across the lid to feel the slight concave of the round seal indicator or the flat lid. If a lid hasn't sealed, remove lid and put jar into the microwave to reheat before screwing the lid on firmly again.  If it still isn't sealing you will know that the lid is damaged and you can either find a new spare lid, and repeat the microwave process, or keep that jar in the fridge to use in your next tomato recipe.
Between now and next tomato season we will use up all of my approx 5dozen jars of preserved tomato puree in soups, curries, pasta dishes, casseroles, hot pots etc.
It's not just about saving money. It's the satisfaction of growing, preserving, and knowing there are no preservatives in our food.

Give it a go. Try just a couple of jars to start with. I guarantee you will be hooked.
Let me know how you get on.


Bread making

                                       Whole grain sour dough loaf cooked in the wood oven.

                                 My preferred mode of cooking during the cool months of the year.

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