Saturday, August 25, 2012

Home Canning Tomatoes

Today was tomato canning day as I joined two of my friends and their families in their annual tomato canning project. We ordered 12 bushels of plum tomatoes from a local farm and washed, cooked, crushed, cooked again and canned them all into 180 quart jars of homemade tomato sauce! My friends have been doing this every August for at least the last decade, so they have the process down pat by now, but wow--what an impressive project. I kept my phone in my pocket so I could snap a few pics along the way.
This is about half of the tomatoes...
washed and ready to be cooked.
Tomato day started bright and early at 7am in my friend's backyard with five adults and two helpful teenagers. We were set up on her driveway, patio and a bit of her lawn area with the different stations--cleaning tomatoes, cooking tomatoes, processing tomatoes, and cooking and canning the sauce.
The first cooking process.
Giving the tomatoes a stir.
While the burners for cooking the tomatoes were being set up by my friend's husband, the rest of us started washing the tomatoes in tubs of water and cutting away any damaged or moldy parts, of which there was very little. Out of 12 bushels of plum tomatoes--which is upwards of 636 lbs of tomatoes, we may have had only 1 or 2 lbs of tomato waste when we were done washing.

Tomato cooking well under way.
Once the three burners were set up and lit, tomatoes were put in the huge stock pots with a bit of water to prevent burning and they were cooked until they started to break down. In the meantime, we kept washing more tomatoes and several bunches of fresh basil.
Fresh basil for the tomato sauce

Cooked tomatoes waiting to go through the tomato mill
Once the tomatoes were turning into stewed tomatoes, they were spooned into a mill made especially for processing tomatoes. The tomatoes are essentially crushed and skin and seeds of the tomatoes are separated from the sauce. The skins and seeds go into a bucket and the sauce goes down a little chute into another big huge stock pot.
Processing the cooked tomatoes into sauce.
Below is another view of the tomato mill. You can see the skins and seeds going into the bucket on the left and the sauce goes down the chute into the pot on the right.

Another view of the tomato mill
The huge stock pot of sauce now gets put onto another burner where it cooks down some more, this time with handfuls of fresh basil and kosher salt.
Tomato sauce with basil
simmering away,  almost ready to be ladled into jars.
When the sauce gets a little thickened, it gets ladled into quart-size canning jars. One person ladled the sauce into the jars using a funnel and two others put the lids and bands on, wiping the rims as needed. The sauce is so hot that a proper seal was created as the sauce started to cool without having to process them in water. I've always processed jam in water, so I had a little trouble trusting this process without the water, but soon we heard all the lids popping sealed, so it worked! An hour or two later I checked all the jars I brought home and they were all sealed.
Gorgeous jars of homemade tomato sauce.
By the time the last of the jars were filled, clean up was well under way. Pots were scrubbed, the mill was cleaned and all supplies were put away. By 2 o'clock in the afternoon, you'd never know tomato day had taken place. Unless, of course, you visited the basements of these three families. There you'd find dozens of jars of homemade tomato sauce just waiting to be cooked into spectacular meals for our families over the next year. :)

I've canned homemade fruit jams many times in the past, but have never canned tomato sauce before. Nor have I been a part of such a big production as this was today, but thanks to the years of experience and fine tuning, the work was efficient and the day went very smoothly. I'm curious to see how long my 30 jars of tomato sauce last me. February? April? Will I make it to the next tomato canning day in August 2013? We shall see.

Have you ever canned your own tomato sauce? Jam? Pickles? Anything else? 

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  1. Canned tomatoes - now that's thrifty and hardworking. Have a great week.

    PS I am now your newest follower
    PPS Just to let you know that I run a monthly series called Books You Loved. The current one is the August edition and a new edition will go up about the 10th Sept. If you would like to contribute, you would be more than welcome

  2. I'd love to can. I made pickles once and it didn't work out well. I'd love to try again.

  3. What a neat idea to do it as a group, much less work and stress all around! And now you have tomato sauce to last you for the next year. Cool.

  4. When I canned (in my younger days) I used to do it with friends. It makes the day go much faster and is much more fun. I never had that very cool tomato mill -- what an awesome gadget!

  5. I just read this post aloud to my son. We're intrigued by the tomato mill!

  6. It does look as you had fun. Doing this with friends (and doing it outside!) does look much more enjoyable than in a hot kitchen in August. I'm sure you'll really enjoy using that sauce!

    Meanwhile, me can something? Hahahahaha..... :)

  7. Smart to do it outside and avoid heating up the house. My Italian-American mother-in-law used to do this project every autumn to prepare for the winter's pasta dinner every Sunday. It laid the foundation for some memorable family meals.

  8. so how many cars did you get in total from all those tomatoes?
    A lot of work, but it sounds well worth the effort.

  9. How very cool!

    I would be very curious to know how much was spent and figure out how much each can of sauce cost to produce? Obviously making it yourself is an accomplishment but did it save you money? Probably, right?

  10. Very smart, and cool! I've made homemade sauce on the stove before using tomatoes, but never at this level. Like you I'd have been worried about the seals. Glad to know each one sealed well. Can't wait to hear how long your jars lasted!

  11. Wow - that is quite a process! Color me impressed. I've never canned anything on my own (I used to help can plums & apple sauce with my parents), but this looks awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  12. That looks like fun! And what a terrific result.

    Joy's Book Blog

  13. Thanks for all your comments on my tomato canning post!

    I forgot to add in my post why I like the idea of canning tomatoes at home:
    1. While the tomatoes were not organic--my first choice, they tomatoes we bought are at least locally grown NJ tomatoes, so there's that peace of mind knowing where they came from, supporting local businesses, and using less fuel to ship food from far away to my kitchen.
    2. Food stored in glass jars is safer from a health perspective than steel cans with BPA in their lining, which is SO difficult to avoid these days. I did read that the Bell lids have BPA in them, but since there is headspace above the tomatoes, at least the tomatoes are not coming in constant contact with lid, so the concern for contamination is much, much less. You can find BPA free canning lids online, but I didn't get around to ordering them on time.
    3. Satisfaction in doing something from scratch!
    4. Having fun doing something productive with friends. :)

    Carole, It was a lot of work, but it was also a fun day. We were lucky it didn't rain AND it wasn't a scorcher of a day. It got hot, but it was definitely manageable.

    Thanks for following my blog! Thanks also for the invite to join your monthly blog series. I'll definitely stop over and check it out. :)

    Linda, I've never canned pickles before. I like them crunchy and imagine mine being soggy after all that work so I don't even try. LOL!

    Beth, It worked really well doing this in a group. We got it done pretty quickly, I think.

    Beth F, The tomato mill machine is very cool. I'm used to cooking with whole peeled tomatoes in the can, so I sure hope we like the tomato sauce instead!

    lbgregg, The tomato mill machine is awesome! The guys were doing that part. Not surprising, right? I actually didn't mind because those tomatoes were hot and sometimes splattering.

    Phyl, I could not imagine doing this in a hot kitchen. I'd have melted for sure!
    You could can something if you really wanted to! It's really not that hard. In fact, I think jam is easy.

    Fay, What nice memories you must have of your Italian-American MIL!

    I don't think I would have survived canning all those tomatoes if we had to do it inside. I would have melted! Plus it would have taken forever without those humungous pots! I think every neighborhood around me has a traditional immigrant Italian-American family who does this tomato project every year in late summer. My Italian-American neighbors used to do it every year. Their entire backyard used to be a vegetable garden, mostly with tomatoes and they'd can their tomatoes on an old outdoor brick wood stove. It smelled so good on canning day! Now they're in their 90s and don't do it anymore.. it's kind of sad.

    caite, We canned exactly 15 jars of tomatoes for every bushel, so 180 jars total! See my comment below to Jess for a cost breakdown, too.

  14. Jess, Thanks! I'm glad I got to be a part of this project this year!
    We had 12 bushels of tomatoes--5 each for my two friends and then I only claimed 2 bushels. I didn't want to take more than I thought my family could eat in a year.

    We ended up with exactly 15 jars for every bushel of tomatoes. A bushel of tomatoes is about 53lbs.

    So 12 bushels x 15 jars = 180 jars.

    The cost of the tomatoes, basil and propane (to fire the burners) came out to a cost of $24 per bushel.

    So $24 x 12 bushels = $288 / 180 jars = $1.60 per jar [quart size or 32oz or 0.95 L]

    Of course, this cost doesn't take into consideration the start up cost of all the supplies--those huge stock pots and the tomato mill. My friend has had them for a decade or more, so I didn't have to contribute there. However, if you did this in smaller batches in your kitchen, you wouldn't have to worry about needing the restaurant volumed items. Also, you don't have to use a mill to separate the seeds and skins, although it is obviously much more labor intensive to skin and seed the tomatoes by hand.

    Brandy, It was a very cool project in which to be involved. I'm so glad I did it. I make sauce from tomatoes once or twice a year--usually late August or early September, when tomatoes are at their peak. The rest of the year, I use tomatoes in the can from the supermarket. I'm excited to use my jarred tomatoes throughout the next year. Or in the next several months depending on how fast we use up 30 jars!

    Cecelia, Oh you should try home canning sometime. If you're someone who likes to do things from scratch, I highly recommend it. It's very rewarding!! Start with something easy like jam. I have a few posts about home canning and preserving around here somewhere...
    Preserving at home
    including some refrigerator jam recipes. And this post on strawberry jam from start to finish: Jam Session.

    Joy, Thanks! It was a lot of fun. Very rewarding. Can't wait to cook with the sauce now!

  15. Mama Mia!!!! I have never canned my own, that is one VERY arduous process. My grandparents have done it but I don't have the hutzpuh for it :) They look just beautiful though and having made my own sauce with fresh picked roma's I know there is nothing in the world like it.


  16. Wow, what a professional organization you have there. It's looks like fun, and you guys have it down to a science. Bravo to you all!

  17. That is pretty awesome Christine!! and because you join people that were familiar, it was also quick!! Pretty awesome! :)

    Maybe the next time I come, I can have a taste :P

  18. Wow! What else is there to say, that's a lot of tomatoes!

  19. Hey Christine,

    Wow! That looks like a lot of work, but also fun! I wouldn't mind doing some canning. I made applesauce once years ago when Devin was a baby.

    I hope things have been well with you :)

  20. Hello christine!
    I hope you're well!
    Such an interesting post this one! Lol
    Well, canned mother doesn't do this to tomato, I mean, she freezes lots of it for when it's out of season, but she doesn't do any sauce. The only thing she uses to keep this way is quince. My grandmother has a quince tree in her backyard and we pick the quinces and my mom does quince jam. I still have a huge pot from last year in my freezer. It's yummi and great to eat with bread. :)


  21. Paula, lol! One does need hutzpuh for a project like this! I'm lucky to have joined in with these friends well past the learning curve. They had this system down pat!

    I do love making sauce with fresh garden tomatoes this time of year, too. Nothing beats it!

    Diane, Thanks!

    nath, I opened one of the jars and made sauce the other day. It smelled and tasted so good! I seasoned it and cooked it down a bit to thicken it. So yummy. :)

    Peggy, It was indeed A LOT of tomatoes!

    Amy C, Hey there!! So good to see a comment from you online! :)

    You should try the canning sometime. It's very rewarding. I've made applesauce, too, but just freeze it in jars. I've never processed it so it could sit on a shelf.

    I've been well. Hope you have been, too! :)

    S., Hi Sonia! I'm well. Hope you are, too! :)
    Ha! Glad you liked the post. I have heard freezing tomatoes whole to use in sauce works really, really well. I've never done that. I guess I'm a bit deterred by the freezer space I'd need for all those tomatoes!

    Quince jam sounds DELICIOUS! Yu

  22. I just discussed it with Shawn, and I think we are going to look into canning pickles next year :). Maybe after that we'll do different things.

  23. Amy C, Pickles sounds awesome! That's what my grandmother used to can. From cucumbers she grew in her own garden. Nice memories. :)

  24. OMG OMG OMG. I've read this post half a dozen times and I just can't come up with anything else to say. Out of all of the things that we could possibly can, tomatoes would be at the top of my list because we use canned tomatoes (or sauce or paste or...) several times a week. This is simply fantastic.

  25. Trish, Isn't this fantastic?! Canned tomatoes are at the top of my list of canned foods that we eat, too, so I feel so good knowing I have these jars of tomatoes in the basement ready to be cooked into something awesome. I've used 3 jars already.. but tend to use more in the fall and winter when I make more sauces and stews. Looking forward to making homemade tomato soup this winter, too!

    This project would be a TON of work to do by yourself. I think it would take all weekend to do several bushels of tomatoes in a home kitchen with just two workers.

  26. My daughter and I have been contemplating doing some canning together this fall, and did a lot of research on the proper way to can (jar). Every site we looked at said you need a pressure canner for high-acid foods, or the food had a good chance of becoming contaminated with dangerous bacteria. But I could not find any store which sold the pressure canner until I ordered one online. The very morning the canner arrives, we find your site, and you state that you are not concerned because the lids all sealed immediately. But the experts say that all that means is that you created a vacuum, not that the enzymes stop working. Are you at all concerned about harmful bacterias in your tomato sauce?


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