This year as apparently been a wonderful year for everyone else in the tomato growing farm group. So, never to be accused of being moderate I bought enough tomatoes this year to fell a Clydesdale. And my long suffering assistant has been given an inadvertent manicure, albeit reddish stained. (Catherine is the bomb!)
In fairness, if we all think of the amount of money we spend on products with tomato in them, we would probably be surprised. I was raised in a house where tomatoes were canned up fresh every year and my Mom was the Queen of the crockpot meal, the majority of which had tomatoes in them. Between the sauce, paste, salsa, ketchup, steak sauces, canned soups, you will probably astonished at the amount of tomato in the foods we eat.
Now I don't want to start an argument over GMO (genetically modified organisms) here, but the reality is that the majority of tomato things in our pantries use tomato as a thickener, or other reason than taste. Which is a good thing considering the commercial tomato has damn near no flavor anyway. Ever buy a tomato in January and it is sickly pink instead of red and has no flavor? Yeah, that's it. They are going for size not flavor.
So if you can grow a few plants for fresh eating, for God's sake do it! You can grow them inside all year. (Just ask my mother and the tomato plants that take over her living room in February. I'll have to get a picture one day and show you all. Holy 'maters Batman!)
I should have been better about taking more detailed pictures but I just wanted the invasion to end. To be honest, I know this is only the first wave, there will be more canning of tomatoes coming, only because I made sauce and that takes a HUGE amount of tomatoes to do. Really. 2.5 flats of tomatoes for 6 jars of sauce. REALLY.
We begin by cutting the tomato to reveal the snot pockets that contain the seeds. (I said this would be informative, not appetizing)
Once you do that, you now have some options. The first is just to jar the tomato as is. Layer them in the jar, add water to cover, and 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of Lemon Juice or citric acid powder, and process for 25 minutes in a water bath canner. Easy Peasy. You can go one step further:
I use this weird thing called a vidalia wizard to cut the tomato into tiny cubes whilst making a HUGE mess in the process. I then can that for use in recipes. Why? because they incorporate into the dishes very quickly, and that is good especially for picky eaters. I throw in a quart jar of these when I make tacos (Click here for recipe) and the kids have NO IDEA the tomatoes are in there. You will find you will use these a lot for pan sauces with sausages or with fresh herbs to put on fish or chicken. I do impromptu pan sauces all the time.
My salsa is simple too. In a pan I saute onions and garlic until they are soft. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP WITH THE ONIONS!!! If you don't cook them and then try to can them fresh, they off gas in the jar, and the jars will go BOOM. Ok, the top pops off them and the contents spill out over everything, if you're lucky. If you are less lucky, the seal will be compromised, and if you don't notice it, you will open a jar and pass out from the funky rot smell coming from the jar where you swear you put salsa, again if you are lucky. Botulism is an anaerobe, (fancy word for grows in the absence of oxygen) and it has no smell or taste. Totes dangerous. Cook the damn onions.
Add any peppers you like in yours. I do a poblano, and some bell and then the little sweet peppers. I then add the diced tomatoes and cook until hot all the way through. I add some apple cider vinegar, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of pre made fajita spices. Add salt and pepper but be sparing with the salt since you add more in the canning process. You then jar that up, still adding the salt and lemon juice like with the plain tomatoes.
Sick of this shit yet? No? Well, this next recipe is missing some of the great procedural photographs. For that I apologize. But if you do attempt this one, be ready for a multi day process. However it doesn't need to be done right this very second, so it is a little more flexible than the others I suppose since the texture is not important here. But once you start something, you gotta finish it.
Put your tomatoes in freezer bags and freeze them solid.
Once you have gotten as much water as you can out of the tomatoes and they are FINALLY all in the crockpot, hit this hot mess with a stick blender. If you don't have one, scoop out the tomato smutz and use a regular blender. Then add anything you like to make sauce. You can just finish here and add when you plan to serve, or do it now so it is pre made. Totally up to you.
Again, if you plan to use onions, either cook them first, or be sure they cook down in the sauce until translucent or you will have explosions and spoilage. I saute onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers in a couple tablespoons olive oil until soft and then add them. I grew fresh basil and oregano this year so that went in too. This doesn't have to be perfect. You can always doctor it later when you serve it. Also remember that processing the jars and letting them sit intensifies and melds the flavors. It will taste slightly different when you eat it later than when you jarred it up. Add salt and pepper to taste but be sparing with the salt since you add before you process the jars. (1/2 tsp each of salt and lemon juice or citric acid per quart jar, 1/4 tsp each for Pints) You want to process for 45-50 minutes given the density of this. Remember to start the timer when the water is boiling not before.
Then you end up with this. And really soft hands. And red finger nails. And although you are not sure you want to eat any tomatoes right now as you will probably want to hurl at the thought, you have to admit the sense of pride seeing it all done. Not to mention the whole "IN YOUR FACE Rachel Ray!!" when you crack this open in January while she shows people how to cook with aluminum cans of commercial tomatoes with no effing flavor. To me, it's worth it.