It’s been quite chilly at night here, but for the last couple weeks our windows are fogged up late at night with the smell of simmering tomatoes and herbs wafting through the house. Not an uninviting home, but I could due with an earlier bedtime during these shorter days. The winter hiberation cannot begin quite yet though for there are tomatoes to be canned.

We began our tomato canning a couple weeks ago and just finally finished up this past weekend. Our first batch was perhaps the easiest canning experience I have ever had: simply canned tomatoes. I highly recommend this as someone’s first foray into the world of canning. There are only a couple steps and it goes really fast – especially with someone helping.

For the simply canned tomatoes, we used about 35-40 pounds of tomatoes freshly picked from a local farm. They sat on our kitchen table for a couple days to ripen to a deep, rich red. The tomatoes were then dropped into large pots of boiling water for about a minute, then plunged into cold water in the sink. The skins gently peel off, you cut out the white core area, then into the cans they go. I added about a teaspoon of salt to each jar, then squished the tomatoes into them so the juices covered the solids. They were added to a hot-water bath for about 45 minutes. We now have about 14 quarts of tomatoes to last us through the winter.

Our next tomato canning project was on a whim, which ended up keeping us up pretty late that night. There were still lots of extra tomatoes and the fruit flies had taken notice. To use them up before the fruit flies took up permanent residence, we decided to make ketchup. It was a fairly easy process because I used a slow-cooker to do some of the leg work.

We began with the same process of skinning and coring the tomatoes. Onion, vinegar and spices then get added and brought to a simmer on the stove. Once it is thickened slightly, I pureed everything and moved it to a slow-cooker set on high overnight. Eventually the tomato mixture thickened to a paste, at about half the original size. I added some final seasonings to taste and nine 1/2 pint jars were filled. They were cooked in the boiling-water bath as well. The result is a robust, rich, smokey flavored ketchup that would melt the socks off those poor saps who only know Heinz corn syrup ketchup.

Although these were both simple canning projects, it still requires quite a bit of time. The reward is incredibly flavorful tomatoes that will keep us fat and happy all winter long. In about a week, my winter hibernation will begin and these few late nights of work will make sure it’s a restful and warm season in our home.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson