Three weeks ago, I bought my annual batch of tomatoes to preserve. 100 pounds worth. I canned them whole, I canned them crushed, I slow roasted and froze them and I made 17 pints of corn and tomato salsa (keep your eyes peeled for a comprehensive tomato preservation post coming soon). And still, there were tomatoes.
So I tackled a project that had always intrigued me. I made tomato paste. I chopped, simmered, milled, simmered, pureed, reduced and canned 12 quarter pint jars of tomato paste.
I followed the recipe on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website nearly to the letter. The only omission I made was to skip the garlic clove. I’ve been so conditioned to avoid adding low acid foods to tomatoes that it just didn’t seem right, particularly since this recipe is not acidified (from what I understand, when you cook down the tomatoes to this extreme, you concentrate the existing acid to such a degree that it’s not necessary to add any more).
I started with approximately 16 pounds of chopped tomatoes at 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon. After an hour of simmering with three cubed red peppers, a bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt, I ran them through my food mill (a brand new purchase, made by Kutchenprofi. The little legs snapped off the minute I started to use it, making it necessary to hold the mill in the air while pressing the tomatoes through. It was frustrating).
Once the tomatoes were milled, they went back into the pot and spent the next six hours cooking down. It was after midnight by the time they were ready for the jars. If I ever make tomato paste again, I will start much earlier than 3 pm. (As an aside, I don’t think my little apartment stove was designed for this kind of use. With two canning projects going that night, it was utterly overwhelmed.)
Even after six hours of cooking, I think my tomato paste might have been able to reduce further. However, I was out of patience and ready for bed so it went into the jars. The NCHFP recommends using half pints to can tomato paste, but I opted for quarter pints because I rarely use more than a tablespoon or two when cooking. However, as is best practice, I did not reduce the processing time for my smaller jars. They still spent the full 45 minutes in the canner.
Canning can be a lot of work. I am aware of this and happily do that work when I take on a new project, knowing that nearly all of the time, my end result will be so much better and more satisfying than anything I could buy at the store. However, after tasting my tomato paste, I was disappointed. My paste, which was made from perfectly delightful plum tomatoes, tasted bitter and flat. For the first time in my canning life, I had to confront the truth that the store bought version was better than what I had made.
What’s more, while my tomatoes were fairly inexpensive (I paid $40 for 100 pounds this year), this batch of 3 pints of tomato paste still cost approximately $7 in raw materials and 10 hours of time (that doesn’t include the cost of the jars that the paste is currently occupying). I’m not sure if the investment works out this time around.
I am not suggesting that you guys shouldn’t make tomato paste. I’m sure the fact that my preparations went later than expected and that my food mill started falling to pieces didn’t help me to feel happy and rosy about this recipe. But I think next year, I’ll stick to tomato preservation projects that offer more return on investment (like crushed tomatoes) in less time. This one just didn’t float my boat.