Tag Archives | canning tomatoes

Giveaway: Roma by Weston Electric Tomato Strainer and Sauce Maker

assembled tomato strainer

For years now, the bulk of my tomato canning has been in the form of the whole peeled tomato. It’s quick to prep, is hugely versatile, and always felt like the best use of my time. I’d make a few jars of basic puree each season, but I never found as easy a groove with sauce. However, a new appliance has come into my life that has made me rethink my preserved tomato allegiances.

sauce shute

This year, I’ve been a puree making machine thanks to the Roma by Weston Electric Tomato Strainer. It operates much like the hand crank tomato presses (one of which I’ve had for years, but never managed to fit it comfortably into my work flow), only instead of using your own brute force, the 200 watt motor gets things moving.

tomato strainer warning

It’s always important to be careful when using electric appliances that press and grind.

You cut your tomatoes into manageable bits and then pile them into the hopper. Using a tamper, you press them into the machine’s shaft, where they meet the auger, which pushes them through a screen (it comes with three different sizes, so you can also use it for fruit sauces).

The tomato pulp then comes pouring down the chute and the skin and seeds are ejected out the end of the screen. It’s incredibly effective and makes it possible to do things like break 20 pounds of tomatoes down into pulp in just 15 minutes. Once the tomatoes have been milled, you can cook them down into sauce or take them further into paste or conserva.

tomato strainer in the kitchen

One thing I particularly like about making sauce with a strainer is that the tomatoes go in raw and then you cook down the resulting puree. So often, sauce recipes have you simmer your tomatoes to soften, then press them through a food mill and then return them to the pot.

It’s a good technique (and one that I advocate in my cookbook), except that if you take too long in milling your tomatoes and they cool down considerably, you risk ending up with sauce that separates (more on separation, fruit float, and liquid loss here). It’s not the end of the world if it separates (just give it a good shake to reintegrate), but it sure does look prettier when your finished product is uniformly integrated.

working tomato strainer

The only issue I have with this tomato strainer is that motor portion is a little too light. It means that as you’re pressing the tomatoes into the shaft, you need to rest your elbow on the top of the motor to keep it stable. Otherwise, you’re liable to flip the machine.

It’s not hard to hold it in place once you realize that it’s necessary, but a metal body would have given it a little more weight and heft. But metal is heavier and more costly, so I understand why it’s been made as it is.

finished jars of sauce

I got this tomato strainer from the nice folks at Weston Products. They’re a company devoted to tools for those of us who like to make our food from scratch and carry an extensive collection of food mills, pasta makers, dehydrators, and sausage makers. Want to press your own wine or cider? They’ve got you covered. Because they’re awesome, they’ve given me a second Roma by Weston Electric Tomato Strainer to give away to one lucky Food in Jars reader. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me your favorite canning helper (animal, vegetable, or mineral).
  2. Comments will close at 5 pm east coast time on Sunday, September 8, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random (using random.org) and will be posted to the blog later that day.
  3. Giveaway is open to US residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Weston Products gave me a tomato strainer for review and photography purposes and are also providing the unit for giveaway. No money changed hands and all opinions expresses are exclusively mine. 

Five Ways to Preserve Large Tomatoes

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Two years ago, in the final weeks before my wedding, I bought and preserved 50 pounds of tomatoes. Last summer, I upped the ante and brought home 100 pounds. This year, though I was sorely tempted to push ever upwards, I kept myself to another 100 pounds.

I realize that tomato season is coming to a close, but I thought it would be nice to round up my favorite ways to preserve big tomatoes (here are the ways that I do small tomatoes)

jar of tomatoes

Slow roasted and frozen. These tomatoes are amazing and do wonders to lift my spirits during those cold, dark months, when it doesn’t seem at all possible that fresh tomatoes will ever return.

I did 20 pounds like this a few weeks back. Instead of packing them in jars for freezing (like those pictured above), I froze them on the same cookie sheets on which they were roasted and then packed them into freezer bags. Makes it easier to grab one or two and drop them into dinner.

full jar

Whole peeled tomatoes are the backbone of my autumn and winter cooking. I use them in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles and even whir them into batches of smooth salsa. They come together fairly easily and are so incredibly useful to have in the pantry. If you do nothing else, put up a few jars of whole peeled tomatoes.

one jar of pickled red tomatoes

While you’re peeling those tomatoes for canning, set a few aside and make these pickled red tomatoes. I layer them into toasted cheese sandwiches and serve them with strong cheeses. They are unexpectedly delicious and just fun to have in your pantry for those moments when lunch or dinner needs a little extra zing.

Mrs. Wages pasta sauce

I don’t make tomato sauce every year but when I can squeeze it into the schedule, I’m never sad to have made it. Earlier this month, I stirred up five pints with the last of my 100 pound. And I cheated a bit by using this packet of Mrs. Wages Pasta Sauce mix. Do I feel bad about that? Not at all! If you don’t have a spice pack laying around, I’ve also made the tomato sauce from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I most happily recommend it.

tomato butter

Tomato butter. I’ve become awfully fond of this butter that I made last summer for the Can Jam. I like to combine it with whatever leftover runny jam I have in the fridge and braise fatty hunks of meat in it. I just can’t get over how good it is.

There you have it. Five of my favorite ways to preserve large tomatoes. What’s your favorite method?

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Homemade Tomato Paste

12 quart pints of tomato paste

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.

9 quarts of chopped 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.

cooking down tomatoes

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).

more food milling

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).

overwhelmed stove

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.)

filling tomato paste

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.

scraping pot

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.

finished tomato paste

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.

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Yellow Tomato and Basil Jam

yellow tomato basil jam

Last summer, Scott and I spent a weekend in New York. While wandering the Union Square Greenmarket, I picked up a half pint jar of yellow tomato jam. Soon after we got home, I cracked it open and proceeded to make quick work of it. It was good with cheese and even better as a glaze for roasted chicken thighs.

Since then, I’ve been pondering yellow tomato jam. I really wanted to make it from Sungold tomatoes since they are so sweet, but they can be prohibitively expensive if you haven’t grown your own and you’re buying them in the city (I’ve seen them for as much as $5 a pint at farmers’ markets).

Then, when at Root’s Market in Lancaster County last Tuesday, I hit the jackpot. Rows of of glowing, Amish-grown Sungolds for $1 a piece. I bought six.

Cut in half, combined with sugar and lemon juice, and cooked until thick and sticky, this jam is gorgeously vivid in both looks and taste. To make things slightly more interesting, I stirred in a quarter cup of chopped basil at the very end of cooking. Tomatoes and basil do make such good partners.

If you can’t get Sungolds, you could swap in a different tomato. But I do think they give it a depth of sweetness and flavor that is pretty fabulous.

Continue Reading →

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Canning 101: Why You Can’t Can Your Family’s Tomato Sauce

full jar

Tomorrow is the first day of September, and with it comes all those traditional end-of-summer events, including tomato canning season (at least here in the mid-Atlantic where I live). Because the yearly tomato glut is finally beginning to arrive, I’ve been getting a number of questions about how to safely can tomatoes.

The most frequent question I get is from people wondering if they can boiling water bath process their favorite spaghetti sauce recipe. You know, the kind that has plenty of garlic, onions, basil, olive oil and sometimes even a few peppers.

Sadly, I always end up delivering disappointing news. You really can’t just can your family recipe. Anything canned in a boiling water bath needs to be high acid (for the science minded types, this means that it has to have a pH of 4.5 or below). This is because botulism cannot grow in high acid environments. However, tomatoes are in the grey zone, typically having a pH right around 4.5. Because of this, tomatoes need to be acidified when canned, so that the acid levels are pushed into the safe zone and the pH becomes something lower than 4.5. That’s why my instructions (and all other good ones you’ll find) for canning whole tomatoes includes two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per jar (you can also use citric acid if you prefer).

When you make spaghetti sauce, one typically adds a slew of ingredients that, while delicious, lower the acid to seriously unsafe levels. Unless your family spaghetti sauce recipe contains several cups of red wine vinegar, it will be too low in acid to be canned in a boiling water bath.

Most canning information will repeatedly remind you that it’s incredibly important to follow tested recipes. While I will occasionally play around a bit with jams and pickles (and I only do this because I know which aspects can’t be monkeyed with), even I never deviate when it comes to acidifying my tomatoes. I always follow the instructions in either the Ball Blue Book or So Easy to Preserve when I want to preserve tomato sauce, soup and salsas.

The one caveat I have to offer is that if you have a pressure canner, you may be able to preserve your beloved sauce recipe (just so you know, any recipe that includes meat MUST be pressure canned). Pressure canners raise the internal temperature of your jars to temperatures in the neighborhood of 240 degrees, which is high enough to kill off any botulism spores that may exist in your food. However, you should still consult recipes that have been tested using a pressure canner to determine processing time and pressure.

The good news here is that there are plenty of safe, tested tomato recipes that are designed for canning. Let’s hear about your favorites!

Canning Whole Peeled Tomatoes

pile of tomatoes

Before tomato season comes to a close, I want to talk about my favorite way to preserve tomatoes. I typically only can them one way – (mostly) whole and peeled, in their own juices. I do them this way because I like the versatility they retain when put up in this manner. Later down the line, I can choose as to whether I want to puree them down, make a chunky sauce or just crush them with my hands and use them to top homemade pizza (Mmmm).

One thing to note is that my tomatoes aren’t perfectly whole. I do crush them a bit while cramming them into the jars, in order to generate enough liquid to totally cover the ‘maters. I find that I’m able to get three romas into a pint jar and six into a quart. On occasion, I’ll cut a tomato in to thirds or halves in order to finish off a jar and still have the proper amount of headspace.

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Take your tomatoes and core them. This isn’t an absolutely necessary step, but I hate dealing with the cores when it comes time to use the tomatoes on the other end.

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A cored tomato. Seriously easy.

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Make two shallow cuts on the bottom of the tomato, to ease the peeling.

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Drop cored and scored tomatoes into a pot of boiling water (don’t put too many in at once, or you’ll drop the water temperature drastically and it will take forever to return to a boil). Blanch tomatoes for 1-2 minutes, until the skins start to blister or loosen.

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Put your blanched tomatoes into a boil of cold water, to halt cooking and to make them handle-able.

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Peel tomatoes. The skins should slip off easily after the blanching and the cold water dip.

filling jars

I put the tomatoes into the jars as I peel. Two standard sized romas typical fit at the bottom of the jar.

smashing tomatoes

You may need to give them a little help. I use my hand when filling wide mouth jars, but when dealing with regular mouth openings, I employ the handle of a wooden spoon.

full jar

Look! A jar that’s filled with tomatoes! All the liquid you see here came from the tomatoes, as I gently smashed them to fit the jar.

2 tablespoon measure

Don’t forget to acidify. It’s one tablespoon of lemon juice for pints and two for quarts. I pour it on top of my filled jars, and then use a chopstick to remove the air bubbles from the jar and work the lemon juice down into its contents. You should have approximately 1/2 inch of headspace remaining after you add the lemon juice and de-bubble the jar.

After that, I wipe the rims, apply my lids (carefully simmered for 10 minutes at around 180 degrees), screw on the rings and lower the jars into the heated boiling water canner (remembering to use a rack so that the jars aren’t resting on the bottom of the pot).

Quarts of whole peeled tomatoes get processed in a boiling water canner for 45 85 minutes. Pints get processed for 40 minutes the same amount of time. Tomatoes that are packed in water are processed for 40/45 minutes.

Because my life is busy, I rarely do my tomatoes in one great, big canning day. Instead, I stretch the process out over several post-work weeknights. I’ll do four quarts at a time, because that’s how much my stock pot can hold during processing, and it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. I find that a 25 pound box of tomatoes will make approximately 12-14 quarts of tomatoes, and so I do four jars a night for three nights in a row. It keeps me sane and keeps my pantry filled with wonderful, local tomatoes all winter long.

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