Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Circle Of Life Of A Tomato

This morning it was 46 degrees when I put on my flip flops and tiptoed out to the garden.  Yes, I was still in my nightgown, because I had just crawled out of bed.  I couldn't wait to see if the tomatoes were getting ripe.  The tomatoes don't care what I wear, or if my teeth are brushed, or if my hair is combed, or if I have mascara under my eyes.  My tomatoes are waiting for me to come and say good morning to them.  They know I will caress them, and whisper sweet things to them.  They love me just the way I am.

I found several new red tomatoes.  They had been busy in the night time hours making themselves ripen.  The tomatoes know their days are numbered before the fall season sets in and the nights will get chilly, if not freezing.  They are such good little/big tomatoes.

I didn't have my camera with me this morning, when I was in my nightgown, but you remember what the green tomatoes look like in the garden.  Well, just imagine them deep red.

I started picking.  I had a a few already on my kitchen counter from yesterday and the day before, but this morning I got quite a lot of them.  I plucked them from the vines and carried them into the kitchen.

Then I started to ask DH if he would help me gather supplies I needed.  Of course, he was thrilled to be a part of this canning process.  He gets as much joy out of it as I do!

His assignment was to go downstairs and get quart mason jars, pint mason jars, the pressure canner, and flat lids for the jars.  I got the the trusty old electric fry pan to sterilize the bottles in.  By using the electric skillet it frees up all the stove top for whatever else I might need.

I got the bottles sterilizing first thing.

I like knowing they are ready when I am ready.

Then I washed up the tomatoes and placed them in simmering water on the stove top.  With in about 30 seconds the skin on the tomatoes will split.  That is the sign you are looking for.  That means they are done.

Take them out of the water using a slotted spoon.  The slotted spoon lets the hot water drain away from the tomato.  Then place the tomatoes in a big bowl of ice water.  The ice water drops the temperature of the tomato and stops the cooking process.  And the tomatoes need to be cooled enough so you can handle them to peel.

The skins and the cores need to be removed.  Just think of peeling the skin off you buddy who has had a recent sunburn.  It is just like that.  Big chunks of skin come off.  It is a therapeutic process to do this.  I don't know what is getting the therapy but it is fun.  If there are cores in the tomato they need to be removed as well.  Just use a sharp paring knife and cut them out, leaving as much tomato as you can.  But you can use your fingers to peel the skin from the tomato.  It is fun, really.

After you have several tomatoes peeled, now is the time to start placing the tomatoes in the sterilized jars.  If the tomato is large, cut it in half or fourths.  Just cut them so you can drop them into the jars.

If you fill like you want to spice up the tomatoes a bit, DO IT.

I love to add fresh dill to the jars.  It is a seasoning that I would add later, when I am opening the bottles to cook with, so why not add what you want now?  Think out side of the box.  I like to think.  So I thought.  And I came up with a few more items to add.

I asked DH to go to the garden for me and get some onions, and some green and red bell peppers.  Again, he was so willing to do something to be involved with the process of canning the tomatoes.  He jumped right up and trotted out to the garden.

When he returned he was even willing to wash the dirt from the onions and peppers.  Isn't he just the greatest?!

I diced up the onions, peppers and put them into the jars with the quartered tomatoes.  It makes the jars look so pretty with all the color.   Opposite colors on the color wheel always look good together.  IE: red and green.  Just like Christmas, only in the fall.

By now it is 51 degrees outside.  So it feels a bit like fall.

And yes, I am still in my nightgown.

Does that bother you?

I am comfortable, and I don't have to hold in my tummy.  Not that I can anyway.

OK, back to the task at hand.

The jars now contain peeled and quartered tomatoes, a head of dill, diced onions and peppers and now I add about a teaspoon of salt per quart.  But, I DO NOT add any more liquid.  The tomatoes and juicy and ripe and they make their own juice.

Slide a butter knife down the side of the bottle to raise all the air pockets to the surface.  No bottle of tomatoes, or anything else, wants air pockets.  They must be destroyed.

Then, with a clean cloth wipe the rim of the jar off.  It must not have debris or juice or anything on the rim, or the jar won't seal properly.

Then place the flat lid on the jar and screw on the band.  Screw it tightly.

After I had filled the jars with the tomatoes I had picked in the last two day, I had filled 6 quarts and 4 pints.  They are just beautiful!  They make my heart sing.  And my tummy have butterflies.

Now it is time to process the jars.

I started with the quarts. Be sure the liner is in place in the bottom, inside the pressure canner.  It keeps the bottles from sitting directly on the bottom of the canner.  If you forget this part, your bottles could break. I filled the pressure canner with 3 quarts of water.  Then I added the 6 quart jars. (Read the instructions of your pressure canner for the right amount of water to be added.)  I also add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to the water.  It keeps your bottles clean and not water spotted after processing is complete.  It is important to know that your bottles should not be touching each other.  We need the bottles to be surrounded by love and air and steam and whatever they need to properly process. Don't let them touch.

Again, following the directions of the pressure canner put the lid on.  It is important that this is done correctly and on tight.

At this point, I turn on the heat.  A moderately high heat to get the canner to steam out of the vent on the top of the lid.

The directions say to let the steam escape for 10 minutes.  Then place the "weights" on the vent.

Once the "weights" start to rock, start the timer.  I process 25 minutes at 13 lbs of pressure at my altitude.  Every altitude will have different directions for processing time and pressure.  Check your manual for your directions.

The little "weight" will rock and rock to maintain the correct pressure.

It will jiggle back and forth and you will hear a little hissing sound.  That is the way it should be.

When the time is up, and the 25 minutes are passed, then turn off the heat.  Very carefully slide the pressure canner off the heat. 

You will know when all the pressure has been released by this little gauge on the top of the lid. 

When there is no pressure in the canner the little "plug" will be flat with the lid.

When there is pressure in the canner, and during the processing time, the "plug" will be up.
It is very important you pay close attention to this part of the lid, as it can protect you.

If you try to open the canner lid and the pressure is not down you will be severely harmed, burned, exploded, kitchen on fire, 911 called, burn unit  in route, and lots of doctor bills and a remodeled kitchen. 

It isn't worth it, so just look at the little plug and you will be safe.

Pressure canners can be dangerous if not used properly.  They can be a money saving appliance and feed your family for years if you know the proper care and storage and operation of them.

I am not afraid of them at all.  I was brought up around them.  I have used them for my entire married life.  They have saved us lots of grocery bills, and we have eaten healthy and nutritious food, without additives.  I am a big supporter of pressure canning.

Once you purchase the canning jars they can be used over and over.  You only need to buy the lid flats to reuse the bottles.  You can grow your own food, and not have preservatives and pesticides and all that junk on your food when it grows.

Remember, I started all my plants from seed last spring, and now I am reaping the benefits of those efforts.

You can see the dill, onions, and peppers in the bottles.

You also see the liquid on the bottom.  That is normal.  The tomatoes are juicy and that is part of the tomato.  Some tomatoes will have less juice and some will have more.

Remember, when I filled the jars I packed them until I had 1/2 inch of space to the top of the rim of the jar.  I did not add any water.  This is the result.

When I use these tomatoes in chili or soup or stew or spaghetti sauce or whatever, I will not drain off this liquid.  It is flavorful and full of nutrients and I will add the entire bottle into whatever I am cooking.

As I am typing this, my pints are done processing.  The canner is cooling and the pressure is dropping.  It will take about 20 minutes.  Then I will check to be sure the little plug has dropped down, showing me there is no more pressure inside.  Then I will remove the Weight Gauge.  Then I will carefully open the lid, with the open side away from me, letting the remainder of the steam out.  Always open the lid away from you, so you won't get burned.

Then I will take out the bottles and sit them on a kitchen towel on my counter, next to the quarts.  The bottles will continue to cool down, and I will listen for the "POP" that the lids make when the bottles are sealed.

When they are all completely cooled and sealed, I will wipe down the bottles and label the date on the lid with a magic marker. Today is 9/6/2011. Then gently I will carry them downstairs and put them on my storage shelves, next to the corn, chili sauce, canned chicken, canned beef, and whatever else I have canned at home. 

I will stand back, smile, maybe giggle, and be so proud of myself.  And I will know that when the snow is blowing and the temperatures are low, I won't have to go to the grocery store to prepare our meals.  I will just go downstairs and get a few bottles and make a wonderful dinner.

Kinda makes me look forward to winter.....just kinda.  Right now, I am enjoying fall.

And it is now 68 degrees.  My house is cool, and smells so good!
I might just make bread.
Or take a nap.
Or .... shower and get dressed..... yes, that is exactly what I am going to do.


1 comment:

  1. You totally didn't get dressed did you...hehehe....those look so great!! I live what you added this time! Can't wait to taste it :)


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happy, in love, getting closer to retirement, love my family, love my Savior.