As the days are getting longer and warmer, I love getting outside. Sometimes I just take a walk, but I am itching to begin working in my garden. Last fall, I planted some spinach seeds, and this spring, I keep going out to see how they are doing. Early March, when we had a bit of warmth, they sprouted. I cannot wait till it is time to eat the spinach. Every year I look forward to saving some of my garden produce to eat in the winter.
During 2020, both gardening and preserving food at home grew by 600%. No wonder it was hard to find supplies like canning jars and lids. The prediction is for it to be as popular this year as last year.
If you canned last year for the first time, or the hundredth time, there is always something more to learn.
Tomatoes are a popular item to preserve. They work well frozen, canned, or dried. Frozen is an easy option if you have only a few extra tomatoes and freezer space. It can be as simple as rinsing them in water and cutting the core out, then putting them in a freezer bag. With any product you preserve to use later, it is always a good idea to think about how you will use it when that time comes. Frozen tomatoes for example would work well in soups, stews, casseroles; think of anywhere you would use cooked tomatoes. Once frozen, they will not work to put on a tossed salad.
I also fix tomatoes for the freezer by roasting them with a bit of olive oil and some spices. When finished, I cool them and package them up with a label that includes the date, the word tomatoes, and what I did to them, so I will remember months later when I am hunting in my freezer.
Have you ever thought about drying tomatoes? A friend was telling me after they dry the tomato slices, she uses a coffee grinder (that has not had coffee in it) to make the tomatoes into a powder and uses them in place of tomato paste. I think that is a great idea and plan to dry some tomatoes this summer.
Tomatoes can be canned in various ways – tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, and salsa. One important thing to remember is to follow a research-tested recipe if you are canning tomatoes or any food product.
What is the difference between a research-tested recipe and one from a blog or on a website? After COVID, we all know about things we cannot see but can make us sick. For long-term storage of home canned food, they must be heated. But what temperature and how long we heat them is based on the acidity and the density of the food inside the jar. A research-tested recipe does just that; it tests the recipe to make sure it will keep without having a microorganism grow.
Foods higher in acid, like fruits, pickled foods, jams, and jellies don’t need as much or as high of heat to keep them safe, we can process them in a boiling water canning. But foods like meats and vegetables that are naturally lower in acid need temperatures above boiling, a pressure canner, to kill the bacteria that causes Botulism.
Tomatoes vary in their acid content and are right on the boarder between a high acid and low acid food. Research has shown that we can safely add acid to tomatoes and process them at home as a high acid food. Vinegar, bottled lemon juice and citric acid are what we use to add acid to the tomatoes. A research-tested recipe will tell you the proportions of each of these to add to your canned tomatoes. My favorite is citric acid, it is found in powder form in the canning aisle at the store. It does not change the flavor of the tomatoes and is easy to use.
Another factor we need to remember is that water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations. In Siouxland, most of us are above 1000 feet in elevation. Most all home canning recipes need to be adjusted for this elevation. Again, a research-tested recipe will tell you how to adjust to your elevation.
Home canning is not the place to use diseased, bruised, or overripe produce. Canning will not improve the product. Produce that is diseased or bruised may be lower in acid and may contain a high about of microorganisms. If you want to keep this produce, freezing is a safer method to preserve it. With tomatoes select disease free, preferably vine-ripened tomatoes that are firm. Do not home can tomatoes from dead or frost killed tomato vines. A safer way to keep these tomatoes is to freeze them.
Have you ever tried to peel a tomato? Some canning recipes want the skin removed. An easy way to do that is to dip tomatoes in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then immediately dip them into ice water. The skins easily slip off the tomato.
If you are interested in canning, now is the time to be checking the stores for canning jars and canning lids. I have seen both in Siouxland this spring; you just need to keep checking. You can also look online. Purchase high quality lids for best results.
A couple of things to remember when canning.
- Use a research tested recipe and follow the instructions.
- Plan enough time, canning does take time.
- Start with clean counters and enough room to work.
- Use a plastic or silicone knife to get air bubbles out of the filled jar before putting the lid on it.
- Make sure to wipe the rim of the jar off with a clean wet dishcloth or paper towel, so no food is in between the jar and the lid.
- Do not start counting processing time until your canner water is boiling for a boiling water canner, or with a pressure canner the air has escaped, and the steam has built-up pressure in the canner.
- Never quickly cool a canner or the jars after processing. Allow them to cool naturally and away from drafts.
- Always lift jars straight up when they are filled with food, so the food does not come in contact with the lid.
Canning, freezing, and drying are great ways to preserve food.
Need more information: on the web National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/
Nebraska Extension https://food.unl.edu/food-safety
Nebraska Extension and Iowa State Extension and Outreach both are offering virtual food preservation classes.
For Nebraska classes: https://go.unl.edu/homefoodpreservation
For Iowa classes: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/preserve-taste-summer
Carol Larvick is an educator with Nebraska Extension. She canned, froze, and dried food with her mom growing up and continues to do all of them now with help from her grandkids. Besides helping people learn how to properly can to keep food safe, she teaches food safety to anyone who will listen.