This October we gathered together in the beautiful home of canning extraordinaire Piper Davis and learned how to preserve some of the last tomatoes of the season!
What's the Point of Canning?
In many climates there are seasons of abundance and seasons where local food sources dwindle. Humans have been preserving food from the summer season to keep ourselves fed through the winter for thousands of years. Preservation methods include drying, salting, fermenting, pickling, freezing, burying, canning, and more!
Although we aren't hunter-gatherers anymore and likely won't starve if we don't preserve our own food before the cold of winter hits, it is still lovely to capture the flavors of summer to enjoy all winter long. Whether you use your canned goods to brighten up your winter dishes for your family or use them as a loving gift during the holiday season, it's a joy to fill your pantry with home-canned goods. And! Coming together for a cozy afternoon with friends and family to process a bunch of fresh produce can be a super fun activity that brings people together.
Is Canning Expensive?
Canning and food preservation in general is actually a great way to save money! Buying in bulk from your local farmers is a great way to access lower wholesale prices. Farmers also often sell #2 produce or "seconds" to home canners at an even further discounted rate. This might include produce that is soft, misshapen, small, or scarred in some way that makes it unideal for retail sale, but is still perfectly good quality food. Organic tomatoes at the market might cost you $5.00/lb., but wholesale and #2 tomato prices go down to around $3.00 or even $1.50/lb. depending on the farmer, the season, and availability. That's over 50% off for good organic produce!
So What is Canning?
Most of us are familiar with seeing canned goods on the shelf at the grocery store, but canning is actually a fairly simple process that anyone can do in their home kitchen. At its core, canning is the process of prepping produce, packing it into sanitized glass jars, and then putting them in boiling water to kill all the bacteria and seal the jars so that they are shelf stable.
There are two types of canning: water bath canning and pressure canning. Acidic foods like raw tomatoes only need to be water bathed. Water bathing is boiling the filled jars for a certain amount of time in a big pot. More alkaline foods like meats, broths, and even some cooked tomato sauces must be pressure-canned to bring things up to a higher temperature. This is a little trickier and requires a pressure-canning pot that you can find in the kitchen isle of most stores.
For safe canning recipes and guidelines, visit the Ball canning website.
The Canning Process
1. Source Your Tomatoes: Head to your favorite booth at the farmers market and ask if they have canning tomatoes available. Each season is different so the timing of discounted wholesale tomatoes changes year to year. This season was a difficult tomato year for many local farmers in the Pacific Northwest, but it turns out that even when most varieties wrap up the season early, roma tomatoes can usually hold on all the way through October and even into November. Romas are a great variety for canning since they have a lower water content and will have more condensed flavor per jar!
2. Prep Your Tomatoes: We scored the romas with a little "x" before plopping them into boiling water to blanch for a few minutes. Blanching loosens the skins up so they are easier to remove.
3. Pack Your Tomatoes into Jars: After sanitizing your jars (usually by boiling them in the same pot you'll use to can), it's time to carefully pack the tomatoes into the jars. For smaller tomatoes you can pack them in whole, although you can usually fit more into each jar by cutting the tomatoes into halves or quarters. As you pack you use a utensil to make sure there aren't any rogue air bubbles in the jar that could be pockets for bacteria to grow in the future. Some people add a little salt, citric acid, and/or lemon juice as an added safety precaution. Once full with a little rim of space on top, you carefully wipe the rim clean, place on the lid, and screw the ring on to seal the jar shut.
4. Can Your Tomatoes! Once you've filled your canning pot with filled and lidded jars, it's time to lower the jars into the water, put the lid on the pot, and boil steadily for the amount of time recommended by the Ball canning guidelines. That's the point in the canning process where you can start cleaning up, or simply sip on some wine and snack on some snacks together.
We were so grateful to everyone who came out to Piper's lovely home, and to Piper for her gentle guidance as she showed us every step of the process! If you missed out on this workshop this year, check back in with us next season for upcoming workshops and events. And if you are looking to try your hand at canning at home, be sure to go by the book to make sure you can your food safely, and then just go for it! Yes you can!