Canning Tomato Sauce

IMG_0612At long last I’m writing about our sojourn canning tomato sauce a few weeks ago.  It was a long process, and only now am I feeling up to posting about it. 🙂

The hubby has a family recipe for making tomato sauce that he really wanted to can.  However, it includes meatballs and meat drippings that can’t be done in a boiling water canner, so for the first time we had to use the pressure canner.

All right, I fully admit a little while ago that I was afraid to use the pressure canner, so it was good that K was the first one to try it. I seriously thought we were going to blow up the condo or something.  But honestly, it wasn’t that scary, once my husband explained it to me (after he read the directions).  And so far, our tomato sauce is holding up quite well.  By that I mean, I haven’t seen any mold growing on the meat in our canned tomato sauce yet. 🙂

K browned his beef in the saucepot and added his tomatoes, spices and whatever else he throws in there, without draining any of the meat drippings out. He insisted at the time that’s the only way he can make it authentic, but afterwards, when it settled at the top, he admitted he should have kept it out.

Coring tomatoes

Coring tomatoes

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Tomatoes cooked down

Tomatoes cooked down

Sauce with spices, onions and meat drippings mixed in

Sauce with spices, onions and meat drippings mixed in

We ladled the sauce into quart sized jars (just like real tomato sauce comes) but had to leave 1 inch of headspace, instead of the 1/4 inch you normally leave for jams and the like. It felt weird.  We put on the lids and bands and put them into the pressure canner.

Pressure Canners

According to Canning Pantry,

Low acid foods require a higher temperature when processing than can be reached by placing them in jars immersed by boiling water. To kill harmful bacteria (such as those associated with botulism) use of pressure canning ensures the safety of the preserved produce. Foods such as red meats, sea food, poultry, milk, and all fresh vegetables, with the exception of most tomatoes, fit into the low acid group since they have an acidity, or pH level, of 4.6 or higher. The temperature which must be reached and maintained (for a specified amount of time) to kill the bacteria is 240 F. This temperature can be reached only by creating steam under pressure.

The hubby is an engineer so he loves diagrams, but looking at pressure canner pictures put me right off.

Pressure canner

Pressure canner

 

After you fill the canner with water and put on the top (without the weight!) you have to wait for steam to start coming out of the top vent (like a kettle).  Once steam has been coming out for 10 minutes, you place the correct weight on top and let it pressurize in the next 3-5 minutes.   You know when it’s ready to go because the dial on the canner will show that it’s reached the proper pressure, and then you need to cook it for the recommended time.

For our tomato sauce, that required 1 hr. and 15 minutes at 10lbs pressure – lots and lots of heat coming out of our gas stove!  Once it was done, we had to let the canner sit there and come back to 0 pressure before opening it up.

So, as you can tell, it really isn’t that hard, nor that scary, and I’m much more willing to try it more next year.

Here was our finished tomato sauce! The meatballs broke up into mush in our jars, but I guess we’ll just call it meat sauce instead.  We haven’t opened one yet to try it out, but we’ll give it a shot sometime this winter.

Finished product, with drippings at the top, blecch!

Finished product, with drippings at the top, blecch!

Berrying

Berry picking!

Berry picking!

K and I tried out Bowman Orchards, over in Rexford, yesterday afternoon. It was cloudy, and the air was full of so much humidity, it was almost sort of gross. It was our first time berrying at this place, and we weren’t sure what to expect. But they had red raspberries and blackberries for picking, and Indian Ladder had a bad raspberry season, and doesn’t offer blackberries at all.

Our berries

Our berries

After saying hello to workers in the store, we found out Bowman is a little different than Indian Ladder. First off, there’s a tractor with a long cart to bring you out to the fields, instead of the ability to walk or drive your car closer to the field. However, they charge $2 per person for doing so (though there’s no choice). It kind of annoyed us, and we felt silly sitting in the back of this long cart that could have clearly held 20 people, being driven to the raspberry field. Plus, I can’t imagine how good the gas mileage on that tractor is – so it seems a waste of money and emissions.

Tractor cart

Tractor cart

But on second thought, we decided we couldn’t begrudge them a good way of bringing in a little extra income to cover other costs. I mean, outside of Big Ag, small time farmers are not rich people. And, which pollutes more, the tractor or lots and lots of cars driving to different fields?

Raspberry field

Raspberry field

So we rode out to the raspberry field (or one of them, anyway) and made our way through it. It was so hot and muggy, I felt almost claustrophobic between the rows. There were tons of raspberries, but most of them were overripe (do many people come to this place?) and full of mold.

Honeybee enjoying some nectar

Honeybee enjoying some nectar

Which was most likely because of all the rain we had this summer, shame. And furthermore, there were honey bees EVERYWHERE. K told me that honey bees are very docile and it takes a lot for them to sting you, but I was really nervous. Still, he must have been right, because we made it through without getting stung (and we couldn’t go a foot without coming into contact with 3 or 4 every which way).

It was really hard to find good raspberries, even though there looked like there were tons of them. Took us 45 minutes of hard labor before we got 2 quarts worth. K really wanted to skip the blackberry picking, but I was looking more forward to that than the raspberries. So we got

K picking blackberries

K picking blackberries

back on the tractor cart and rode it a short way to the blackberries. We got off and looked at them. They were huge and ripe and looked gorgeous! So prolific, we were done picking two quarts in 10 minutes! So we balanced our quarts while riding the bumpy tractor cart back to the store to pay for it all.

Beautiful blackberries

Beautiful blackberries

The berries were $4.29lb, which sound a bit pricey, but in the store you get 6 oz. for approx. $4 and even at the farmers market, you get only a 1/2 pint for $4. We ended up with 6 lbs of berries!

Then we saw they had homemade ice cream for sale and I HAD to get some. I was hot, sticky, and homemade ice cream seemed like the perfect topper to the day. I got S’mores ice cream and hubby got Chocolate with globs of peanut butter mixed in. So freaking yummy!!

Enjoying some homemade ice cream in the store

Why does my husband never smile in pictures?

Then, later on in the day, we made red raspberry and blackberry jam. We ran out to Bed Bath and Beyond to look for butter molds, didn’t find any, but found a perfect 4 quart Farberware pot to use for making jam.  Hubby has been using the 6 pot quart we usually use for jam to make tomato puree (we’re going to make sauce tonight) so when we saw this, it was just what we needed. Plus, my mom gave me the Farberware stainless steel pots she used in my household growing up, so they’ve lasted 20 years and are still going strong. Why not just add to the collection instead?

So…a little boiling and sugar later…

Cooking down the red raspberries

Cooking down the red raspberries...

...and the blackberries

...and the blackberries

3 half-pints of raspberry jam, 5 half-pints of blackberry jam

3 half-pints of raspberry jam, 5 half-pints of blackberry jam

A few more jars to add to the pantry!  Not to mention, we had about half a quart left over of each berry.  Tonight we’re having fish for dinner, and making a blackberry/raspberry chutney to go with it…yum!

Pickles!

Pickling cucumbers

Pickling cucumbers

Last night, K and I finally canned our pickling cucumbers, after leaving them in the fridge all week.  I think they lost their fresh edge, and won’t be as crispy when we bite into them later on, but it’s been a busy week, and this was the earliest we could get to it (hey, we STILL haven’t canned the green beans, and they’ve been in the fridge for weeks – I’m guessing they won’t be good anymore).

Pickling cucumbers seems like it wouldn’t take as long as canning jam, yet it took us a lot longer.  Much of that time was just sitting around waiting though.  You still water bath can it (haven’t used our pressure canner yet, and I have to admit I’m a little scared I’m going to blow up my place!) and all you do is pour the boiling pickling mixture over pickles and process the jars.  Yet, everything took forever.

Some cut up cukes

Some cut up cukes

We started per usual, washing a number of jars and putting them in the canner to get them up to 180F degrees.  The recipe we followed called for 8lbs of pickling cucumbers to make either 3 quarts or 7 pints of pickles.  We weighed our pickles and found we had just over 4lbs.  Hubby said we should make half the recipe, I insisted we just go ahead and make a normal amount.  And who was right in the end?  Neither of us.  We ended up having enough pickles to fill 2 quart jars and 3 pint jars (with 3 cucumbers left over!) and the recipe we followed didn’t make enough “brine” to fill those five jars, so we had to make a second batch afterwards.  Bah.

As we heated up the jars and started sterilizing the lids, I set the following onto boil:

  • 1 quart vinegar (plain white vinegar, 5% acidity)
  • 1 quart water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup canning salt

All about salt

Salt has been used in preserving (not just pickles, but fish and meat) for thousands of years.  Know where the phrase “Not worth his salt” came from? Roman soldiers used to get partially paid in salt!

Canning salt, pickling spices, and spice bag

Canning salt, pickling spices, and spice bag

Canning salt was new to me before this week – I had to look it up earlier in the week to find out how it’s different from regular salt.  Canning salt is salt without any additives – unlike plain table salt which is normally iodized. Most table salt has potassium iodide, dextrose (to stabilize the iodide) and some anti-caking agent in it.  You could use canning salt for regular table salt, but in humidity it clumps together.  Likewise, you could use regular table salt to can pickles, but the iodide will turn the pickle juice cloudy and might make the pickles look dark.  They would still be fine to eat though!

When I got the liquid in my pot to simmer I added 3 tablespoons of pickling spices to a spice bag, and then let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes.  Well, that’s what the recipe said to do, but my friend Jess said to make sure that the mixture tastes the way you want your pickles to taste, so I left the spice bag in there to simmer for about 30 min.

Pickling spices simmering the vinegar mixture

Pickling spices simmering the vinegar mixture

Once the vinegar mixture is just how you want it, all you need to do is put your pickles (cut up however you want) into the hot jars, add 1 tablespoon of dried dill seed or 1 head of dill per quart, and ladle the mixture over it until the cucumbers are covered.

Hey, Dillweed!

Dill was another thing I learned a lot about this week.  When I first read over the recipe, I read “a head of dill” and thought back to the garden, where one of the people gave up on their plot earlier in the year, but had a lot of dill growing.  So, we brought home a dill plant on Sunday night.  However, I thought a head of dill meant I needed the leaves, so I stripped the leaves, put them in a plastic ziplock, and dumped the seeded head (don’t ask me why I didn’t make the connection).  Then I thought, maybe one plant isn’t enough, so I purchased some fresh dill at the grocery store.  Only last night did I find out that what I really needed was that seeded head, and not the rest of the plant!  Luckily, K ran out quickly to the store and bought some dill seed, just in time to add to the pickle jars.

So, just so you know – dill weed and dill seed are two different things, and are NOT interchangeable!  Dill weed are the leaves of the plant, and dill seed is the fruit of the plant.  Dill seed is more of a spice, whereas Dill weed is more an herb.  So it caused some consternation in the house last night!

So, after the pickles are in the jar, and the lids and bands are put on, it goes back in the hot water bath for 15 minutes (after it gets back to boiling).  And then it’s done! Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  And yet, yesterday it took hours to get the boiling water canner up to 180F for the hot jars, and forever to get the vinegar just right.  But in the end, this is what we ended up with:

Lots o pickles

Lots o' pickles

3 pints of pickle chips (Hubby REALLY loves his burgers with pickles), 1 quart of pickle spears, and 1 quart of whole pickles.

I think we’re good for awhile with pickles!

Jalapeño Salsa

salsa

Not that kind of salsa!

I love cilantro.  If I’m ever on a game show with any of you and you are asked what my favorite herb is, don’t hesitate to scream out, “SHE’S A CILANTRO ADDICT!”

Did you know?

It was the Incas who originally invented salsa.  That delicious combination of tomatoes, hot peppers and spices can also be traced back to the Aztecs and Mayans as well.  Those peoples loved chilies in their chocolate, so I wonder how hot their salsa was?  Knowledge of salsa spread north and …east (?) after the Spaniards first met the lovely tomato after conquering Mexico in 1521.  Originally they used salsa as a condiment on foods like turkey, venison, lobster and fish, (personally, I think each of those need separate condiments!) but as we all know today, it’s gone far beyond that.

So, yesterday…

…was my first attempt ever at making my own salsa, let alone making salsa to be canned.  The addition of cider vinegar aids in the canning process, and actually doesn’t taste half bad, although I’m not sure fresh salsa usually has vinegar in it.

The skin split so nicely

Easy to peel

Canning salsa takes a lot longer than canning blueberries – just for the prep work alone.  Peeling and seeding tomatoes, then seeding and chopping jalapeños, chopping onions, and mincing garlic, cilantro and oregano took a long time.  I had never actually peeled a tomato in my life before! It was kinda fun.  I put some water onto boil and, after carving a shallow ‘X’ on the bottom of each tomato (K  says what we think is the bottom of a tomato is actually the top, but whatever, Mr. Italiano!) dropped  the tomatoes one by one into the boiling water for about 30 seconds.  The skin split and started peeling away, and after I took it out of the hot water and ran it under cold, came off fairly easily in my hands.

My homegrown tomatoes didn't amount to much after seeding

My homegrown tomatoes didn't amount to much after seeding

Next came the seeding, where I basically cut each tomato into quarters and stripped the seeds into a little bowl.  Man, it felt like half the tomato disappeared this way (and certainly my favorite parts!) What I had left made its way into a big bowl that I later cut into chunky pieces to be combined with the rest of ingredients.

And what were those ingredients?

To make 3 pints of salsa:

  • 3 cups chopped, seeded, peeled, cored tomatoes
  • 3 cups chopped jalapeño peppers (we ended up using only two)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro (I may or may not have used twice as much)
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (I kept it to 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspon cumin
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
Boiling down the salsa

Boiling down the salsa

The thing is, I started with about 6 cups of tomatoes but only ended up with 2.5 pints of salsa.  Everything is really full of water this year (the blueberries, too, had a ton).  And therefore, it cooks down and doesn’t leave you with much. Still, beyond the chopping, it’s pretty easy to can – just bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, ladle into hot jars, and process in a boiling water canner for 15 min.  When it’s done, yummy salsa!  Or at least, I assume.  We only have 2.5 pints so I don’t want to open one up yet and leave only 1.5 pints left! 🙂  But when I tasted it in the pot, it was great.

Homemade canned salsa

Homemade canned salsa

Blueberry Jam

Just a quick post with some pics from our jam making last night!

Blueberries and sugar, cooking down

Blueberries and sugar, cooking down

These berries were so sweet, they only required one cup of sugar.  We only had a quart of berries, so we cut the recipe in half, but even so it called for 3 cups of sugar. This made three half-pints of jam.

Blueberries at the gelling point

Blueberries at the gelling point

Wow, it’s so easy to make jam with only a quart of berries.  Easy peasy!

Filling the jars

Filling the jars

Taking out the sterilized lids and bands

Taking out the sterilized lids and bands

Finished jam!

Finished jam!

Cherry Jam

It’s cherry season in the northeast!

Well, it’s almost cherry season.  Actually, strawberry season is approaching quickly, but alas, it seems I will be missing out on both this year due to my surgery :(. K and I are going to try to squeeze in some quick strawberry picking this weekend before we leave for Boston. I’m going to see if I can just freeze the berries and make them into jam later in the summer when I’m recovering and home from work.

In the meantime, today’s post is on my adventure making cherry jam last year.  There’s lots of websites out there that tell you exactly what you need to make jam, but here are the highlights:

You DON’T need a real boiling water canner.  In fact, K and I just use the largest stockpot we own, which I think is around 12 quarts.  We use the rack that came with our crockpot to hold the jars within the pot, so the there’s some space between the bottom of the jars and the bottom of the pot.

First you need to sterilize your lids and bands.

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Sterilizing lids and bands

Then you need to sterilize your mason jars.  If you have a bigger pot, you can sterilize bigger jars and more of them, but this is all we can do at one time.

Sterilizing the mason jars

Sterilizing the mason jars

Then you need to pit lots and lots of cherries – a full quart.  Lots of cherries will be consumed while doing this task 🙂  Afterwards, giving them a quick chop in the food processor is needed.  Don’t chop them to a pulp, just a little bit.

Chopping up the previously pitted cherries

Chopping up the previously pitted cherries

After that, crush up the cherries a little bit.  This helps release pectin as well.

Chopped cherries.

Chopped cherries.

Combine the cherries, lots o’ sugar (6 cups worth!) and pectin into a large saucepot and bring it to a boil.

Cooking down the cherries

Cooking down the cherries

When its ready, ladle it into the mason jars that have been sitting in the canner, sterilizing.

Ladling the cherries into jars

Ladling the cherries into jars

Using the magnet stick, take the lids out of the boiling water and affix it to the job of the jar.  Be careful to keep everything as sterile as you can!

Magnet

Magnet

Lid is on

Lid is on

Finally, screw on the bands and voila, jam! Leave it out to cool down to room temperature for 12-24 hours. As the jam cools, you’ll hear a “ping!” as the jar cools.  The air in the jar starts contracting and sucks down the lid creating a sort of vacuum.  If you don’t hear a ping, you can still check physically to see if the lids has been sucked down.  If in 12-24 hours, the seal hasn’t formed, you can repeat the process with a new lid.  Or you can just stick that jar in the fridge and use it as needed without processing.  At least that’s what we did, without a problem!

FCherry jam

Cherry jam

I am so sad I’m going to miss cherry picking this year but my MIL has promised me she will save me 15lbs or so when she goes.  I can’t wait to make some jam for next year! We are just finishing our last jar of cherry jam from last year now and I enjoy every bite!

Can It, Preserve It, Pickle It, Savor It

A couple of friends pointed out this article to me in yesterday’s New York Times.

Preserving Time in a Bottle (or Jar)

It’s about the not-new interest in food preserving.  Right up my alley and I was thrilled to have more than one person “think of me” when they read it 🙂

Being a new canner myself, I was interested in learning that there are “warring factions” in preserving (is there anything that doesn’t?) and that some people actually make pectin themselves from green apples and some people don’t use pectin at all!  I had no idea. I gladly use the powdered and liquid pectin they sell at the store. It honestly never occured to me that the pectin sold isn’t “natural.” I just figured it was.  Food for thought.

Nor did I realize there were once community canneries!  Imagine being able to do this with lots of people with lots of great canning equipment, instead of your plastic tongs and flimsy magnet stick over your little stove.  Of course, with community canneries, perhaps comes less control over how you can.

I was thrilled to read, in the article, about a group in Schoharie County that recently received a grant to start a new one.  It’s only about 20 min. away from me – it’s where my BFF lives!  I checked out their website at Schoharie Co-op Cannery and saw they are looking for legal counsel. I don’t have any experience starting a non-profit (or a for profit) myself but I have worked with non-profits before, so I’ve sent an email asking if they need any help.  I’m not sure what I would (or could do) but I would love to get involved.

ETA: I heard back from them quickly! They are having a meeting this weekend that I might be able to get to.  We’ll see where this goes!

They have even gotten a letter of interest from Honest Weight Co-op (the co-op I am always mentioning on this blog 🙂 ).  They are already interested in carrying the cannery’s products when it gets up and going.  I love how the community is already getting involved in this -it’s really one of my favorite things about the local foods movement.