Friday, September 14, 2012

Carried Away With Canning: Part I!

OK, so with much ado, I better get going with my promise to post about my recent experience with canning, specifically of tomatoes.  Let's just say that I got a little carried away...and am getting carried away again and have picked even more tomatoes.  

Let's start at the beginning...why spend the time canning?  These were a few reasons I had:

1.) To save some moolah (of course, there is an initial investment in your tools and jars - but that is really a one-time thing, then you only need to re-purchase lids and maybe bands.  Since I had to invest in the jars this year, I borrowed my Mother-in-law's canner; next year I plan to invest in my own canner since I won't have the expense of the jars).
2.) To have (presently) fresh food stored up for months to come when said foods are no longer in season.
3.) To learn a useful skill.
4.) To avoid BPA leaching into my tomatoes and getting into my body!  See this interesting article from Wake Up World.  Apparently most canned products contain BPA in their resin linings, and because tomatoes are very acidic, the BPA leaches more into the food.
5.) To feel like "susie-homemaker" (haha).

There are other reasons you may have, but those were a few main ones I had.  It was also very gratifying once I completed to see my delicious bounty that I had worked so hard to create :-)...and even more gratifying when I used it in one of my fav recipes - Greek Bolognese from my Pampered Chef 29 Minutes to Dinner Cookbook (Vol 2)!

The most fun part of my journey was when I went tomato picking with my friend, Emily.  Because I am convicted that organic is better (I don't want to consume pesticides or any genetically modified "food"), I checked online to see if there was an organic farm in my area where I could pick lots o' tomats (because I wanted lots!).  I discovered Thorpe's Organic Family Farm, right outside of East Aurora and no more than a 20 minute drive from my house.  Perfect!  Local AND organic!  Their tomatoes were $7.50 per half-bushel, pick your own.  They also have a Community Supported Agriculture Program (but more on that in a future post...I am giving it a try for the first time and will fill you in later!).

Emily is the sweetest, and offered to drive.  We had no trouble finding the farm.  So far, so good.  They also had a great stand where you could buy produce that was already picked - peppers and garlic and herbs and potatoes and apples and grapes, oh my!

Emily at the Produce Stand with our loads of other goodies - yay for corn!

The lady at the stand was very nice and helpful, and showed us on a hand-drawn map where the tomatoes were and how they want everyone to drive all in the same direction.  Got it.  She gave us a few baskets to borrow, and off we started driving to the tomato area.  Now, it's single lane, this "road", and it gets tight when there are other cars that park along the road (or the roads running perpendicular in between the different plants).  And our map, remember, is hand-drawn and not to scale.  We pass the first tomatoes (beef-steak or something, we wanted the plum), but then by the plum tomatoes someone else was parked so we had to drive past.  

And then we got confused, and obviously were no longer on the "road for cars", but the "road for tractors":

We were "lost" for a little while...and those plants in the middle were high!  Poor Emily's car was getting some nice exfoliation for its underbelly!*  We were laughing so hard and really hoping that no one was watching us, and we were really glad that we were together - because had either of us gone alone, we are certain we would have done the same thing, but been all alone!  We were hoping if we got to the end of this stretch the "road" would turn and we could drive along the other side of the fields - uh, nope.  And with it being single lane, and not being sure if the plants to our right were weeds or good plants, and a ditch on the other side - we couldn't really turn around.  So...into reverse Emily went!  I was impressed, because she drives a standard, too - a skill I have yet to master although my husband has been driving a manual vehicle for over 2 years.  Very slowly and carefully we drove backwards until there was a reasonable area to turn around without smushing plants.  Whew!  And we finally found the tomato patch!

There were lots of tomatoes just ripe for the picking!  Some were tough to get to, because they didn't have those nice supportive wires like we may use in our gardens.  And our hands and shoes got really dirty - should have brought gloves, but hey, we were first-timers!  After a little bit of time, we had successfully gathered 3 half-bushels of beautiful tomatoes!

All in all it was a successful day!  Sunny and Funny!  And I had plenty o' tomats for my plans...mouah-ha-ha-ha...diced and pureed (which has since become plans for sauce and salsa, too).

Here are the tools & supplies you will need to get started on your own canning adventures:

  • Water Bath Canner or Pressure Canner
  • Basic Canning Tools - i.e. funnel, jar lifter, lid lifter, tongs, jar wrench
  • Canning Jars or lids and bands if you already have jars
  • Small pot for keeping lids sterilized
  • Several kitchen and dish towels, and hotpads/trivets
  • A kitchen scale - optional, but I like to be precise in measuring how many pounds of tomatoes specific to my recipe
  • Veggie scrubber
  • Vinegar (I used for washing my tomats)
  • Large pot for blanching your produce
  • Large bowl for your ice-bath
  • Colander(s
  • Large cutting board - I used one with a juice well, because my tomatoes were extra juicy!
  • Sharp utility knife and paring knife- a good ergonomical one so that your hand doesn't fatigue
  • Large trivet (or cutting board) for putting the hot jars onto before filling them
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Salt (optional)
  • Good scraper - one for pressing the tomatoes and a skinny one to slide along the jar to let out air bubbles
  • Ladle for scooping tomatoes into jars
  • Large bowl or two putting diced (or pureed) tomatoes into
  • Tomato Press, Food Mill, or Sieve (for pureeing the tomatoes and separating skins/seeds)
  • And a day with no place else to be, preferably a rainy one, as you just can't rush the process :-)
Now take some time to gather up your supplies, and be ready for Part II where I will get down to the nitty-gritty of canning!  Woot Woot!  

*Please Note:  No vehicles were harmed in the making of this adventure.  Though a little something came loose, Emily's highly skilled hubby was able to fix this no problem.  We do not advise taking a car onto a road intended only for tractors.


  1. OMG, this was hysterical! I loved your description of the adventure as well as reasons to can and tools you'd need. It's very thorough AND entertaining, which is awesome! The disclaimer at the end especially made me LOL! I'm glad Emily's car is okay AND that you were both successful in your picking! The tomatoes look sooooooooooooo yummy! I CAN't (get it? Like CAN = CANNING!) wait for Part 2!

  2. Amanda - so glad you enjoyed! It was absolutely hysterical when it was happening in real life, too! Also love your pun - you are the best! Part 2 to be coming soon!

  3. very funny meg!!! glad you shared. have you tried any yet?

    1. Thanks Brandi! Yes, I have tried a little bit of amazing!