Mid-July in Oklahoma is the end of tomato gardening for most of us located here in the middle of the United States. The high temperatures during the day and night have limited the tomato plant production and most of the plants were at maximum production mid-month July. These 2018 tomato plants are now at the end of life for this tomato season. I found myself with an abundance of fresh tomatoes and the sudden need to make as much salsa, tomato Caprese salads, and fresh tomato sauce as I could.
Ultimately, deciding to can the extra fresh garden tomatoes for winter use.
Start by washing the jars and the lids in some warm soapy water and let them sit on the rack to dry while preparing the tomatoes. Place a couple of large pots of water on the stove to boil, one for the tomatoes and the other to place the canned jars. Prepare a third pot for cooking the tomato sauce before pouring into jars.
The dirty part of tomato canning is removing the skins. This is the reason for the second pot of boiling water. Peeling tomato skins works best when you have a friend to help. This year, Debra Jane came to my rescue and offered her tomato peeling services.
Depending on how many tomatoes you have, the blanching may need to be done in stages to prevent over boiling the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes in the boiling water to blanch the skin for approximately 30 seconds to a minute. Then remove the tomatoes from the water and place in a strainer in the sink while peeling. Once blanched the skin is easier to remove without losing the meat of the tomato.
The peeled tomatoes can be diced, quartered, or left whole and placed in the clean jar. Tomatoes can also be diced along with some onion, freshly pressed garlic and natural fresh herbs from the garden (my preference is oregano, basil, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper). Let the sauce cook and simmer on low for a few hours to reduce the juice and thicken the sauce. Remember to stir the sauce frequently and leave the lid off while the sauce cooks.
When the sauce is cooked, and the juice has thickened, use a hand blender to puree the tomato sauce directly in the saucepan. The sauce can then be poured into the clean jars for canning. Debra Jane loaned me a funnel to pour the sauce into the jars which made the process much easier and less messy than trying to pour into the jars directly from the saucepan.
You can add a tsp of canning salt to the jar and a tsp or two of lemon juice. Remember to wipe the lids clean with a dry paper towel prior to placing the lids and rings on the jars to confirm a proper seal. Verify the lids are on snugly, but not too tight. Then place the jars in the large pot of boiling water. The water should cover the top of the jars in order to seal properly. Let the jars boil, with the lid on, in the canning pot for 35 – 40 minutes.
Let the jars cool on the counter or on the stove top. I prefer overnight and then I label the jars with their contents and the date they were canned before placing them on a shelf in the pantry. Now I will have fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce to use this winter which is almost as good as fresh summer tomatoes!