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Easy Vegetable Stock

Homemade Vegetable Stock

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One of my favorite ways to prevent food waste, save money and improve the nutritional value of my recipes is to make my own homemade vegetable stock. If you’re like me, you buy cans or cartons of veg and/or chicken stock to have on hand to make soup, stews and other recipes. I like to use both in place of water to add flavor to all sorts of thing including rice, quinoa, potatoes and other veggies and when cooking meat. But, it seems that a lot of those prepared stocks contain loads of sodium and a lot of those other unpronounceable chemicals so they’re not as wholesome as we might think. Yes, there are some nice organic varieties, but they are usually pretty spendy, so why not make it a home using our own leftovers?

It’s so simple, I can’t believe I wasn’t doing it sooner. I wish I could take credit for the simple idea, but I learned it from this post on Simple Bites.  I follow her quickie version and make a new batch of stock about once a month.

I compost a lot of my kitchen waste, but sometimes my compost pile can’t keep up with my new scraps, so I learned to keep some large freezer bags in my extra freezer. Each time I cook and have some veg scraps, I set them aside as I’m chopping and cooking, then I throw them in the freezer bag. I usually wait until I have about three full bags and then I split the scraps between two of my dutch ovens. I fill the pots with water and then bring to a boil, then simmer on the stove for about an hour or so.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Homemade Vegetable Stock

After the stock cools, I strain it using coffee filters in my colander (cheesecloth also works) and then container it for the freezer (and I must reserve some for pouring over the Hounds’ food, also).

This is Daisy, my best sous chef

This is Daisy, my best sous chef

Since I use different quantities of stock for various recipes, I freeze it in a variable quantities. I have used ice trays for when I need just a little stock, like to saute some veggies or to add a few spoonfuls to sauce or gravy. I also use muffin tins to make cup sized quantities. I use those to add to rice, quinoa, couscous, and some pastas.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Finally, I freeze larger quantities in quart-sized mason jars, or large plastic yogurt containers (usually about 32 oz). The larger quantities are perfect for soup and stews and anytime you want to boil something but add more flavor than using plain water. I LOVE making mashed potatoes by boiling the potatoes in veg stock or chicken broth. All kinds of extra flavor! When I use the ice cube trays or muffin tins, I freeze in the trays then pop them out and put them all in a large freezer bag. Then I just grab a hunk of stock from the freezer as needed.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

What kind of scraps to save for stock:

  • Stems and ends of any veggie – think of all the parts you cut off and discard from veggies like carrots, zucchini, onions, greens, etc.
  • Veggie peels, from vegetables like potatoes, carrots, eggplant, etc. (be sure to thoroughly wash before peeling so you don’t end up with gritty stock)
  • Herb stems – fresh or dried both work well
  • Seeds and inside “goop” removed from pumpkins and squash

I try to ensure that I end up with a good variety of veg parts when I put them into my pots to boil, so if one vegetable is a little bitter, like eggplant, another one will balance it with some sweetness, like carrots or sweet potatoes. The addition of leftover herb stems really pumps up the flavor of the stock like no store-bought kind you’ve had. I also personally like to ensure there are some tomato and potato parts in my stock – I’m not sure why, but I just think the stock needs those basic flavors.

Tomato canning waste made a nice stock ingredient

Tomato canning waste made a nice stock ingredient

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Leftover parts from roasted pumpkins went in my stock recently

Inner strings and seeds from roasted acorn squash is now veg stock

Inner strings and seeds from roasted acorn squash is now veg stock

The boiled waste can still be composted, if desired, so you’ll be getting double duty from those scraps – cool, right?

I hope you’ll give the homemade stock trick a try. It really doesn’t take much extra time because you can boil it while you’re doing other kitchen duties, then you just have to strain and store it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get a little charge out of making it yourself instead of buying it because you’ll know exactly what’s in it and you’ll know you took a little time to make something healthy and yummy for your family.

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Homemade Fresh Marinara Sauce: The No-Waste Method

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Tomato season is ending in most of the U.S. (unless you live in the desert like many of my friends who are now planting their winter gardens! **jealous**), so it’s time to use up the last of the season’s crop of ‘maters.This is a pretty simple, no fuss, no waste way to make some delicious marinara sauce – for dinner tonight and/or to preserve for the winter.

The first time I canned diced tomatoes, I was pretty appalled by the amount of tomato waste I had afterwards. By the time you skin and seed the tomatoes, you end up with bowl o’ leftover tomato parts. While I was ok with composting my waste, it seemed silly (and also ironic) to have grown all of those tomatoes, only to waste so much of them in the preserving process. I felt like I was burying my children in the compost pile (cue dramatic music).

I went on a search for recipes to use the rest of the tomato parts, so I wouldn’t have to loose so much in my future processing. I found recipes for paste, juice, etc. and plan to try some of those next year when I have a larger crop. But, the one that struck me as oh so simple and also so obvious is this recipe for Fresh Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce on The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen, a blog I love. Ali and Tom, the authors, keep it simple with their recipe and I love simplicity.

I followed their recipe, but only made half a batch because I had about 10 pounds of tomatoes, so this is the recipe for the half batch version of their recipe. Note that while I usually tell you not to be fussy about ingredient amounts, if you are going to can this recipe, as I did, you really need to stick to the recipe for food safety purposes. However, if you’re going to eat it tonight and freeze any leftovers, feel free to play around with the ingredients to your personal tastes.

* Because I made this sauce on a super-harvest-preserving kitchen day and had many projects going on at once, I didn’t photo-document the whole process this time.

Fresh Whole Tomato Marinara Sauce:

Servings: 9 half-pints

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1  1/2 large onions, minced
  • 1/2 whole head garlic, minced
  • 10 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cups fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional) – (I used regular white sugar)
  • 1 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoons sea salt

Directions (directly from original recipe):

1. Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and then the minced onions and garlic. Saute for about 10 minutes.

2. Remove the stem-end of the tomatoes (this is the only waste and I put mine in my homemade veg stock storage in the freezer). Process some of them in a food processor, leaving them a little chunky. Blend the remaining tomatoes until smooth.

3. Then begin to add the tomatoes to the pot of onions in batches as you puree them. (Don’t be alarmed if your tomato mixture looks more pink than red at this stage. The color darkens as it simmers).

4. Add the chopped basil, vinegar, sugar, Italian seasoning, and sea salt.

5. Cook, uncovered, for about 3 hours or until sauce has cooked down and thickened. Be sure to stir it on occasion and keep it on a rapid simmer. Keep cooking until sauce has thickened to your liking (my smaller batch was ready in about two hours).

6. Taste and add more salt if needed.

7. If you are going to can the sauce, prep your jars and lids, according to accepted rules for sterilization. I waterbath canned mine and I use The Ball Blue Book for a reference. See their Intro to Canning article for safe water bath canning techniques. Be sure to add a 1/2 Tbsp of lemon juice to each 1/2 pint jar (1 Tbsp for quarts) before processing. Process your jars according to the timing chart for your altitude on page 6.

I chose to can my sauce in half-pint jars because I felt that the smaller quantities fit our two-person household better, but you may prefer to use quarts, especially if you make a larger batch.

SAUCE! This is a very tasty sauce that the whole family will really love. You will never notice that the skins and seeds have been left intact because they are obliterated in the blending process and then cooked down and softened during the simmering process. I also heard that the seeds are the most nutritious part of the tomato, housing tons of vitamin C, so this sauce must be more healthy than the non-skin-and-seed variety, right?  The picky-eater-daughter, who doesn’t like chunks of onions and such, fully approved and took a jar home to her new apartment and later commented that she needs a larger jar in the future. Note taken.

Now, what to make with this great sauce? Pasta is the obvious choice, but I have also used it as a pizza sauce and I keep a jar in the fridge, ready to throw a dollop of it in whatever skillet or casserole dish I might be cooking. Since I adore all tomato saucy recipes, you can bet that my little stash of sauce will not last until Christmas.

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Homemade Pumpkin Puree

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I already told you about my affinity for orange food when I wrote the the carrot soup post, so you had to know I would be talking about pumpkins – a lot! If you’re a Pinterest fan like me, you know that pumpkin-anything recipes are the most pinned recipes right now, so it’s only fitting we make some homemade pumpkin puree to get ready for all those orange recipes.

Along with my mysterious cantaloupe plants out in the garden, I also ended up with a very nice crop of pie (sweet) pumpkins. I never thought to grow pumpkins before. After all, how many jack-o-lanterns does one need a year? But, I knew that the pumpkins that I accidentally grew were pie pumpkins because that was the only kind I had thrown out there during my lazy composting last winter. So, it dawned on me that since I use a lot of pumpkin puree for Fall recipes and for my homemade doggie treats (Yeah, I’m that kind of dog owner. Yeah, I’ll share the recipe in a future post), I should be really happy to have my own crop of sweet pumpkins.

That said, I always thought starting with an actual pumpkin would be complicated and laborious work. Turns out I was wrong. It’s pretty darn simple and it tastes SO much better than canned. AND, a cup of pumpkin is only 41 calories! While I know most people don’t have a personal crop of pie pumpkins in their backyard, we can all take advantage of the plethora of little pumpkins that are appearing in big bins at the market and farmers markets at this time of year. They cost almost nothing and they are so easy to work with. I used a couple of resources to learn how to make puree: Simple Bites and Elana’s Pantry.

Here’s how:

First, start with the little pie pumpkins – they are the baby-sized ones, not the big carving kind (which don’t taste as yummy) or the super-mini kind. You can use them for decor around the house during Halloween season, then make puree and all kinds of pumpkin yummies out of them.

Use small pie/sweet pumpkins to make puree for cooking

Cut the stem off, then slice the pumpkins open, horizontally.

Slice horizontally

Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, reserving for later.

Remove seeds and stringy pulp

It’s ok if some of the stringy part is left intact

Place pumpkin halves cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Two pumpkins fit on one of my baking sheets.

Place cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-60 minutes, depending on size. You know they are done when you can insert a fork into the outside of the pumpkin easily and the inner flesh is quite soft, but not complete mush.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes

Let cool until you can handle the roasted pumpkins. Then scoop the flesh from the outer shell and place in the food processor. Puree until very smooth.

Scoop flesh from outer shell

Puree the pulp until very smooth

Remove from food processor to a colander to drain off excess moisture. Use cheesecloth or coffee filters to line the colander so you don’t lose the precious pulp. Allow to drain for about 30 minutes.

Drain in a lined colander for about 30 minutes.

Once it’s drained, you can use it immediately in your favorite pumpkin recipe or you can store it in the fridge for a few days and/or freeze it for later use. My two small pumpkins yielded about 2.5 cups of puree. I used a little for a fruit tart recipe (recipe coming in a future post) and froze the rest. I used a muffin tin to freeze 1/2 cup portions, which are handy to grab and defrost as needed.

BUT WAIT, there’s more! Remember the seeds and stringy pulp you scooped out of the pumpkins earlier? Separate the seeds from the pulp. Put the leftover pulp in the veggie stock freezer bag (see sidebar in this post) and rinse and dry the seeds.

Separate the seeds from the leftover pulp

When the seeds are dry, mix with a little melted butter and salt and roast at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Mix seeds with a little butter and salt, then roast at 300 for about 45 minutes

Great, healthy snack! For other fun roasted pumpkin seed recipes, see my pumpkin board on Pinterest.

Tasty healthy snack!

So, from two little pumpkins we have made puree for cooking, seeds for snacking and pulp for veggie stock. Some would also argue that we should reserve the liquid from the puree we drained. Ok. I didn’t, though.

Now, what are we going to make with our pumpkin puree? EVERYTHING! My personal fav is the soft pumpkin chocolate chip cookie, but I can’t have those very often. So, there’s also pumpkin pie (duh, right?), pumpkin waffles and pancakes, pumpkin pasta, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin chili, pumpkin bread and muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin quinoa, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin butter, and pumpkin granola bars…..and the list goes on and on! Here are three of my pumpkin creations: Curried Pumpkin & Bean Soup and  Pumpkin & Fruit Galette and Pumpkin, Bean and Rice Burritos. I’ll show you as I go through my pumpkin pins. Oh, and did you know that you can sub pumpkin puree for oil in many baking recipes (like you might do with applesauce)?

Leave a comment with your favorite recipe using pumpkin!

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Simple Savories

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UPDATED: See bottom of post.

This year I planted tomatoes for the first time. I had planned to only have three plants because I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy growing them – or be successful. Since I didn’t know a lot about the many plant choices, I ordered a variety pack from Burpees. One of those was called the Super Sweet 100 Hybrid, described as a high-producing sweet cherry variety. Then a friend gave me a couple of additional plants, which turned out to be cherry varieties, as well. So, out of five plants, I have three that are cherry! Know what that means? I have MILLIONS of itty bitties, and I wasn’t prepared for the influx of the little sweeties.

Cherry tomato plants produce MILLIONS of sweet little tomatoes!

I started exploring other food blogs to figure out how to preserve the giant harvest of mini tomatoes and learned that while it is possible to can them, most people don’t because most people don’t like to leave the skin on canned tomatoes and most people refuse to peel 1000 cherry tomatoes in order to get a couple of pints of canned tomatoes. Personally, I’m not terribly averse to skins and I do throw some cherry maters in my salsa, but decided I wanted to do something else with the little guys since I’m canning the big ‘uns.

What to do with all of those little yummies?

I learned a simple, fast and super yummy trick for roasting and then preserving cherry tomatoes. I’ve seen several versions of this technique, so I am by no means claiming to have thought of it myself! As always, I try to put a little of my own spin on it and show you how easy this savory delight is to make and how versatile the finished product can be.

Roasted cherry tomatoes are simple and versatile

I started with about a pound of cherry tomatoes, which fits in one jelly roll pan and makes about one half pint of the mixture. I only have one jelly roll pan so that’s all I make at a time – you could make more if you have multiple pans.

Preheat the oven to about 425 degrees. Prepare the tomatoes by slicing each of them in half. TEDIOUS! I hate tedious! Let’s make this faster. I wish I remember where I saw this trick (somewhere on Pinterest, I’m sure), but the person who invented it is a genius. Here’s what you do: find two plastic lids of the same size. I use the kind from the big Greek yogurt containers (cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.). Set one lid, label side down and fill the lid with tomatoes. I find it works best if you use similar sized tomatoes in each batch.

Fill the first lid with the tomatoes

Fit them in as snugly as you can, then place the other lid, label side facing up on top of the tomatoes, making a little tomato sandwich.

Place the second lid on top of the tomatoes

Now, press down on the sandwich firmly and begin slicing into the tomatoes with an very sharp knife. If you don’t keep the pressure firm, the tomatoes will escape out the backside of the sandwich. Sometimes I do rotate it a bit, but do not pull out the knife, which would make it messy.

Press firmly on the top while slicing through the tomatoes

Viola! Quick work made of slicing up a handful of cherry tomatoes! I told you it was genius!

Like magic, they’re all sliced in one move!

After the tomatoes are halved, place them in a medium sized bowl. Peel, but do not chop a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl of tomatoes. Remember that garlic mellows out when roasted, so feel free to add more!

Add some garlic cloves to the bowl of tomatoes

Add about a 1/4 cup of EVOO to the bowl and gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic cloves. Dump the contents of the bowl onto the pan and spread the tomatoes and garlic out into a single layer. It doesn’t matter if the tomatoes sit cut side up or down.

Spread the garlic and tomatoes into a single layer on the pan

Sprinkle the spices and salt and pepper over the mixture and place in the oven. Roast for about 20-30 minutes. I like a little charring on the edges, so I wait until I see that before I pull them out. Be careful, though, because you can go from a little char to a major scorch in a matter of a minutes. My pan below may have gone a little too long.

Roast until you see a little charring on the edges of the tomatoes

Let the mixture cool on the pan. The second they are cool enough to eat, taste them! (Caution: I have burned my tongue more than once by diving in too soon!). Amazingness, right? Super savory flavors that make you want to lap it up off the pan. Depending on how much you eat off the pan, you now have a nice little batch of roasted yummies to add to tonight’s dinner, or save in a jar for a future recipe.

Cool then taste!

If I want to save them for another day, I scoop the mixture into a half pint (jelly size) jar. Be sure to get all of the drippings and the garlic (you can smash or chop the garlic to make for easier use later). Smoosh the mixture firmly into the jar and top with a splash of EVOO. Fill to nearly the top, but f you’re going to freeze it, leave about 1/2″ headroom. I have kept the mixture in the fridge for up to a week, but if I don’t think I’m going to use it quickly enough, I just pop it in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight when ready to use.

Pour the mixture in a small jar for fridge or freezer

The mixture makes a perfect pasta topping, as is. Just prepare some pasta, warm the tomato mixture in a saute pan (add some pesto and/or a little tomato paste for more body) and then combine the pasta and tomato mixture for a super easy, but very savory supper. I will share my FAVORITE pasta dish with you in a future post soon, and we’ll use this recipe as our basic sauce starter.

Besides pasta, you could use this as a topping or stir it into many other dishes since it’s just a tomato and garlic combo. Think: stews and soups, stir into meatloaf or burgers, cassaroles, bruschetta, pizza, eggs, rice, veggie stir-fries, shrimp or fish topping, bean or green salads, etc. It also occurs to me that it could be pureed to create a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. Oooo…gotta try that!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Serving size: makes about 1/2 pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4-6 whole, peeled garlic cloves (more, if you like)
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning (or any combo of basil, oregano, thyme, etc. You could also use fresh chopped herbs)
  • 1/2 tsp each: salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice tomatoes in half, place in medium-sized bowl.
  3. Peel garlic, add to bowl with tomatoes.
  4. Add EVOO to bowl, gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic.
  5. Pour mixture onto jelly roll (rimmed baking sheet), spreading mixture into single layer.
  6. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until edges of tomatoes are slightly charred. Remove from oven.
  7. Cool completely on the pan.
  8. Use immediately, or scoop mixture into small jar, packing tightly and topping with EVOO. Leave 1/2″ head space if you plan to freeze.

Notes for next time:

I think it would be fun to try a Mexican spin on the mixture by using Mexican spices instead of Italian and adding some green chiles or jalapenos to the roasting pan. This version could be used as a stir-in to taco filling and other Mexican dishes. Another nice addition to either version would be thick slices of onions and/or green peppers which also roast so nicely and pair well with tomatoes.

Leave a comment with your roasted tomato recipe ideas. Enjoy!

UPDATE:

When I wrote this post, I noted that maybe the roasted tomato mixture could be pureed into a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. I also thought it would be fun to add some onions and bell peppers to the roasting pan to include even more savory flavor. Well! Last night I tried both and it turned out to be simply delicious and got rave reviews from the Hubs. He isn’t quite as enamored with the texture of the plain roasted tomato mixture as I am, so the smoother version works great for him. I just had to share!

Here’s how:

Prepare cherry tomatoes and garlic as above, but add chopped pieces of bell pepper and onions. I had some pearl onions (over-grown green onions) from the garden, so I used those. You can just chunk up about half an onion. Toss with olive oil, as described above and roast the same way.

Next, dump the mixture into a bowl and use the immersion blender to puree to the desired consistency (or cool then use a food processor or blender).

Blend with food processor, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency

I added a dollop of my basil pesto, a little salt and pepper and about 1 Tbsp of sugar, but mostly because I was experimenting with the flavors. It was great, as is, before adding ingredients. Just tweak to your own tastes and you end up with great marinara sauce. I served mine over open-faced (chicken) meatball sandwiches and the Hubs asked for seconds. Enjoy!

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Adventures in Canning Tomatoes 1.0

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Before this summer I never bothered with trying to grow tomatoes. I know, you can’t call yourself a real gardener if you don’t grow tomatoes. But here’s the deal: I just didn’t really like them. Oh, I love tomato sauce, in fact I could pretty much bathe in and drink ketchup, salsa, marinara, or pizza sauce. It’s the actual raw tomatoes I didn’t really care for. Yes, I know that tomato sauce starts with tomatoes, but a plain ol tomato has….well, texture issues. It’s hard yet pulpy and squishy and seedy and then there’s the skin. Am I right? I never eat a raw, naked tomato slice – nope, not even on a burger or a taco (yes, I pick them off!).

Aside from the fact that I didn’t really like tomatoes, growing them sounded pretty difficult. People are always going on about issues with their plants – no tomatoes, dropping tomatoes, no ripe tomatoes, frozen or heat exhausted tomato plants. Sounded like a big hassle over something I didn’t really want to eat. I stuck to growing the easy stuff like squash and carrots.

I think it was sometime last winter when I opened a can of diced tomatoes with basil and dumped the contents into my saucepan to make some spaghetti sauce when it hit me: I could make my own canned fresh diced tomatoes if I grew tomatoes! DUH. My cupboard is always stocked with a variety of canned tomato products: diced with green chiles, fire-roasted, whole, stewed, crushed. I use them all the time in my cooking because I love the flavor when they are cooked down. It’s just the raw variety I find unappealing.

So, there it is. I grew tomatoes this year and now I have to do something with them. I’ll tell you about the types of plants I grew in a future post, but I’ll tell you that I ended up with five plants: three cherry/grape varieties and two ‘regular’ varieties. Since this is my first foray into tomato growing, I didn’t know how many tomatoes to expect, so I prioritized my list of tomato needs (wants, really), so I would be sure to end up with my favorites if my crop was less than bumper.

  1. Salsa – it’s a pantry staple in our house. It’s not just a dip for tortilla chips for us. I use it in everyday cooking – you’ll see.
  2. Diced – like I explained above, I use diced tomatoes throughout the winter for tons of dishes. It would be great to have a variety of diced like my old commercially canned versions.
  3. Pasta sauce – pasta freak that I am, I use a lot of marinara. I have frozen it in the past, but bottled has to be better.
  4. Pizza sauce – can we ever get tired of pizza? Certainly not the Hubs, who could literally live on it. Some homemade pizza sauce would be super nice to have.
  5. Paste and sauce – I can always use some basic tomato paste and sauce for everyday recipes.

So far, I’m on #2 – I did some salsa a few weeks ago. I’ve made salsa in the past, but I didn’t can it. This year, with my new-found love for homegrown tomatoes, I knew I had to learn to can. I have friends who can and I knew the internet would help me along. I also bought The Ball Blue Book, which is the standard canner’s guide and I also bought a lovely book called Canning for a New Generation by Lianna Krissoff. I invested in a big pot to do the water bath step and also a basic set of tools and, of course, mason jars (aren’t mason jars the best little things?).

This is my new ginormous pot for water bathing

My friend Mary taught me how to can salsa without using the water bath technique, which I’ll tell you all about in a future post about making salsa (UPDATE: apparently non-water bath technique is considered unsafe by USDA, so I cannot recommend it).

I ended up with nine 1/2 pints of fresh salsa

Even though I canned the salsa, I didn’t feel like I had had the “real” canning experience since I got to skip the water bath part. So, armed with several pounds of tomatoes, I decided it was time to do this thing! I planned to use the traditional Ball Blue Book’s basic recipe for chopped tomatoes, which you can find on their website.

My technique:

Since I don’t own a kitchen scale, I have no idea how many pounds of tomatoes I started with, but the Hubs guesses about 8-10 lbs. Here’s the whole lot in my big salad bowl:

I started with this many tomatoes

Jars: I chose to make mine in pint jars because that’s about the amount I would use for most recipes. Next time, I may go to the half pints for a smaller quantity option. I bought my jars at the local big box store, but I have also seen them online. Remember, you can reuse jars and the outer lid rings, but you always have to get new flat lids to ensure a good seal. The good news is you can buy the flat lids separately so you can reuse last year’s (or grandma’s) jars.

Cute pint jars

Work space: If you’re going to can tomatoes, you need to know that your kitchen will look like a crime scene when you’re finished – and you will look like the guilty party with all of that bloody red stain on the front of you. Cover your clothing and clear as much counter space as you can. This makes me laugh at myself. Have I told you about my ridiculously outdated and inefficient kitchen yet? Pink and tan tile back-splash. Forming an image? It’s worse than that – I only have two and a half cupboards and about two feet of work space by the (electric!) stove. BUT, if I can successfully can in my kitchen, you have no excuses.

Tools: You’ll need three large bowls: one for the ice bath, one for the guts and peels and one for your chopped tomatoes. Besides the giant canning pot, you’ll also need a large pot for boiling the tomatoes and another for sterilizing the jars and lids. Find your best, sharpest knife and then sharpen it some more. It’s handy to have this basic set of canning tools, but you can improvise, if needed, with substitutes from your kitchen drawer. I highly recommend the jar lifter, though, because it will save you from scalding burns when you move the jars from the boiling water.

Tools and jars ready to go

Jar Prep: The recipe explains that we need to sanitize and heat the jars in boiling water. I just put a few jars, along with lids, in a wide pot and set it on a low, not quite boil while I was prepping the tomatoes. I suppose I could have done it in the giant pot, but I wasn’t ready to fire that baby up yet.

Fill the jars all the way to the brim with water inside the pot and set to a low boil while you prep tomatoes

Tomato Prep: Meanwhile, get the water boiling in another pot. Since you have to peel the tomatoes (actually, you don’t HAVE to peel them if you don’t mind them but most people do. I don’t peel mine for salsa, but I blend them in the food processor, so the peels get pretty broken down), the boiling water improves the process. Put a few cups of ice with some water in one of the bowls. Once the water is boiling, put a test tomato in and then watch a clock. Take the tomato out of the hot water after no more than 1.5 minutes. Immediately dunk into the ice water. Let tomato sit and cool for a couple of minutes. Then try to slip the skin off. If it comes off easily, keep doing the same with the rest of the tomatoes. If the skin doesn’t slip off easily or of you have to poke it with a knife to get it going, try this: cut a very shallow slit in the side of the tomato before dunking in the boiling pot.

Dip tomatoes in boiling water for now longer than 1.5 minutes.

Dunk tomatoes into ice bath to stop the cooking and cool the tomatoes.

Cut a shallow slit in the tomato before dunking in boiling water to allow skins to slip off easily

I took my time and only worked with groups of five tomatoes, but you’ll find a groove after the first few tomatoes are skinned. After skinning, cut out the stem end and then seed it. I found it helpful to slice the tomato in half horizontally (make your pre-boil slit horizontal to get it started). Once it’s halved, use your fingers to squish the seeds from between the ribs. Personally, I don’t mind if there are some seeds left hanging around the diced tomatoes, but some folks are pretty opposed to leaving any seeds in tact. Fun fact: the seeds contain the highest concentration of vitamin C and much of the flavor. Your call with your own tomatoes. I tried not to mangle the tomato too much, so as not to loose too much juice. After it’s seeded, go ahead and dice it up and throw it in a bowl.

After skinning, seed then dice the tomatoes.

Once all of the tomatoes are skinned, seeded and diced, we’re ready to can ’em!

This is when I got the gigantic pot boiling. Mine has a rack that sits inside to hold the jars up off the bottom, so I pulled that out before I filled with hot water and set to on the burner. Meanwhile, I carefully pulled the jars out of the other boiling pot, using my jar lifter, and dumped the hot water out. I set the jar on the rack that goes into the big pot. Once I had six jars set up, I used my wide opening funnel and a ladle to fill the jars with the diced tomatoes.

Fill the jars with the diced tomatoes – pack tightly!

One mistake I think I made was that I didn’t pack the jars tightly enough. I was probably being too gentle with them, but the point is to have diced tomatoes, not a jar full of fluid. The recipe says to fill with boiling water, so I used the leftover water I blanched the tomatoes in earlier. I had to add quite a bit, again – I should have packed more tightly. Use a chop stick or spoon handle to poke around and remove air bubbles. It’s ok to really stir and poke, as this will lead to a tighter pack. Add more water or tomatoes to fill it up, but leave about 1/2″ of head space at the top of the jar so it has room to expand while water bathing.

IMPORTANT: Unless you want botulism, you have to add either 1 Tbsp lemon juice or 1/2 tsp citric acid to each pint jar. I used citric acid, but would probably use lemon juice next time because I’ve read it tastes better. I also added 1 tsp salt, which is optional.

You MUST add citric acid or lemon juice to each jar or you will kill people!

Add salt, if you like, and clean up the rim of each jar. Be sure to leave about 1/2 of head space at the top of the jar.

Once the jars are full and the rims are clean, place flat lids on top and screw the outer ring on – just “finger tight” is fine in case air bubbles need to escape during boiling. Now it’s time to put all of the kids in the bath. I set my rack o’ jars down into the giant pot of boiling water (yes, it was a little scary) and used the jar lifter to set the jars upright, as needed. Make sure the water covers the jars by about two inches, then make sure you have a full boil and cover the pot. Keep it boiling!

The recipe says to process pints for 40 minutes, but you have to adjust if you’re at a higher altitude according to this chart. I live at about 6,800′ so I had to add 15 minutes. So, I had almost an hour to clean up the crime scene while it processed. Once time is up, use the jar lifter to pull the jars out and set them someplace they can be left undisturbed for at least 12 hours. The flat lid is supposed to seal to the jar. This can take up to 24 hours and you’ll know it’s sealed when the lid will no longer flex when you press the center. If it doesn’t seal within 24 hours, it didn’t seal and you’ll need to refrigerate the jars instead. Mine were sealed almost immediately.

BUT, they looked funny:

I had separation of the tomatoes and liquid, but it’s ok!

I was worried! Did I just waste all of my tomatoes by doing something wrong? I immediately went to my favorite canning expert: Marisa McClellan who writes Food in Jars. She has great info on her blog and I found this post that explained that I probably did something wrong – like got it hot and cooled a bit -but it’s still edible! YAY! The hubs looked skeptical, so I shook the jar (after it was completely cool) and it looked much better.

After completely cool, just shake it up and it’s all pretty again.

So the work paid off! I have six pints of beautiful, freshly canned diced tomatoes I can use this winter when the garden is over and the produce in the market is from faraway places and tasting bland.

Beautiful pints of yum!

Was it simple? No. Worth it? Yes. It is so empowering to know that I was able to grow my own tomatoes in the backyard and then preserve the harvest for year-round healthy, fresh cooking! OH, and I should tell you that I now like raw tomatoes! If I grow it, I like it and I eat it!

Notes for next time:  I would also like to try the raw tomato with no added water recipe. I will keep researching other types of diced tomato recipes – I think some allow for added garlic, herbs, etc. Finally, I didn’t really like the part where I ended up with a bowl of seeds, skins and tomato guts that I had to waste (well, I did compost it). So, I’m researching what I could do with all of the leftovers instead.

I hope the tomato crop continues to produce so I can get through the rest of my tomato priority list, but it’s getting a little cool here in SW Colorado.

Leave a comment – I’d love to hear more tomato canning techniques and ideas. Happy canning! 🙂

For other canning recipes and ideas, see my “Canning and Preserving” board on Pinterest and follow Cooking Ripe! on Facebook for more cooking and gardening tips and tricks.

Update: Well Preserved shared a great way to peel lots of tomatoes fast!

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