Today I canned almost twenty pounds of organic,Washington-grown, heirloom tomatoes. Inspired by Brook Hurst Stephens and her tomato canning demonstration for Can it Forward Day last Saturday, I decided to go for it. For the last 12 years I’ve focused on pickling and some fruit preserving but I don’t have a lot of experience with canning without the benefit of sugar or vinegar. To boost my confidence, I sought the wisdom of the many good sources available in print and online. The simple recipe in Ball’s Fresh Preserving website seemed the best, but I also reread the Canning Tomatoes chapter in Putting Food By (4th Edition) and studied the photos and troubleshooting tips on a website called Pick Your Own.
The acid levels in ripe fresh tomatoes can vary from low to high. A standard amount of acid is needed in order to prevent spoilage and ensure food safety, regardless of the variety of tomatoes you use. I chose to use powdered citric acid instead of bottled lemon juice because I think the bottled stuff tastes weird and citric acid is listed as an ingredient in my favorite store bought salsa (Grandma Chonga’s). Fresh lemon juice cannot guarantee the 5% acidity needed for water bath canned tomatoes. I found a bottle of food grade, citric acid powder at Whole Foods Market near Vitamin C in the body care section for about $4.00.
My tomato box included a mix of large and small, yellow, orange, pink, green, red, black heirloom varieties. Instead of mixing them up into one mystery sludge, I separated them into two color groups: Golds and Reds. I’m no tomato expert, but know Koppang Farm grows Nebraska Wedding, Nectarine, Peg’s Round, Tobolsk, Texas star, Big Rainbow, Lucky Cross, Mammoth German gold, Hillbilly, Armenian, striped German, Dagma’s perfection, Gary Isben’s Gold, Ace 55, Carmelo, Thessaloniki, Earlianna, June pink, Moskovich, Abe Lincoln, Wis 55, Druzba, Picardy, Honey, Bloody Butcher and Brandywine. Each tomato in my box was unique and I reserved a few to eat fresh in summer salads this week.
The canning process was the same except the water bath temperature was higher and there is a big difference in the length of time it stays in the bath. Typically pickles take between 10-15 minutes but canned tomatoes took between 35-45 minutes. I followed all the directions, assuming nothing, and all of my jars sealed. I will try not to open these tomatoes until fall or winter when I’m missing the summer sun the most. There are many ways to use home canned tomatoes–soups, sauces and stews are the obvious choices. I cook with store bought canned tomatoes throughout the winter and add them to rice dishes, poached eggs, beans and braised greens. I use the juice for salad dressing and even cocktails.