As we've mentioned before, we both grew up around relatives who canned vegetables every summer. Still, we'd never done it ourselves, and the thought of it seemed daunting.
But when our CSA farm recently offered unlimited U-pick tomatoes, we decided it was high time to learn.
So one day last week, we got up early and Zipcar'd out to the farm, a beautiful rural plot that's actually only about 15 miles out of D.C.
By 8 a.m., we were standing amid the cool tomato vines, inhaling their spicy, pungent scent. As the morning fog burned off and a rooster crowed from the barn, we plucked impossibly perfect ripe orbs -- pink, red, orange and purple -- from the vines.
It was a pastoral, idyllic morning -- and it belied the frantic bloodbath waiting for us at home.
We brought home about 80 tomatoes, which, given the heft of most of them, meant we had about 45 to 50 pounds to can.
We had found a terrific step-by-step recipe for canning diced tomatoes on Welcome to My Garden, a blog from Kathi in Minnesota. She does a great job of clearly explaining the process.
And essentially, it's a very simple process:
Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute, and then dunk them in an ice bath. Doing this makes the tomatoes a cinch to peel -- the skins just slide right off.
Sterilize your jars and lids in boiling water.
Cut off the stems and dice the tomatoes.
Bring the diced tomatoes to a boil.
Pour the tomatoes in the jars. Run a knife along the inside of each jar to get rid of air pockets.
Add a little salt. (This was a tip from Zach's granny. We're not sure what it does, but we're in no position to argue.)
Put the lids on the jars.
Boil the full jars in water for 45 minutes to seal the lids.
Remove from water and cover with a towel. (Another tip from Granny -- she says it's important to keep the jars from cooling too quickly.)
And that's it. As you can see, it was more than a little messy. And although it's not exactly a complicated process, the different steps do make for a long day of canning.
(For us, the whole process took about 8 hours, not including cooling time. Or, of course, the time it took to pick the tomatoes. Part of what took us so long is that, because we had so many tomatoes and limited space on the stove, we had to do each step in shifts.)
The only special equipment you need (other than the jars) is a jar lifter and a funnel for pouring the tomatoes into the jars. That's the great thing about canning tomatoes as opposed to other foods. They're acidic enough that they don't need to be sealed in a pressure cooker, the way you would have to can, say, beans.
Our result? Twenty-six quarts of beautiful red and yellow tomatoes! It was a lot of work in a very hot kitchen, but we really enjoyed it.
And this winter, when we reach for a jar of shimmering, swirling tomatoes picked and canned fresh from the farm by our own hands, it'll definitely be worth it.