I have to admit to the fact that I have never canned tomatoes or anything until I tried making some marinated zucchini this year. It turned out so-so. I figured if I was ever going to get serious about canning tomatoes or sauce, I’d better go and learn from some experts and educate myself as much as possible so I don’t end up wasting money, time, and food or getting hurt.
I was told my 2nd cousin’s wife was going to buy 5 bushels of tomatoes to can and I knew I had found my expert. She has been doing this a long time and since this was the case, she has the knowledge and the tools needed for the big job. I asked if I could come to her house on canning day to help and learn. She said I was welcome so I thought taking my camera along was a good idea.
When I arrived, I found this site on an old 1950’s style gas stove in their converted basement.
These two huge copper pots were already boiling down the tomatoes that would be used as sauce that would have a paste-like consistency. These tomatoes, Roma plum, had been washed and then put into the pots with some water.
To begin the other type of canned tomatoes, they were par-boiled and had their skins removed. I arrived in time to cut, de-seed and stem the already peeled tomatoes. (I had a late night the evening before so I wasn’t able to arrive at 7 AM at Anna’s to start from the beginning.) Here is a pot full of the prepared tomatoes.
These were put into pint-sized jars with a few fresh basil leaves and later were given a water bath. Anna says she uses this type for pizza sauce and other sauces where she wants chunks of tomatoes in them.
We put the those jars aside and by this time we needed a lunch break as well as an air break. There was one issue I did not count on and that was carbon monoxide. It seems that with the four burners on the gas stove going for hours in an air-conditioned house was causing somewhat of a build up of the CO2 and the CO2 detector was going off to let us know. We ended up opening all the doors and windows upstairs while we worked downstairs, taking frequent fresh air breaks. Once that was under control, the other issue we had to deal with was the condensation of the steam on the cold air ducts above our heads, which was dripping on us. It was quite interesting to say the least.
Once the boiling tomatoes were cooked down to a certain point, just when that is was something you can’t time, you just have to watch and know from years of experience, it was time to run the tomatoes through the food mill. I was glad to see they had an electric model and not a manual model as this was a big job. See the steam? Hot stuff!
Now we were filling these plastic food-grade buckets full of the liquid and meat of the tomatoes while the skin and seeds were going elsewhere. It took all four of us to keep up on this process-one to bring tomatoes from the large copper pot and dump into the machine, one to push the tomatoes through, one to keep up with the skins and seeds, and one to clean potential messes and generally get in the way by taking photos, such as myself. I actually did work and take a turn at pushing the tomatoes through the mill.
Once we had all the tomatoes separated from the seeds and skins, it was time to once again fill the copper pots and reduce the sauce to an almost paste-like consistency. While that was happening, it was time to rinse and prepare more basil and get the jars, rings and lids ready. The basil was often referred to as the “gold” of the day.
I was busy adding basil to jars, unpacking jars from boxes, preparing lids and rings when the only big mess happened. Anna was wiping the jars and tightening the lids after they were filled with the boiling hot sauce when one of the rings was not placed on properly causing the jar to slip from her hands. It only tipped over onto the table but it sent boiling hot sauce to the floor to splatter. I felt a hot spot hit the back on my leg, on my pants which kept me from getting burned, and turned to see the huge red spot on the floor. That was our only mishap of the day. Not a single broken jar and only a few cups of sauce lost. Not too bad. Here are a few more photos of the filling process.
In the end, there were 86 quarts of paste-type sauce and 40 pints of the chunky sauce made. The pints were given a water bath while we went and ate some dinner and visited. As we were filling the jars, you could hear the “pop” of the lids sealing. This was referred to as “music to our ears” every time another lid popped.
It was quite an experience for me to work with these ladies and all the tomatoes. We had fun while completing a task needed for the comforts of having fresh tomato sauce year-round. I think I might try the paste-type sauce this year but it will not be anything near five bushels of tomatoes but more like about 20-30 pounds, which isn’t too many tomatoes. We’ll see if I have the courage.