Tomato marathon

Two years ago, which was the last time canning buddy and ran the Tomato Marathon, I did a fact-filled blog entry laying down the what-we-did as we transformed a bushel of delicious San Marzano tomatoes into 43 jars of crushed tomatoes. It was good reference material for this year, serving as a reminder of things like the importance of the fast-moving production line to keep things manageable and the advantage of putting (bottled) lemon juice into a jug and doling it out from there. For future reference, one bottle of lemon juice is enough for one bushel of tomatoes.

This year, after a minor miscalculation about how much we wanted to spend and make, we ended up with 1-1/2 bushels of tomatoes, which meant the Marathon was going to be even longer. We started at 10, and by 3:30, we had 64 glorious jars of crushed summer waiting for their moment in the stew. Fitbit doesn’t show that I took that many steps, but trust me, canning 1-1/2 bushels of tomatoes is pretty damn tiring.

IMG_20160903_155841All the points I made last year remain valid for this exercise. But there were a few additional lessons:

  • You know you will need bowls, knives and chopping boards, but you will actually need more than you think you need. Serrated knives (even a bread knife) cut tomatoes much better than straight ones do, and a single (long) nick on the side of each tomato before you scald it in hot water to get the skin off is ample. It’s also faster than cutting a cross somewhere, which of course doubles the risk of slicing off a finger. It would have been very nice to have two serrated knives, and we only had one.
  • Keep some newspapers back from the recycling so you have something to line the place where you are going to line up your hot jars.
  • Boiling water boils, which means the volume goes down. This is basic physics. Even a journalist can figure this one out. Add an electric kettle to  your list of equipment (if possible) so you can keep topping up the pots when needed without wasting precious space on the stovetop.
  • Talking stovetop, there’s only one way to fit tomatoes, waterbath, kettle and saucepan of boiling water to get tomatoes ready on my stove, where the low-power simmer ring is back right. See picture.IMG_20160903_105455
  • Surgical gloves help protect hands of whoever ends up with the messy task of skinning and squishing the tomatoes.
  • Keep things moving, and start the waterbathing as soon as you can. Each batch takes 35 minutes to waterbath, and that’s what holds things up.
  • You need a lot of jars. They will not all fit into the dishwasher at one time, so keep adding as you take jars out. We ended up with two surplus jars. That’s a pretty small error rate.
  • Almond croissants make a beautiful mid-canning snack.
  • As I have said before. It helps to wear a red shirtIMG_20160903_151530
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