Posts Tagged tomatoes

Tomatoes, take two

While Toronto canning buddy and I slaved over a hot stove earlier this year to peel, crush and can tomatoes, New Jersey friend is taking a far less intensive route, squishing bits of tomatoes into jars, and leaving any cooking for further down the road. A visit to her part of the world gave me a chance to see the method in action, although I was too busy slicing and squishing to take any meaningful pictures. We had two boxes of lush field tomatoes to get into a large number of jars. Pictures would only have slowed things up.

And having seen the processing in action, I will concede that this cold pack method is simplicity itself. Wash tomatoes, cut out the woody core (and any dubious bits) and cut them in quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Put a generous slosh of lemon juice into your nice, clean jars (one tablespoon for one-pint jars, two tablespoons for the quart jars), and then force as many pieces of tomato into the jars as possible, adding a sprig of basil if you have basil to hand. Seal, and waterbath, for 30-45 minutes, and allow the jars to sit in the waterbath as the water cools down a little. And then you’re done. No peeling, no heating (the waterbath does that), no pre-bottling-processing at all.

I will admit it’s far, far easier than what we’ve been doing up to now, although you have to be careful not to put cold jars into boiling water (in case they crack), and to let the jars sit as the water cools down to avoid that evil siphoning away of liquid that ruined one of our jars. So that adds time to the processing. And you do seem to end up with slightly orange tomatoes floating at the top of the jar, and a thin, orange liquid at the bottom, so it’s less beautiful than the lush, red jars we got. Will I do this one at home? I’m not quite sure. I like the fact that I can open a jar of (home-canned) tomatoes that’s almost ready to use because some of the liquid has already bubbled away. And with 64 jars from our latest tomato canning adventure, it’s not anything I’m going to have to decide right now. But it’s always good to learn new tricks.

One note. Don’t forget the lemon juice, and use a bottled variety rather than anything you squeeze yourself. Tomatoes are (perhaps surprisingly) a low-acid fruit, so you need the extra acidity that lemon juice brings to be sure that your jars won’t start growing nasty bugs that will make you ill. And there’s a consistency to the acidity levels of bottled lemon juice that you won’t get from the stuff you squeeze at home.

Besides, who has the time and patience to squeeze that many lemons.

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Learning about fire

imageIndian pickles come in a jar, right? They are oily, usually spicier than I can handle and there’s a lot of salt. But making them? Not anything I’ve really thought about trying until today, when New Jersey canning aficionado invited her neighbour’s mother round to show us what to do. Shovhana showed up early in the afternoon, and within an hour we were sitting on two jars of red-brown tomato pickle, using cherry tomatoes straight from the back yard. Do I know what she did? No, not really. But I have a vague idea.

Main item was a tomato pickle, using a big bowl of cherry tomatoes from canning friend’s backyard. But it’s an art, not a science, and I’m not even going to guess at the quantities of everything we used.

To start, Shovhana washed the little tomatoes, then we dried them with paper towels, before blitzing them to pulp in the food processor. Tradition dictates days of sun drying at this stage, with salt I think. But to speed things up S cooked them down to mush, with a generous handful of salt and a large gob of pickle masala, an Indian spice mix that includes chilli, fenugreek and other stuff. She heated oil – about an inch of oil – in a frypan and then sizzled in 3 dried chillies, some brown mustard seeds, a handful of chana dal (chickpea halves),  a couple of pinches of asafoetida and a big spoon of tamarind. Hot oil went into tomato mush and she simmered the mess again until the oil separated out.

image Then we spooned the mix into a clean jar, which we covered with cheesecloth and left to dry for a few more days on a sunny windowsill.

Shovhana, who clearly usually cooks in much bigger quantities than we were offering, conceded that that big handful of salt she added may been excessive, so at her suggestion we blitzed some more tomatoes, and added them to the leftovers from the first jar to make a second, milder jar of pickles that doesn’t burn my lips the way the first batch does. I’m not a great fan of spicy food, and once it mellows, this could be rather nice.

Second item was similar to the first, except that it used salted, sun-cured lemons that canning buddy had prepared a while ago. No chana dal and a little less of the masala spice for a hot, spicy pickle with a lovely lemon tang. I’m sure Toronto’s Little India sells pickle masala. I can try this one at home.

And of course the whole house smelled of oil and curry spices. It probably still does.

 

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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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Baking along

I’m a sucker for internet challenges, so when a friend told me about King Arthur Flour’s bakealong, I decided to give things a go, for this month anyway. They promise a recipe a month, and encourage bakers to Facebook, pin or tweet the results. I don’t use Pinterest, my Facebook account is as private as I can make it and I save Twitter for work and bikes. But I can always blog.

And besides the August recipe, for a cheese-tomato pane bianco, called for slow roasted tomatoes in the filling to a yummy sounding twisted yeast loaf. What better use for my first effort to rein in that magnificent heirloom tomato glut?

bread

The good news first, and it was an easy recipe, although my dough seemed to take longer to rise than the people over at King Arthur said it would, and it didn’t really double in size, either in the first rise or in the second one, after the slicing and twisting that the recipe told me to do. But the bread is far denser than I thought it ought to be, probably because I didn’t have enough bread flour in the pantry, so used a mix of bread flour, all-purpose flour and wholewheat. The dough just wasn’t light enough — I felt as though it needed far more liquid — and that made the bread heavy.

But it tastes so good that I might just have to try it again, just to see how it works when I do use the right flour.

King Arthur Flour promises something with pumpkin for next month. I’m not a great fan of pumpkin, so no promises on that one. Let’s see how it all goes.

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What is to be done?

We’ve had a serious tomato glut this year, despite the best efforts of spouse and self to gorge on tomato sandwiches, tomato salad and various types of gazpacho. A sandwich of home made bread, home made pesto, home grown tomato and artisan cheese has been my perfect lunch. But it only uses a couple of slices of our heirloom giants.

tomatoes

So this morning I turned the oven on very low — still a bold undertaking given Toronto’s prolonged heatwave — halved some of our cherry tomatoes, added salt, pepper and olive oil, put the tomatoes in the oven and retreated to my air conditioned office until mid afternoon.

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And the result is pretty damn good, like essence of heirloom tomato. It’s so simple that it hardly seems worth posting the recipe, but here it is anyway.

Slow roasted tomatoes

Slice or halve the tomatoes (depending on size), put on a baking sheet and brush generously with good quality olive oil. Grind on a little salt and pepper, and add a few garlic cloves, unpeeled.

Roast for 4-8 hours, depending on your mood and how chewy you think the tomatoes ought to be. Mine are still pretty moist. Store in the fridge.

You can cover them with olive oil for a longer shelf life, but I don’t think they are going to last that long.

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Next up. Using some of the spoils in King Arthur Flour’s #bakealong challenge, which this month offers a yummy sounding bread that I might eat in a single sitting.

Something that combines gardening, preserving (of sorts) and baking bread? How can I go wrong.

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More yellow magic

My thought-provoking tomato jam barely made a dent in the carpet of ripe yellow tomatoes on the table in the sun room, so I moved promptly on to chutney, a yellow tomato-apple option that hit any number of my chutney must-have buttons. In addition to some 4 cups of chopped up tomatoes (and this was half the recipe) it used  apples and onions for flavour, chilli, ginger and mustard for heat, cider vinegar for bite and golden sultanas and white sugar for sweetness. The recipe demanded a single clove of garlic too, which seemed so small as to be totally irrelevant. I left it out. But I did throw in two cups of tomatillos, using up the last of the 2015 harvest. I liked tomatillos last year, when I only had a dozen of them. This year it’s been a struggle to use them up. chutney

And while I know chutneys need to wait a month or so for the flavours to meld together nicely, I couldn’t resist trying one of my eight jars. Two conclusions: it’s quite pleasant, even straight out of the preserving kettle. And it could have used more heat.

Sweet yellow tomato chutney (adapted from the Bernadin book of home preserving)

2 cups cider vinegar
5 cups chopped, peeled apples (I used a mix of Macs and Empire)
4 cups quartered yellow tomatoes (recipe said to peel them. I didn’t)
2 cups quartered tomatillos (or just use more tomatoes)
1-1/2 cups golden raisins (sultanas)
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 small chili peppers, seeded and chopped (use 3 or 4 next time)
2 tbsp mustard seeds, lightly crushed
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp salt

Put all the ingredients in a big pan, bring to the boil and then simmer until chutney thick (about 30 minutes). Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath 10 minutes.

Chutneys take time to boil down, but you can’t really find a more simple recipe.

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Thought provoking yellow tomato jam

Jam2The first version of this entry described my yellow tomato ginger jam as “the strangest thing I’ve ever made”, and while that remains true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. This jam is actually rather nice. It makes me think.

The venture came in an effort to do something those with the carpet  green-to-yellow tomatoes that ended up indoors to escape the first Canadian frost. I made one small (but amazing) batch of yellow tomato sauce, but that barely made a dent in the collection. It was time for something different.

Green tomatoes

Yellow tomatoes

That led me to tomato jam, and while I’ve made sweet/tangy jammy concoctions with tomatoes before, including a tomato basil jam that won an instant 5-star rating, they weren’t real jams, to serve on toast for breakfast.

And this one is interesting. The first thing you taste is ginger, followed by a sweet citrus tang, and then a gentle tomato aftertaste, which I described in a text message to a friend as “thought-provoking.” I tried it in a sandwich with a rich, double-cream soft cheese and it was lovely, and I can also see as a glaze for salmon or chicken. An interesting, interesting jam.

My recipe came from the Joy of Cooking‘s web site, although I cut the sugar a bit and tweaked it to add orange zest as well as lemon zest. Simple enough to make, easy enough to set, and I got 3-1/2 jars, plus a little bit extra that I can eat right now.

Yellow tomato and ginger jam (makes 3-1/2 jars)

1kg yellow tomatoes, quartered, with the woody stem removed
2 cups sugar
juice of 3 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
120g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips

Macerate the sugar and tomatoes for a few hours until the sugar has dissolved and the mix is pretty liquid. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and seems about to set. Bottle in sterilized jars.

I don’t always waterbath my jams, but tomatoes are funny, so I gave them 15 minutes bubbling away in the water I used to sterilize the jars.

Yellow tomatoes2Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I’m giving this four stars because it just made me think about what I was eating, and I like that one. I like the sweetness, and I like that tanginess of the citrus. And it’s a beautiful jam, with strips of ginger that make it look almost like a marmalade. It’s golden, like the autumn leaves. It’s fun.

Next up: Yellow tomato chutney, which will also use up the last of the tomatillos. We had a tomatillo glut as well this year, and I’ve been banned from growing them next year. Turns out the spouse doesn’t like them much, and I struggle to find things to make with them as well.

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Tomatillo magic

til1The tomatillos have been one of the success stories from the community garden, and I grabbed a bunch of windfalls today, along with a collection of not-yet-ripe tomatoes that the squirrels had nibbled and rejected. I’ve used tomatillos in a Spanish omelet (very successful), and in a corn-tomatillo salsa (also rather nice). But I had almost two kilos of the tomatoes and tomatillos mix, so I wanted something I could make and keep. Google offered several recipes for chutney, including one that suggested a 3-hour boil down. I rejected that, and blundered into a Dutch blog called Grown to Cook, which seems to be my sort of blog. (Not WordPress, sadly, so no “follow” button that I could find).

Among other things, blogger Vera writes about a yeast-based chocolate cake that comes from a recipe book I own (so I have no excuse not to try it). And she has a tomatillo chutney that sounded beautifully non sweet and (more importantly) was easily adaptable to the ingredients I had in the pantry. I used golden sultanas rather than raisins, and I crushed the mustard seeds before adding them, but things stayed more or less the same. Yes, chutney takes time to prep and boil, but it’s pretty damn easy.

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Green tomato/tomatillo chutney (adapted from Grown to Cook website)

1 kg tomatoes, washed and coarsely chopped (remove the parts the critters nibbled at)
1 kg tomatillos, husked, washed and coarsely chopped
750 g apples, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 onions, chopped
1 cup golden sultanas
1 cup sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 tbsp mustard seeds, lightly crushed
2 tsp salt
3 small chiles, seeded and chopped (use more next time)

Throw all the ingredients into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer about an hour until it’s chutney thick. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes. I ended up with 11 jars, which was a lot more than I expected. I’d better like it.

At first bite, I thought this chutney was going to be vinegary rather than sour-sweet, but it seemed to mellow overnight and now has a rather mysterious “what is this?” sort of taste. A little extra spice would be nice — my chiles were very small, and not that spicy.

I also came back with another dozen of the radish/turnip thingies, which my fellow gardener assures me are actually turnips, not radishes, so the last blog entry is flat out wrong. What do I do with these?

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Tomato time

I’ll keep this short, because it will look very like last year’s, which I didn’t even bother to blog, or the one before that or even the one before that.

Today canning buddy and I transformed a bushel of very ripe San Marzano tomatoes into 43 jars of crushed tomatoes. We started at 930, and we were done by early afternoon. But we were pretty damn efficient.

toms2A load of little lessons, some of which we learned before but forgot, and some of which are new:

  • Divide up the labor and keep a production line going. I took on the “clean” tasks: nicking the skin of the tomatoes so they would split more easily; putting them, in small batches, in boiling water; taking them out and cutting off the blossom end, plus bottling and managing the water bath. Canning buddy graciously did the messy stuff: peeling the tomatoes and chopping them very roughly, and wiping down the jars (and the kitchen).
  • Once we had a critical mass of tomatoes nicely bubbling away, we both stopped what we were doing, bottled that batch (adding a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each 500 ml jar) and started the waterbathing. Then we moved on to the next round of tomatoes.
  • Transfer lemon juice from bottle to small jug and measure from there. It’s far easier than trying to measure out a tablespoon of lemon juice from a squeezy bottle that wants to deliver either far too much or not quite enough.
  • Even with the production line, a huge chunk of the five-hour adventure consists of waiting for the jars to finish their 35-minute spell in the water bath. Make sure you have plenty to read.

San Marzano tomatoes cost 25 percent more than the Romas we’ve used in previous years (but still only $25 for a bushel). But Wikipedia tells me they are “considered by many chefs to be the best paste tomatoes in the world” so it has to be worth it. I still have a few jars from last year, so I could, in theory, do a taste test. I won’t.

I bought them on an out-of-town adventure, and they were both riper and smaller than the ones we used last year. And they also separated into pulp and juice more than I remember from previous years, which won’t make any difference by the time I’ve turned them into soups, sauces and stews. But I do have buyer’s regret at not grabbing a few bushels of other vegetables as well. I don’t think we could  have fitted more into the car, which already had two bikes and a load of other fruit and veg. But just look at all the different peppers, hot and mild, and drool.

toms4

And the tomatoes, of course. Should we have made sauce or jam as well?

toms1

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I give a fig

Good fresh figs are one of those to-die-for fruits, although they don’t travel well and are usually both underripe and scarily expensive up here in the Great White North.

So when my local store had ripe-looking one-pound packs of figs on offer for $7 for two on a day I had set aside to can tomatoes, I couldn’t resist the deal.

Surely the 45 minutes it takes to waterbath a batch of tomatoes is plenty of time to rustle up a batch of jam?

And how could I resist a peppered balsamic fig jam that the author says “started my love affair with canning”?

Turns out it was super easy, although I’m not quite sure if it’s a jam or a chutney. You chop the figs, simmer them with a little water for a bit, throw in the rest of the ingredients and boil until thick. The only thing I changed was crushing the peppercorns and adding them rather than fiddling around with a sachet of peppercorns and fishing it out at the end. The finished product is a rich, deep purple, with flecks of golden seeds, There’s a cup of balsamic in it, but it tastes mostly of spicy, peppery fig.

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With cheese, perhaps? A sharp, sheep’s cheese?

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of five). We opened one jar to go with the cheese starter for Christmas lunch, this was not as awesome as it ought to be. It was ok, but a little watery. More pepper next time? More balsamic? Or just decide to eat figs fresh.

And yes, it was done while the tomatoes were still doing their stuff. I wrote about tomatoes before, so I don’t plan to blog about them this year. Suffice it to two canners are sharing 22 jars of summer in a can. That’s down from 40 jars last year. I see shortages ahead.

How many jars of tomatoes is actually enough?

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