Thursday, August 11, 2011

T is for Tomatoes, Particularly Canned Diced Tomatoes with Garlic, Oregano and Basil

Since this blog is about food preservation and we are well into tomato season, I thought it would be a good time to look at what kind of tomatoes are good for canning. The answer to that depends on what exactly you are canning. In truth, you can use most any kind of tomato. In some cases, you will just have to work harder and may need more tomatoes, depending on what kind you use.
Canning Tomatoes
A number of brands are grown or sold under the auspicious name of “canning tomatoes.” But what makes a good canning tomato? The answer is different for different people but there are a few traits we can all agree on.
Taste is the key element. As you are going to eating these tomatoes in whatever you are canning for the next year, you better enjoy the flavor. This is subjective and will vary from person to person.
Meaty tomatoes are good for canning everything from whole or diced tomatoes and salsa to making sauces. Tomatoes are filled with a lot of water or juice as well as seeds. The seeds are not usually a problem to eat for most people but they can detract from the appearance of the finished product so most folks remove them. The juice and seeds inside a tomato increase its size and weight but for most preservation recipes are discarded. Meaty tomatoes end up provide more substance for your recipes.
For example, if your tomato sauce recipe calls for 20 lbs. of tomatoes and suggests a finished quantity of 7 pints, you may be disappointed with a juicer tomato. Your end quantity may be only 5 or 6 pints because of the loss of volume due to the seeds and juice. Meaty tomatoes like Rutgers, San Marzano, Roma and other Italian tomatoes are good choices.
High acid tomatoes are recommended by many websites for canning. This is because the acid in certain tomatoes is higher and does a better job of preventing bacteria growth. Many recipes will recommend that you add lemon juice or citric acid to your tomato canning recipes to ensure you are getting enough acid in the mix. Many people skip this step because they don’t want those flavors influencing the finished product. Personally I have done it both ways, with and without adding additional acid. I have not noticed a considerable difference in taste when added and I’ve never had a batch of canned tomato products go bad when I didn’t add it. You will have to make this determination for yourself.
Today’s recipe is for Diced Tomatoes with garlic oregano and basil. This combination has recently turned up at my grocery store and I simply love it. I wanted to make my own and experimented with getting the blend just right. Here is what I came up with:
Diced tomatoes are on the left, salsa on the right. Copyright Theresa Leschmann
Diced Tomatoes with Garlic, Oregano and Basil
12 cups cored peeled tomatoes
4tsp. basil
2 tsp. thyme
2 1/2 tsp. oregano
1 1/2 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp. garlic powder
Bottled lemon juice
Scald tomatoes to remove skins. Cut tomatoes into whatever size you like for diced tomatoes. Mine tend to be between ¼ inch and ½ inch chunks. Remove as much of the juice and seeds as possible. Place the diced tomatoes in a large saucepan, preferably stainless steel and add enough water to cover the tomatoes.  Bring them to a boil over medium heat. Stir gently throughout next five minutes.
Diced tomatoes in the pot. Copyright Theresa Leschmann
In a separate bowl, combine all the spices and set aside.
In hot, sterilized pint-sized jars, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Add 4 tsp. of the spice blend to each jar.  
Italian spice blend. Copyright Theresa Leschmann

Spoon hot tomatoes into jar, packing firmly. Fill jar with the hot liquid the tomatoes were boiled in, leaving ½ inch of head space at the top. Use a knife to slide around the inside of the jar to dislodge any air pockets. Cent the lids on top and screw down the rings until just finger tight. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes. Remove the canner lid and let the pot sit for five minutes before removing jars. Cool and label.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

S Is for Salsa

Copyright Theresa Leschmann
I didn’t get to do much with my vegetable garden this year. Between the torrential rains that flooded most of southern Illinois this spring and kept many gardeners at bay until almost summer to the unspeakable heat wave that has taken hold for almost the entire month of July, I just didn’t have the time to combat Mother Nature. Fortunately, I am surrounded by some wonderful farm stands and U-Picks.
This week I happened to stop at Poor Boy’s Market, I little vegetable stand that has been doing a steady business for a few years now. Their sign said “We will order canners for you”. That was exactly what I had stopped in to get. The lady working the stand told me canners were hard to get this this year because of the spring flooding. I braced myself for the sticker shock when I asked how much they were. “$10 for 25 lbs.” she replied. I almost fell over. I’ve paid a dollar a pound in years that were supposedly good! I immediately ordered 50 lbs. and set out to get the onions and jalapenos I would need to make salsa.
Not all of the tomatoes will be used in salsa but better than half will be. My family loves salsa. I make several different varieties but they all start out about the same.
15 lbs. tomatoes
3 cups diced onion
3 to 6 seeded and diced jalapenos, depending on how hot you like it.
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste to thicken it up a bit
2 cups bottled lemon juice
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons oregano
I omit any salt or sugar for health reasons but you can add it if you like. You can also change the lemon to lime juice and change the oregano to cilantro for a different taste.
My morning was gobbled up by errands but spent the afternoon scalding all 50 pounds of tomatoes and peeling off the skins. Fortunately, my boys helped. Next I cored and cut the tomatoes in half. I squeezed the tomatoes over a large bowl to remove as much of the water and seeds as possible. Then I chopped the tomatoes and set them in a strainer over another bowl to collect more of the tomato juice. The 15 lbs. of tomatoes comes out to about 3 quarts of diced tomatoes after all of this. I finished chopping the rest of the veggies and put the drained tomatoes and other ingredients in a pot to simmer for thirty minutes.
Meanwhile I started the water in the hot water bath canner, ran the jars and lids thru the quick wash in the dishwasher to clean them again and get them hot. When the salsa was ready, I sampled it of course before ladling it into the 7 pint jars. Lids in place, the jars went into the canner and processed for 20 minutes. At this minute, they are rest on a towel on the kitchen counter.
Seven pints won’t be nearly enough but it’s a nice start on the larder. The rest of the tomatoes are in some large Tupperware bowls with tight lids, all peeled and ready to go in the morning. Another batch of salsa or two and then some diced tomatoes with garlic, oregano and basil. Mmmmmm.

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