Canning: How to preserve summer all year long

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Cathy Barrow peels tomatoes by first slicing an X through the bottom. Photo by Christopher Hirsheimer

How is it that all of the sudden, in the blink of an eye, in the snap of your fingers, it’s the third week of August, and we’re slowly approaching September? Where did the time go? Did July ever even grace our Island?

That being said, fall officially starts on Sept. 23, so we still have plenty of summer to go. For those of us wanting to savor that splendid and bountiful time all year long, canning is a great technique to adopt. I personally recommend canning local tomatoes using this recipe by Cathy Barrow, author of “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving.

Cathy has been coming to the Island for many years — the first time she set foot on the Vineyard was to recover from a broken heart. Her friend lent her a cottage and told her where the secret key would be; she retreated to the Island for solace and healing. Fast-forward to 2015, where she arrives on-Island yearly, with her homemade chicken stock, canned crushed tomatoes, and canned beans in tow, all carefully crafted and canned herself. It’s what she’ll cook for the week she’s here, supplemented by fresh seafood and seasonal produce from Green Island Farm, grown by Susie Middleton, a close friend of hers.

Cathy started blogging in 2009 (mrswheelbarrow.com) after a career of landscape design. What started as a hobby turned into a full-time job that I have witnessed blossom over the years. I’d been reading her blog even before I met her, though I’ve never canned anything myself. Her words, and the way she describes the often intimidating technique of canning, is comforting to someone like me, and other readers too, I’m sure. “Why are you scared of canning?” she asks when I share my anxiety.

“Two things: I’m afraid of a glass jar exploding in my kitchen, and I’m definitely afraid of killing someone who eats my canned goods.”

She explains that explosions like that are extreme cases that rarely happen (outside of my nightmares), and

if anything, the bottom of the jar will break and “you’ll be more disappointed than scared, due to the loss of great ingredients,” says Cathy. And that nonsense about killing someone? When you open a jar of home-canned goods, you can physically see if it’s good or bad — mold will be growing if it has been canned incorrectly. Another disappointment, because you’re going to have to forfeit the ingredients, but canning should not be a life-or-death situation.

Cathy’s “gateway drug” to canning was preparing mango chutney, which I wondered about, since she doesn’t seem to come from a tropical Caribbean island like I do (I’m from the Dominican Republic). Her inspiration? She tells me the story of having lived in Haiti in 1972, where she discovered mango trees, which brought her to make the chutney that changed her life. But for beginners like myself, she recommends crushed tomatoes as the first canning project. Below is the beginner’s canned tomato recipe, which requires no special equipment to make. Now is the time to get some gorgeous local tomatoes at local farms across the Island, so make the trip and get canning.

Once you get started, you can explore even more preserving projects in Cathy’s book, available at Edgartown Books — if you’re lucky, they might still have a signed copy.

Crushed Tomatoes

Makes: 6 to 7 quart jars or 12 to 14 pint jars, or a combination of sizes

Active time: 2 hours

Reprinted from “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” by Cathy Barrow. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Co. All rights reserved.

Ingredients:

25 pounds (11.3 kg) ripe but firm red tomatoes (about 30 to 45, depending on size)

About 4 teaspoons citric acid, or 1 cup (8 oz., 240 ml) fresh lemon juice

Kosher, pickling, or fine sea salt (optional)

Blanch, core, and peel the tomatoes. Halve them, and scoop out the seeds and gel with your fingers, then crush and tear the tomatoes using your hands, letting the crushed fruit fall into a 4-cup measure.


When you have 1 quart of tomatoes in the measuring cup, add them to an 8-quart or larger nonreactive pot, bring to a boil, and crush with a potato masher to generate some juices. Continue to add the crushed tomatoes 1 quart at a time, mashing and heating to a boil. When they are all added, bring the entire batch back to a brisk boil, and boil for 5 minutes.

  1. All this mashing and scooping is useful for two reasons: First, the tomatoes will be less likely to separate from the liquid in the jar (only an aesthetic concern), and second, keeping count of the quarts that go into the pot helps plan for the number of jars needed.
  1. Ladle the hot tomatoes into the warm jars, leaving about an inch of headspace. Add ½ tsp. citric acid (or 2 Tbsp. lemon juice) to each quart jar, or ¼ tsp. (or 1 Tbsp. lemon juice) to each pint jar. If using salt, add it now: 1 tsp. per quart jar, ½ tsp. per pint jar. Check the headspace: You want ½ inch, so add more tomatoes if necessary. Clean the rims with a damp paper towel. Place the lids and rings on the jars, and finger-tighten the rings.

(Mason or Ball jars are popular for canning. Every jar is sealed with a two-part lid, a flat metal piece and a ring. Sanitize the jars, lids, and rings, and keep them warm until you fill them. The rings can be used over and over, but should not be left on the jars when they are stored. The rings have only one purpose — to hold the lid in place during the processing, before the seal has formed. Each lid has a rubber gasket that, as it warms, softens and spreads against the jar rim, allowing the air to ease out of the jar. Once the air is expressed, the button in the center is pulled down, making a pinging sound. Lids should be used only once and be discarded after the contents of the jars are used.)

  1. Process in a boiling-water bath for 45 minutes if using quart jars, 35 minutes if using pint jars. A mixed batch should be processed for the full 45 minutes.
  1. Let the jars rest in the canning kettle for 10 minutes after processing to prevent siphoning.

Crushed tomatoes are shelf-stable for 1 year.