Friday Free For All: Preserving Herbs

preserving herbsHere’s a simple and easy tip for preserving herbs from your garden. If you’re overrun with basil, sage, oregano, chives or any other herb, chop them up as you would to use them in your favorite recipes. Place some of your chopped herbs into ice cube trays, fill them with water and freeze. When you’re ready to use your herbs, you can either thaw them or add the whole ice cube to a soup or other hot dish. Yum! I love easy and common sense tips, whether they be for gardening, cooking or just everyday life. What are your favorite tips? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. Enjoy your weekend! Happy gardening!

Canning Tomatoes Made Easy Part 2

canning tomatoesIn yesterday’s post, we looked at how to make canning tomatoes easy. It involved the use of my beloved KitchenAid and the Fruit and Vegetable Strainer attachment. Today, we’ll follow up with actually canning the tomatoes. I decided to use Mrs. Wages Pizza Sauce mix with this batch of tomatoes. Yes, I know that I should be whipping up my own blend of spices to make my own authentic pizza sauce but remember the title of this post is “Canning Tomatoes Made Easy”. I was so excited to get started that I forgot to take a picture before I ripped the top off of the package.

While the mix may not be homemade, it doesn’t contain too many bad ingredients. Here’s a really poor quality picture for proof:

canning tomatoes

 

After you mix the Mrs. Wages packet with your tomatoes and the combo has come to a boil, you simmer the ingredients together for 25 minutes. This gives you the perfect opportunity to get your lids, bands and jars together. All of the pieces for canning need to be hot when you’re ready to put the product in the jars.

 

canning tomatoes

 

I used pints as it’s really hard for us to use a quart of pizza sauce before it goes bad. The slowest portion of the whole canning process (for me) is bringing the water in the canner to a boil. I like to can a bunch of things at the same time to save on the energy of bringing the water to boil but life’s not always perfect. Today, it’s 5 pints of pizza sauce. Here’s a picture of the 5 pint jars warming up in the canner.

canning tomatoes

 

Once the water in the canner starts to boil, it’s time to add the pizza sauce to the jars. A canning funnel makes this a ton easier…and neater. Be sure to leave headspace at the top of the jar. Each product is different but I never fill the jar any higher than the bottom of the neck. To make filling the jars easier, I use a measuring cup to dip the tomatoes out of the saucepan…or a coffee mug; whichever’s closest at the time.

canning tomatoes

 

Once the jars are filled, you have to add a lid and a band. The lids have to be new but the bands can be reused over and over. Since they’ve been sitting in simmering hot water, you need something to get them out of the pan. I love the little magnet on a stick that is included with the canning kit. It grabs the lids and bands so quickly and you don’t end up with burnt fingertips.

canning tomatoes

 

After the lid is put on and the band is hand tightened, it’s time to put the jar back into the canner. Enter another cool canning tool…the jar lifter. Grab the jar beneath the band and insert it back into the canner.

canning tomatoes

 

After all of the jars are put in the canner, put the lid on the canner (if you have one) and wait for the water to boil again if it has slowed down. Once the water starts boiling again, start timing. These particular jars needed to be processed for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, you end up with these beauties.

canning tomatoes

Set them on a towel that you can cover them with and wait for one of the most beautiful sounds ever…”PING”. I love that sound…it’s so gratifying knowing that you just successfully made delicious food for your family…even if you did it the easy way.

What is your favorite food to can? Or are you just learning about the ins-and-outs of canning? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me with your thoughts. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening…and canning!

 

 

 

 

Did You Know? Canning Tomatoes Made Easy Part 1

It’s tomato time here in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region and that means that it’s canning time too. Last year, I purchased a KitchenAid mixer and some of the many attachments that are made to make your life in the kitchen easier. By far, my favorite attachment is the Fruit and Vegetable Strainer. I use it to make canning tomatoes a pleasurable experience. Now I need to let you know that what comes out of the other end of the strainer is akin to tomato puree. I use this method to make my salsa, pizza sauce and chili mix. I prefer all of the above smoother rather than chunky. If you like your salsa with chunks of tomato, this may not be the way for you to go.

Before we start the pictorial, I thought that I would let you know how I prepped my tomatoes before I purchased the mixer and attachments. I would bring water to a boil, put the tomatoes in to blanch them for a minute or two, remove them from the water, put them in ice water to cool and then pop them out of their skins. Then I’d chop up the tomatoes to the desired consistency and strain them to try to get the seeds out. I think that the seeds can lend a bitter taste if they’re not removed. Once going through all of that, then I was ready to add the other ingredients and proceed with canning. Ugh. God bless all of the sous chefs in the world…all of that chopping drives me crazy.

But now, it’s easy breezy lemon squeezy. Here’s how I now prep the tomatoes for cannning.

 

canning tomatoes

The parts before being assembled on the mixer…it looks more intimidating than it really is

 

canning tomatoes

This is where the attachments go into the mixer

 

canning tomatoes

Here is everything ready to go. There are 5 pounds of tomatoes in the bowl

 

canning tomatoes

Aren’t those tomatoes beautiful?

 

canning tomatoes

The first drips of tomato puree. At the far right side you can see the skins and seeds being ejected

 

canning tomatoes

Here’s an overhead view of the process. The silver cone is what separates out the juice from the skins, stems and seeds

 

canning tomatoes

This is the bowl of “leftovers” after 5 pounds of tomatoes. There’s still a lot of juice and yummies left in the bowl so I send them through the strainer again

 

canning tomatoes

Here they are after a second run through the strainer

 

canning tomatoes

There was still quite a bit of juice left after the second run so I sent them through the strainer again. This is all the waste that remains from 5 pounds of tomatoes.

 

canning tomatoes

The frothy beautifullness of tomatoes…yes, I made that word up

 

canning tomatoes

I forgot to show the “pusher” in action…this is what pushes the tomatoes into the strainer

 

canning tomatoes

This is what is left after you remove the part that catches the puree. I put all of this in with the puree

 

canning tomatoes

Here’s the end result…9 cups of beautiful tomato puree

 

This whole process took 40 minutes from start to finish including cleanup and giving the kids a kiss goodnight. I wouldn’t normally pull out this equipment unless I was doing many, many pounds of tomatoes. The cleanup takes longer than the actual processing but I had a couple tomatoes go bad and I didn’t want to see the others meet the same fate.

How do you prep your tomatoes for canning? Do you use something similar or do you blanch them and chop them up? Tomorrow, we’ll look at the actual canning process since lots of people seem to have questions. Let me know your thoughts by leaving me a comment below or sending me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening…and canning!