Often we use the quick convenience of the grocery store for simple  items such as canned vegetables and fruit.  But have you ever considered canning  your own vegetables and fruits for use in the winter months?  This is a follow up to the canning your food as previously posted in the, “Well . . . Ain’t that a Pickle!” post last month.

Recently, I visited a local farm that opened their tomato fields to the public because the tomatoes were beginning to spoil rapidly.  The local farm that I found sells their tomatoes on an honor system, which means they do not have to pay someone to sit and collect money and you do not have to worry about someone hovering over you while you take your time to pick the best produce for you.  You bring cash or if they accept local checks, your checkbook, and based on the amount you pick you then leave the money in an obvious placed collection box for the farm.  For a minimal cost of $8 per 10 gallon bucket, I was able to pick enough tomatoes to can crushed tomatoes for use in recipes, to make pre-made spaghetti sauce (without the meat of course) and fresh salsa.  I picked 12.5 gallons of tomatoes in all.

Consider this, most canned tomatoes that we use for chili in the winter and for other “make you feel good” warm sauces will set you back about $2 or more dollars per can.  Cans of pre-made spaghetti sauce, that generally have added sugar, will set you back more than $4 and then the amount they charge for salsa these days, let’s just say, giving up a couple of days to pick and can these items for yourself more than payoff in the long run.

What should you know about U-Pick produce?  Most of these U-Pick farms that open their fields to the public to eliminate spoilage of product before it can be picked generally use large amounts of pesticides on their crops.  These are acres and acres of vegetable fields, and if you pick from a farm that you know is not organic and uses these pesticides you should make sure that you thoroughly wash your produce before proceeding with any type of consumption or canning.  I triple washed my tomatoes, one wash being in a very mild soapy solution to help remove the excess build up of anything that the crop may have been treated with.  The best part of the experience to me was the fact that this farm was open when the sun came up, so on my trip we arrived at 7:30 am and were finished within 30 minutes which is well before the heat of the day.

Since we have been in a severe drought for the last few years and this year a severe heat wave and freakish weather events, it has compounded the amount of crops that were destroyed or that are suffering, so now is the time to get out and find local U-Pick farms that may have offerings that you can use and save a little money down the line.

So how easy is it to can tomatoes?  VERY!  For a simple canning recipe for whole or crushed tomatoes you will need the following:

  • Sterilized canning jars (your choice of size)
  • Sterilized self-sealing lids
  • Bottled lemon juice (to prevent spoilage)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Tomatoes, thoroughly washed

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add washed tomatoes in small batches.  Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30-45 seconds and remove and immediately place into an ice bath.  Note, keep your water boiling for quick batch processing, “a watched pot never boils” and will require more time than needed.  This process is referred to as scalding and this makes it easier for you to remove the skins of the tomatoes which you do not want to leave on for canning.  Next, cut out any areas of the tomato that are discolored and remove the top core area.  At this point you can either can your tomatoes whole or crush them using a potato masher.  Fill your canning jars with the hot tomatoes leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Finally, add 2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of salt and if canning whole tomatoes add hot water and pack down to remove any air bubbles and add the sterilized seals and lids.  Wipe jars clean and place in a draft-free dark area overnight to allow the jars to seal properly.

Simple actions of planning ahead like this are healthier options for your family and for your wallet.  Include your children so they can learn, as I did from my Mother, and they will pass down this annual ritual to their children.  Consider getting out and finding local farms in your area that offer U-Pick days and get out there!  You can also visit the Pick Your Own website for local U-Pick farms near you!