Although I enjoy making preserves, I have found the process of canning tomatoes, in the past, a bit overwhelming, not to say oppressive. I decided to do just a few this year, and put in my order for a half bushel of Don Kretschmann's "San Marazano" tomatoes, to be left with my regular mixed veg farm basket.
According to my brief investigation, this was what I needed to make about 7 quarts, the number that fits in my big old water bath canner, which I dragged up from the basement for the occasion. It has been some time since I canned tomatoes- more than 10 years, in fact. This is because the last time I did it, I was trying to can tomatoes for the entire winter. I wound up exhausted and crabby. The tomatoes were wonderful, but I had used them up before it snowed anyway.
I really enjoy small batch preserving, which offers variety, and a reasonable amount of work at one go. So I applied this to tomatoes, and will save my seven jars for special dishes or occasions. I felt I had to be extra careful working with them, however. Tomatoes are much lower in acid than the fruits in preserves, and furthermore, they are not going bathed in sugar or alcohol, which help preserve my preserves. They are thus more susceptable to the organisms causing gastric distress and food poisoning, and clearly require proper handling, including correct water bath processing. So I got me some official looking standards and a few related recipes, and discovered, among other things, that I had to add some lemon juice to my tomatoes, along with the planned basil sprig.
Don's "San Marazano" tomatoes are an Italian plum tomato, resembling the San Marzano tomato, which is actually region specific. There is some Italian governmental designation for the real thing, abbreviated "D.O.P." which means that they come from this particular area( I believe it is named for a mountain near Bergamo)and also that it is of a certain genetic strain and quality, kind of like French wine appellations.
These specially designated San Marzanos are indeed reliably good, though somewhat more expensive than other canned plum tomatoes. You can also get San Marzano tomatoes without the designation, which are of the same genetic strain and from the same area, but haven't jumped through the bureaucratic hoops to get the letters. Many of these taste just as good to me. The area in Italy where they are grown purportedly has volcanic soil sediment, which is thought to contribute to the particularly fine taste.
The genetically identical seeds are also available elsewhere, including in the US. Obviously my "Marazano" tomatoes are a product of the Pittsburgh area. They were grown by an organic standards farmer who takes great care , and who I trust. Whether they are the same exact type of tomato, I do not know. They look similar, being a skinny plum tomato, with a rather pointy end. I think it could be interesting to compare the canned results.
So this is what I did. You can find similar directions anywhere. The main reason to review mine (if you'd like) is so you can see how one person set up to do it so that everything was on hand when needed. Figuring this stuff out ahead of time (i.e. what you will do and when, and where your equipment will be) can be a big help when preserving.I usually actually write down what I'm going to do, in order, when I'm making something like this the first time, without a very specific recipe. If you are less scatty than I, or have a printed recipe, or are experienced, you won't of course, need to do this.
I got out my stuff:
1/2 bushel tomatos
a cup of squeezed deseeded lemon juice
fresh basil, a bunch
canner and lid
7 qt wide mouth mason jars
two of my largest pots
Rather than peel my tomatoes with my serrated peeler, I skinned them by dropping them in a couple of very large pots of boiling water, while bringing my canner full of water to the boil as well. I did this because the tomatoes (and jars) are supposed to be hot ,according to all the directions that I perused. Also, while the peeler saves you the blanching step when you are just doing a few pieces of fruit, the boil and peel skinning method is faster, if you're doing lots. After all the tomatoes were peeled, I cored them and put them back in the still hot water with a handful of sea salt. Meanwile, I was boiling/sterilizing my 7 one quart ball jars in the canner(lids off).
I turned the tomatos way down to simmer. Out of the canner came the 7 jars, lined up on a kitchen towel next to the stove (used trusty tongs). Into the canner with the heat turned off, I slipped the lids, my canning funnel, my ladle and my enamel spoon. Briefly, I breathed in and out, and defogged my glasses.
Next, tomatoes went into jars, one by one, with my big spoon (taken out of the hot water with trusty tongs, and cooled a bit.) The few tomatoes left over went into a bowl to save in fridge to make my daughter's excellent ratatouille recipe. Into the tomato water went 7 generous sprigs of fresh basil. In each jar of tomatoes, I put 2 tbsps of lemon juice. Then I used the spoon to fish out the limp basil, and put a sprig in each jar. I also snagged the funnel, and brought the tomato cooking water to a boil. I then began to fill the tomato jars with the now boiling cooking water, to within 1/2" of the top.
I used the ladle to begin with, once I could lift the pots easily, I poured. Then, using the tongs, I picked the flat lids out of the water, set them on the jars, and-using my fingers a bit here, screwed on the outer lids, not too tight. I turned the heat way up under the canner, and tucked all 7 jars in, the water well covering the tops, and then an inch or two, and brought it back up to the boil. I covered the canner with its lid, washed out the tomato pots, and boiled some water in one of them, in case the water level in the canner went down too low. I boiled those babies for 45 minutes, took them out with the tongs, and put them on the dish towl to cool.
My labels can't compete with The Dominator , but I feel that I have emerged uncowed this time, and have a nice little prize for the larder. We'll see about comparing them with the "D.O.P." San Marzanos sometime this winter, tastewise. In the meantime, here is a picture of a gen-u-wine San Marazano, and one of Don's "San Marazanos" of PA to compare. Why? I dunno, I'm wacky from the steam, I guess. The Italian tomatoes appear first, and the PA tomatoes second.