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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 9 years ago

How to can farm-fresh tomatoes

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by: John Ewing

Lisa Fulk is a certified Master Food Preserver and owner of Sunshine Canning. She teaches canning classes in the local area at various venues and is available for private canning lessons. She can be found at sunshinecanning.com or facebook.com/sunshinecanning.

Have you ever tried preserving tomatoes? Few canning projects are as rewarding as jar upon jar filled with bright red goodness. Whether you choose to can them whole or crushed, as salsa or pasta sauce, it’s immensely satisfying to know that dinner from scratch is waiting for you in your pantry for many months ahead. That said, canning tomatoes is a remarkably messy task and it is easy to get overwhelmed.

A few times a year, Hunsader Farms in Manatee County opens up their "U-pick" fields and lets the public fill bags and buckets with hundreds of pounds of tomatoes at a ridiculously low price. I normally go in May (because it’s just not labor intensive enough unless it’s 90 degrees out!), but I decided to take advantage of a late winter crop this year and make a few jars of salsa. So as opposed to the five 5-gallon buckets I normally fill, I only filled three---and for a whopping $6 and hour of picking, I came home with around 80 pounds of gorgeously fresh tomatoes.

Why I thought I needed 80 pounds worth of fruit for “a few jars” of salsa, I do not know. I will say, once you’re out in the field, it is impossible to stop picking until your buckets are filled. My friend Becky jokes that her hunter-gatherer instinct takes over, and I’d have to agree. So I came home and made 60 (yes, sixty) jars of salsa in the hopes that it will get my family through the coming year. While I don’t really recommend that anyone take on 60 jars of salsa over the weekend, the Hunsader deal is a great one and putting up some of the bounty for the months ahead can make for a fun afternoon.

Chile Salsa (from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning)

10 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes (about 8½ pounds)

6 cups seeded, chopped chile peppers (use a mixture of mild and hot peppers)

4 cups chopped onions

1 cup of vinegar (with 5% acidity)

3 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

Yield: ~8 pints

(Prepare two-piece canning lids according to manufacturer’s directions.)

1.     Chop peppers and onions.

2.     Wash tomatoes, score and dip in boiling water to loosen skin. Dip in cold water to stop heat and then peel skins off. Chop tomatoes.

3.     Combine all ingredients in a large pan and heat to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.

4.     Fill hot salsa into hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.

5.     Remove air bubbles and wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Helpful tips:

*Tomatoes fall right in the middle of high-acid and low-acid produce, which means that you want to take care to follow all directions exactly. In particular, when a tomato recipe adds other low-acid foods (such as peppers and onions), make sure your ingredients measure as specified.

*When canning tomatoes or other low-acid foods, use only safe, tested recipes. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning is a good starting point and is available for free download online. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is another great source, as is their book So Easy to Preserve.

*You’ll notice that we did not presterilize the jars. This is because the processing time is longer than 10 minutes. However, in order to have “hot jars” as called for, I usually heat my jars up with the canner water.

- Visit the Hunsader Farms at 5500 CR 675 in east Bradenton and reach them by phone at 941-331-1212. It’s a good idea to call before you go and make sure their fields are open.

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