It all started innocently enough. I was hanging out at the farmer’s market Saturday morning, minding my own business. It was a dreary, drizzly, generally unappealing morning. So bad, in fact, that many of the vendors didn’t even show up. Neither did the customers. I felt like I had the whole six stands to myself.
I chatted up a few of the vendors, discussing scones and herbs before finally making the rounds to the rest of the tables. When customers are sparse and the morning is wearing on, the vendors are ready to wheel and deal. I ended up getting a killer deal on about nine pounds of tomatoes (not to mention some already cleaned and cut pole beans…nice).
And that, your honor, is how the great tomato massacre began.
I’d been contemplating canning for a while, but was pretty scared of the whole prospect. I mean, making something shelf stable is no laughing matter. But I’d invested in a nice waterbath canner and wanted to try my hand. After reading about waterbath canners, pressure canners and canned botulism, I decided to stick with tried and true waterbath recipes. I’ll pass on the canned botulism, thanks.
I found a good looking recipe for canned tomato sauce here. I was excited and got to work hacking away at the tomatoes. It was a veritable saucy bloodbath. It also took forever. I suppose I’ll have to have a kid, since it would have been nice to have an extra pair of hands to peel, seed and chop. Maybe I could borrow a neighbor’s kid next time…
I got my tomato sauce together and put it on to simmer for several hours. I then turned my attention to the glut of apples I had somehow accumulated on my kitchen counter due to my CSA box and too much time at the farmer’s market. It just so happened that I also had a canned apple recipe. I could do the apples while the sauce was simmering. That’s called multitasking! (Or time management, I’m not sure which…)
My simple syrup was simmering, my waterbath was boiling. The apples went into the syrup to boil for a few minutes, then into my hot jars they went. It was a bit messy since I couldn’t find a stupid wide mouth funnel anywhere that morning, but I think I managed. Jarred, topped and banded, into the boiling bath the jars went.
I was so proud when I pulled them out. They were beautiful! Then I heard the pop, pop, pop of the lids sealing and marveled at my own greatness. Well, pride comes before a fall.
The tomato sauce was ready. I jarred it up in pints in the same manner (I halved the recipe but didn’t get anywhere near half the yield the recipe stated…maybe I simmered too long and now have tomato sauce concentrate…anyway, I digress.) and dunked them in the water. About fifteen minutes into the processing time, I opened the refrigerator and saw the lemon juice (that I specifically sent test subject Bill to the store to buy because I was short) that was supposed to go into the sauce before it went into the jars. (For pH
reasons, the lemon juice is added to better stabilize the sauce.)
My heart fell out and hit the floor with a thud. After all that work, to screw it up at the very end…I deserve three kung faux pas for that one. Derrr!
Anyway, I let the jars finish processing and did what any normal person would do. I went crying to my mom and finished off the rest of the bottle of wine that didn’t go into the sauce.
Mom kindly assured me that my sauce would be ok without the lemon juice, that she had done it before and it turned out just fine. She then shared with me a very sad story about a time when she had to throw out 24 jars of green beans because she misread the processing time. Thanks, Mom.
I also sent the following email to the webmaster of the site that I got the recipe from:
“What would happen, hypothetically, if you forgot to put the lemon juice in before canning the tomato sauce? Not that I did that or anything.”
The friendly response indicated I could recan with the lemon juice and reprocess. I figured I’d screwed it up enough for one time around so I decided to just refrigerate my jars. I’ve got the space in between my yogurt and my pickles. [Note: I tried the tomato sauce one week later and it is the bomb. I had it with some mozzarella sticks and it is super yummy!]
Undaunted (or insane) I tried my hand again the next day with some Dilled Green Beans. This was a fairly simple recipe. Trim the beans, pack them and the other ingredients into hot jars and pour a boiling salt/water/vinegar solution over them. Top, band and boil. This went much better than the day before (experience is a great teacher). Only issue was that even though I halved the recipe, half the liquid wasn’t enough so I had to quick boil some more while my beans waited.
It was a success, as all my lids were sucked down 24 hours later. And darned if they don’t look totally cool. I love opening up my pantry and seeing my canned apples and canned pickled green beans. I did it. I preserved!
Here’s what I took away from this experience:
- Read all your directions and make sure you have everything on hand.
- Make a checklist and go through it before you lid your jars.
- Check for bubbles and make sure you get them all pushed out before lidding.
- A wide mouth funnel is your friend. Get one.
- A jar lifter for pulling hot jars out of boiling water will save your fingers. Note to self: get jar lifter.
- Don’t use a wet potholder to pull something out of a 400 degree oven. Not that I did that or anything.
- A water bath canner will steam for a long time after you turn the heat off.
- Sticking your hand into the water where you’ve been heating your jars and lids may not be advisable. Also not something that I did.
- Resist the urge to play with your jars after you pull them out of the canner.
- Popping is a good thing.
- Canned botulism = bad. If it smells funny or you’re not sure about something, don’t eat it. This is actually serious this time. Public service announcement. Don’t kill yourself.
- There is something inherently satisfying about making something shelf stable. Independence!
With a few successes and a few kung faux pas under my belt, I can safely say that I will try canning again. It is a lot of work, but what else are you going to do over the weekend that you can enjoy for months to come?