Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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Peaches and Tomatoes

We are getting good at this canning stuff. Since nature doesn’t acquiesce to my timelines, I got a bushel and a half of peaches and a bushel of tomatoes in the same weekend. That’s a lot of food to can. It was my preference to do the peaches one weekend and the tomatoes the following. However, the old curmudgeons told me upon picking up my peaches that canning tomatoes could arrive the following day.

Their canning tomatoes are only 10 bucks a half bushel, so I couldn’t really say no without kicking myself in the wallet. There’s no better price out there for fresh tomatoes. I’m a sucker for a good deal.

We had to act quickly. The peaches were ripe, and would devolve into moldy mess in a matter of a few days. The tomatoes, being canning tomatoes, had blemishes on them. Those blemishes can turn into a moldy mess too. We chose to can the peaches first, as just the weight of them in the half bushel baskets could cause bruises and hasten molding.

We canned several varities: bourbon peaches, vanilla peaches, tea infused peaches, spiced peaches, and bourbon spiced peaches. We learned from our mistakes last year. We put the spices directly in the jars last year. This had two effects. First, the flavors were inconsistent. One jar tasted like star anise while the next tasted like cardamom. Plus, the woody spices (the star anise and cinnamon) got an increasingly bitter taste to them the longer the peaches aged in the jar. Notable exception, vanilla only continued to taste better and better as it aged in the jars.

To correct for this problem, we infused the simple syrup with the woody spices, and placed the vanilla in the jars. Time will tell how well this new process will work out. Without question this should solve for the inconsistency in flavor. It’s hard telling how the peaches spiced in this way will age. I will tell you in 2015.

It took a nine hour marathon canning session to work through only two thirds of the peaches. We wearily gave up, partially because we ran out of jars and partially because we were dead on our feet. I got a very early start on Sunday. I was hoping to make our second day canning shorter than the prior. But given that we weren’t halfway through our produce, I wasn’t feeling terribly optimistic.

I started the day finishing the remaining half bushel of peaches. After digging through my jars, I was able to scrounge up enough of them to leave only enough peaches for a pie. By the time Ali arrived with more jars, I was processing the last of the peaches, praise be the gods of sticky simple syrup and having a closet full of mason jars.

Ali arrived around ten, and we started on the tomatoes. Our typical pattern is for Ali to blanch the produce and handle jar packing and processing while I skin and prep the fruit for the jars. Our roles got reversed somehow. There was a plausible reason for this at the time, but I don’t recall it. We packed all the tomatoes in boiling water with about a teaspoon of kosher salt, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a sprig each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano. We followed a similar process last year, and the resulting tomatoes were lovely in marinara or a tomato soup.

I don’t know how it happened. All I know is we were done processing those tomatoes by 2pm. There were four things that were a bit different about the tomatoes. The tomatoes didn’t require packing in simple syrups. We just had to have steady supply of boiling water, nor did they need to be sliced as the peaches did. All of the tomatoes were put in quart jars, while some of the peaches went it smaller jars. Finally, I was the packer/processor, while Ali was the produce peeler. I don’t know how anyone of those things contributed to us finishing so quickly, but I was grateful for it.

We learned some things. First, we noticed that a half bushel of produce will fill a case of quart jars. So, you can do some math around that and calculate how many smaller sized jars you might need. We also learned that my pot’s maximum jar capacity is 6 quart jars at a time. Finally, we learned that canning two and half bushels of produce in one weekend is too much. Finally, peach pie made with fresh fruit is amazing!!

Next up on the canning schedule? We might make some tomato paste this weekend. Plus, we will be canning pumpkin, apples, and perhaps cushaw this fall.

Half bushel of peaches.

Half bushel of peaches.

Bushel of tomatoes.

Bushel of tomatoes.

So many peaches. These are the peaches that were packed in tea.

So many peaches. These are the peaches that were packed in tea.

IPA and peaches? Always.

IPA and peaches? Always.


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Canning Tomatoes and Old Curmudgeons

I am not wholly convinced that the plastic that lines tomato cans will kill me, but why take chances when I like canning? We did two rounds of tomato canning. We canned Brandywine and other heirloom varieties in round one. We canned standard  non-heirloom tomatoes in round two. Below I will summarize how we did it.

Toms

Tomatoes from the old curmudgeon farmer.

Here’s what we used

Salt

Lemon juice (for the citric acid)

Very hot water

Tomatoes

3 cases of 1 1/2 pint wide-mouth ball jars

Thyme

Rosemary

Oregano

Curry spices

Crushed garlic cloves

Herbs

Here’s the herbs we used. They were gathered from my friend’s garden.

Like my peach canning blog, I will break this blog up into 4 functional groups. Bear in mind that at any given point in the canning process we probably had jars in all functional states.

Sanitizing the Jars

The first step in the process is making sure your jars are sanitary and ready for fruit. In our past jamming sessions we let the jars boil in water for several minutes to kill the microscopic critters. After some internet searching, we found that you can also put the glass jars in the oven for 20 minutes at 250 degrees. We used the oven technique for our tomato jars, partially because the jars a bigger would be more difficult to manage in a pot of boiling water. This also freed-up an all-important heating element on the stove. We sanitized our rings and lids in boiling water.

Processing the Tomatoes

To skin the tomatoes, we dropped them in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Then we put them in an ice bath for a minute. This allowed easy removal of the skins. This was probably the most laborious part of the process. Our tomatoes were a little large, so we quartered them to enable us to fit them in the jars.

Assembling the Jars

We put the desired herbs and spices in the jars. Then we packed the tomatoes in. We topped all the jars with one teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of lemon juice. Then will filled the jars with boiling water leaving about a half inch breathing room at the top of each jar. We made three different varieties. We packed some with curry spices (these spices were a combo of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and such that had been bloomed). We packed some with rosemary and garlic. We packed some with thyme, oregano, and garlic. We were thinking that the oregano and thyme variety would be well used in pasta sauces. The rosemary variety would be a great base for a tomato soups. They curry will be used for curry, of course.

Sealing the Jars

We put the jars in boiling water for 45 minutes. All the jars sealed perfectly.

Jars

Here’s what the processing jars looked like in the pot.

A Word about Heirloom vs Plum vs Standard Tomatoes

Since we canned a few varieties, I thought I would comment on the differences between them. The standard and Plum tomatoes skinned the easiest. They were a breeze. The heirlooms were more difficult to skin and were generally more delicate to handle. They were also considerably more expensive. Unless I taste heaven in those heirloom jars when I crack them open, I won’t be canning those again. The heirlooms were about 40 bucks for roughly 10 lbs. I got lucky with the standard tomatoes. I got a tip to try the framers market at Lunken Airport (if you aren’t a Cincinnati native this will mean nothing to you). And those folks are the real deal out there. There’s a parking lot where trucks pull up; the people selling are clearly the growers. Upon my approach I was listening to a BMW driver fussing about what bag his produce is put in. Watching this guy in loafers and seersucker shorts get cranky over the size of his brown paper bag made me miss providing customer service in no way whatsoever. I approached an old curmudgeon farmer just beyond seersucker. Now reader, you should know what I look like to fully grasp the interaction to follow. I am tattooed. My hair is buzzed off into a very short mohawk. I am 37, but people seem to guess me as younger than that. I asked the farmer how much for 25lbs of tomatoes. His eyes narrowed into a hard look. After a pause that was too long for comfort, he asked what I was using them for. I said canning. Disbelief quickly followed by a little burgeoning esteem for me flashed across his face.  He leaned back and hollered to the farmer next to him. After a brief conversation he brought out a half-bushel basket of tomatoes from the truck. He had prepared the basket for someone else who failed to show. The tomatoes had minor blemishes making them perfect for canning and at a discounted price. I paid 10 bucks for 25lbs of tomatoes. AWESOME.

Walnut the cat

This is Walnut the cat. He did his best to be underfoot while we canned. He also offered unsolicited mews at regular intervals.

Finished jar

Finished jar with thyme, oregano, and garlic

I might update this blog when I sample the tomatoes that we canned. I have some recipes coming up that will cause me to crack open some jars.