Saving Energy Canning Tomatoes

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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Tomato season is upon us. I have two solar food dryers that I use to dry tomatoes, but at the peak of the harvest there are too many to put in the dryers at one time. Also, we seem to be having days that threaten afternoon thunderstorms regularly. Threaten is the important word here, because we haven’t had as many good rains as I would like. Nevertheless, the humidity hangs heavy in the air. I’ve had tomatoes in the solar dryers during rainy afternoons and they dried just fine, staying in there through the next day when the sun was shining. At times, though, I need to resort to canning.

By choice, we don’t have air conditioning in our house, so we tend to notice anything emitting heat and try to keep that to a minimum on these hot days. Making spaghetti sauce takes hours of cooking the ingredients until thick before you actually even get to the canning part. I used to do that big time when the kids were growing up and I still thought canning was what I needed to be doing.  I have since switched to drying tomatoes to be made into thick sauce as needed. I have a recipe for that at Homeplace Earth. On that same page, just below that tomato sauce recipe, you will find the recipe I use for tomato soup. It takes much less time and energy to prepare tomato soup for canning than making thick sauce.

Even less time and energy than the soup is plain old tomato juice. In the photo you will see tomato juice on the left and tomato soup on the right. The tomato section of the canning books always begin with directions for dipping the tomatoes in boiling water to take off the skins. More boiling water adding heat and humidity to the house!!!! I prefer to juice them, removing the skins and seeds with either a Foley Food Mill or a Victorio Strainer . When I visited our farmers market on Saturday I was discussing this upcoming blog with my friend Jon, one of the farmers there. He reminded me how refreshing chilled tomato juice is to drink. We had both been imbibing when it was available in our kitchens during these tomato canning days.  

Other things to do with tomato juice besides drinking it or making tomato soup, is using it as a base for other soups. To a quart of tomato juice you can add any sort of leftover, fresh, or dried vegetables plus whatever leftover meat you have in the fridge and, in a short time, lunch is ready. You could also make spaghetti sauce from it, adding the ingredients, usually things like garlic, onions, basil, parsley, and peppers. You still have to cook it down, but it won’t take as long, or heat up your kitchen as much as when you have a couple gallons of sauce cooking. Also, much of that heating up your kitchen will be taking place throughout the year, sometimes when a little extra heat and humidity might even be welcome. One way to get the sauce thicker faster is to include dried zucchini or dried okra in the ingredients you are adding to the juice.

The tomatoes you use will make a difference. You can make sauce, juice, soup, or whatever you want from any variety, however some varieties are more suitable for processing uses. I’ve been growing paste varieties that are meatier and better for drying. That also makes them good choices for cooking up into tomato sauce.

When you are canning you need to be careful about the processing times and what ingredients you are working with. If you were canning spaghetti sauce you would tend to stick with the same recipe. Making it one jar at a time from your canned juice opens up new possibilities to create your own sauces, specific for certain dishes. You can find helpful information about canning at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Tomatoes can be processed in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner. People usually start out learning canning with a water bath canner, but once they really get hooked, they discover it is good to have both. It all depends on what you are putting up. I purchased my pressure canner in 1981and it has been one of the best investments I have ever made.

Check out Homeplace Earth for more information about all this. I hope I’ve started the creative juices flowing for you to enjoy all those tomatoes while keeping your kitchen cool. Have a good time!

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