Monday, July 23, 2012

Canning 2012: Pasta Sauce

It's been a full week, my friends. I not only had to adjust to a new schedule/work load, but I got to work an extra day this week. Thankfully, I still had Sunday off so I was finally able to attempt what was once thought as impossible: make & can my first tomato sauce.

First a little background. I have absolutely, positively no Italian background, but I love me some pasta. It's almost an unhealthy obsession. The weird thing is I hate tomatoes, but I love tomato sauce. But recently, I noticed both pasta sauce & ketchup sold at the grocery store have a lot of sugar. And I'm talking like a cup or two. So, I wanted to make my own without sugar. That did not turn out too well last year thanks to the neighborhood squirrels. But this year, we have some beautiful, huge Better Boy tomatoes. And since I'm not sure how many more we'll get since there's a new excessive heat wave, I decided to start cooking.

First, I attempted to do a lot of research. And I found a few conflicting things:
- Needed 20 lbs tomatoes (not happening)
- Simmer for 2 hours (or not)
- No exact "air room" for jar
- No exact time on bathing jars
- Having water over jars (or not)

So here's what I did. And this is what I used:
- 14 better boy tomatoes right from my own garden
- 1 red onion from farmers market
- few leaves of basil from the garden
- few sprigs of oregano from the garden
- 1 garlic clove
- ground thyme
- 1/3c of Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2T sugar (I'll explain later)
- A couple splashes of lemon juice
- I'll admit it, 1 can of garlic roasted diced tomatoes
Beautiful tomatoes from my garden
So, let's first start with the pasta sauce. Getting the tomatoes ready is the hardest part. First you need to de-skin. The east way to do that is first cut an "X" lightly on the bottom and scald the tomatoes for about sixty seconds.
Just throw the suckers in boiling water for one minute
Then immediately put the tomatoes into ice water. The stress in temperature loosens the skin and makes it super easy to pull off the tomato.
See? Simple.
Then there is the not so fun part. Tomatoes are FULL of seeds (obvious) and water (not so obvious). So to make your life easier, core & quarter the tomato. Then de-seed & squeeze out as much water as you can.
Not going to lie, this felt really gross. And finding the seed quarters is like gutting a fish. Really encouraged my dislike of raw tomatoes. Bleck. But soon as you get this over with, the real fun begins: making a tasty tomato sauce.
What squeezed tomatoes with skins look like
The sauce is pretty easy. I just tossed the tomatoes into a pot & used a potato masher to break down the tomato. I also sauteed the garlic & onion before throwing it in with the tomatoes, spices, lemon juice & wine. Later on I threw in some last minute sugar because I learned a little helps the sauce last longer since it's so acidic. I'm not going to lie, it doesn't look pretty at first.
It will first look chunky yet watery.
But don't worry; over time, it will look, smell, and taste much better. I did simmer it for about an hour and 45 minutes to get some of the extra water out. And I ended up using the diced tomatoes so I ended up with more sauce. I now see why you need so much tomatoes. With my 14 tomatoes AND can of diced tomatoes, I still only ended up with TWO jars of sauce. I guess this will be more of a can as you go kind of thing.

Ok. So, about an hour or so before your sauce is ready, it's time to get your canning gear in place. Thankfully I have all I needed after my mother bought me a canning set: pot, jars, lids, rings, magnetic wand, funnel, tongs, jar rack, and a little thing that helps you get all the extra air out of the jar.
Back when I first received the kit
For each canning session, you need to get your jars, lids & rings clean. So again, about an hour before the sauce was ready, I threw the jars into the dishwasher. I also put a few of the lids & rings into boiling water. After those are clean, you'll need to keep them warm until you are ready to can. That way the jar won't crack when you put hot sauce into it & the rubber on the lid is hot and can make a proper seal.
You should also start heating up the water bath early. And take it form me, put on a lid on the pot. It takes forever to get the water boiling. And silly me, I didn't put the lid on so it took even longer. Frankly, the water didn't get to a good boil until after I got tired & put the jars in. Which I'm sure is a no-no.
Sauce reduced and is ready
So after everything is ready to go, I filled the jars right to under where the threading begins. You want to give the tomatoes enough room to expand when in the boiling bath. I used a clean towel to dry of the tops of the jars & bottoms of the lids before placing the lids onto the jars. Then place the rings only finger tight around the jar. It just needs to keep the boiling water out. You then place the jars into the bath.

I still had about 1/2 - 1 inch of water above the jars
I ended up leaving the jars in the bath for about 30 minutes. The sauce & jars were already quite warm before going into the bath. I also noticed the pressure pushed the lids up, which I hope is a good thing. And after that, I used the tongs to pull them out & set on up of a towel on the counter. I'm happy to say, both lids gave the satisfying "pop" in only a few minutes afterwards.

 I am resisting the temptation to mess them more because you're supposed to leave them completely alone for 12-24 hours to ensure a good seal. After that, I plan to test the lids to see if the move up or down at all. The suspense is killing me.

Word is after you know you have a good seal, you should remove the rings to prevent any rusting. The sealed lids should be enough. And while you can reuse the rings, you should never reuse the lids.

So that's how my first experience with canning went. Since I only made two jars, I'm sue we'll end up testing out the sauce soon. And while I enjoyed learning about using the water-bath method, I'll probably test out a pressure-system next time. Mom swears by it.

Speaking of, I ended up taking the best advice from my mother & step-mom when it came to the sauce & canning. I guess I should of just taken that route instead of getting confused online. I guess that's the moral of the story.

Now that I got my first canning out of the way, my next big attempt is making a chicken bone broth. One of my favorite bloggers, The Healthy Home Economist, writes that making & using homemade bone broths & stocks is the number one way replenish the nutrients your body is lacking. I've wanted to make my own broth for months, but now that a friend is giving me one of his chickens (that I know was well care for/fed/exercised) , I will soon make my dream a reality. But you'll have to wait another week or two. I'm actually taking a short vacation next week. With that said, I'm not sure there will be a post next week. All depends on how busy I'm enjoying a few days off. Maybe this last photo of my kitchen buddy will make up for it.
"Let me help you cook."
By the way, if you follow me on twitter, you'd know all about this fun adventure.

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