Monday, September 21, 2009

canning 101

Until recently, I’d never canned. Too frightened by botulism-ridden horror stories, I left the endeavor safely in the hands of those more daring than I. When a friend asked me if I’d like to learn a few weeks ago, I hesitated, expressed my fear (to which she responded, you’ll know if your food is bad), got over it and dove in. Lindsey had been canning for a few years, never lost a jar, and with her confident guidance, I felt prepared to give it a shot.

We were making tomato sauce, her own recipe, out of the pounds and pounds of tomatoes she’d harvested from her garden that day.

*Note: many canning recipes I’ve read stick to very strict measurements and pH balances, to ensure the safety of the food you’re preserving. This is much more heirloom-style canning, with techniques passed down through word-of-mouth, and shared between close friends. That in mind, though my sauce was successful and L. has never lost a jar, I cannot vouch for the safety or longevity of this method. Generally, you should not keep home-canned food for longer than a year. This time next year, tomatoes will be in season again, anyway.

What you’ll need:

*This recipe yields 2 quarts of sauce. Increase as needed.

1 very large soup pot

2 quart-sized glass jars with 2 new, clean lids and tightly fitted rings

20 (approx) tomatoes (we used romas)

3+ cloves garlic

1 white onion

1 red bell pepper

1-3 hot chili peppers

1.5 c fresh basil, tightly packed

olive oil

balsamic vinegar


Chop all tomatoes into small chunks, with skins and seeds. Set aside. Dice onion, garlic and basil very fine. (Seriously, as tiny as you can get it.) Dice the peppers, and set aside.

Saute onion, garlic and basil in your pot with about a tablespoon of oil. You don’t want to fry the onions, but you do want them to become translucent. Stir frequently to prevent sticking/burning. Allow to cook for at least five minutes, until onions and garlic are fully cooked and fragrant. Add tomatoes and stir. Allow sauce to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peppers, salt and pepper. Stir, and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes. Add a few rounds of balsamic and stir. Allow to cook down for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Wash and dry two quart jars very well, and line them up next to your pot. Bring the sauce to a roaring boil. (This is important!) Hold the jar with an oven mitt or towel; it will get hot. As quickly as possible, spoon the sauce into the jar, using a funnel if you have one. You should leave approximately half an inch of room. Wipe the rim clean and screw the top on tightly. Repeat with the second jar. In about two minutes, you should hear a distinctive ping when the jar seals. In ten minutes, once the jar has cooled a little, press your fingers on the top. It should not give under pressure. (If the top still clicks, your cap hasn’t sealed and you’ll have to refrigerate it, and use the sauce within a few days, or freeze it for as long as you like.) If your lid is firm, your jar has sealed and will keep on the shelf for up to one year.

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