Making and canning tomato paste

What a long, long day!

I knew making the tomato paste would take a long time, but my goodness, it did drag on!

The girls and I had a sort of assembly line set up. At one end of the kitchen counter we had the electric kettle going, then space for the container used to bring batches of frozen tomatoes. Then there was the giant bowl we used to blanch them, a bowl with a colander for the skins, a cutting board and compost bag for final prep, a kettle on the stove to boil more water, and finally my giant stock pot.

I even remembered to check what size that thing is.

This thing was an excellent investment. We originally got it for when we were making tourtierre regularly, and would be browning more than 30 pounds of ground meat at a time – then adding the rest of the filling ingredients. That was once a year, though. We’ve used it more often just this summer than we have since we bought it!

We did the tomatoes in fairly small batches. The electric kettle and the stove top kettle took very different lengths of time to boil, which worked out.

One kettle was enough to cover one batch of tomatoes. After they had time to blanch, they’d be transferred to a colander over a bowl, where I would remove the skins, then cut them up (and remove the rest of the stem ends, if needed), and pop them into the stock pot. A daughter would get another batch of tomatoes from the freezer, and by the time we were ready to blanch those, the second kettle would be boiling and ready to go.

It took many batches. I figure there were maybe a couple hundred tomatoes, in a variety of sizes.

The cooking was started as soon as the first batch went in, which cut the time down quite a bit, I’m sure. By the time all the tomatoes were blanched and added, the stock pot was about half full – roughly 11 quarts or about 10L.

It took about 2 hours of cooking before I felt it was ready for straining through a sieve.

Our giant sieve has a very fine mesh. Great for straining out the seeds and any bits of skin that got left. Some of the tomatoes turned out to still be a bit green, so there were pieces that never got soft enough to be pushed through the mesh.

If we end up doing this regularly, it’ll be worth the investment to get a food mill.

The tomato sauce was strained a bit at a time, while the cooking continued. By the time I got to the bottom of the pot, it was getting pretty thick, and there was a lot less pulp left behind in the strainer.

This is all the seeds, cores, green bits and fibrous pulp that was strained out.

The strained puree was very thin. Can you imagine if we were not using a paste tomato for this! It would have been more like tomato juice, than tomato puree!

The stock pot I strained into has a very handy feature.

Measurements on the inside!

We went from roughly 11 quarts of blanched tomatoes, to just under 5 quarts of strained tomato puree. This was what I used to calculate how much lemon juice to use, later on. I had wanted to use citric acid, but couldn’t find any. Lemon juice will work, but does affect the flavour, too. If I were just canning the puree at this point, I could have added the lemon juice (and salt, if I wanted) directly to the jars, but that can’t work with tomato paste.

At this point, I took a break for a while.

For the rest of the cooking time, we set up the hot plate at the dining room table, to free up the kitchen, because I knew it would take hours to reduce this to a paste.

I could have cooked down the puree on its own, with just the lemon juice to increase the acidity. After looking at many different instructions for making and canning tomato paste, I decided to include a couple of large, crushed garlic cloves, a big bay leaf, and some canning salt.

The hot plate worked out really well. Once the puree was up to temperature, however, it stayed very hot and quick to splatter all over, even with the hot plate set quite low.

Another benefit to having a pot with measurements on the inside. I could see progress, even when it didn’t feel like any was being made!

As it reduced in volume, I also had to keep reducing the temperature. I only needed to stir it enough to keep it from bubbling and spattering. The more it reduced, the more often it needed to be stirred, and the lower the temperature needed to be turned. At first, I could just sit on a chair to stir every once in a while. After several hours, I was having to stand at the table, holding the pot to keep it from being knocked about as I stirred vigorously. Once it started getting quite thick, I removed the bay leaf. The garlic cloves were completely disintegrated by then.

I must say, towards the end, it was SO tempting to stop earlier because… it’s thick enough now, right? Right?

Not quite.

In the end, it took somewhere around 6 or 7 hours to get the puree into a good, thick paste.

When the spoon could scrape along the bottom, and the paste wouldn’t fill the gap right away, it was finally ready.

At this point, one of my daughters had taken over the stirring while I got the giant stock pot, which they had washed out for me while I stirred for hours, and sterilized the jars.

But how many jars would I need?

The measurement in the pot starts at 2 quarts and, at this point, the paste was well below that. I estimated around 1 quart, perhaps.

Because the paste is so thick, it has to be canned in small jars. The instructions I’d been reading were from the US and talked about “half pint” jars. I didn’t stop to convert that and was thinking the jars I had were probably half pints. Usually I get 750ml or 500ml wide mouth jars. Though the measurements don’t match, what sells as quart jars in the US are 1L jars here. A pint is 500ml so a half pint would be 250ml – or about 1 cup.

The jars I have are 125ml. So, a quarter pint, not a half pint! 😁

Which meant that if there was about a quart of paste in the pot, I would need 8 jars. I had two cases of twelve, so I sterilized one case. With the jars being to tiny, I could use both canning racks and stack them.

It still takes long time for the water to boil! I almost forgot to add vinegar to the water, to prevent the jars from clouding on the outside from our very hard well water.

Much to my surprise, I was able to fill every jar! Granted, for the last one, I was scraping the sides quite a bit, but I still got my half inch head space!

By the time I finished canning the tomato paste, it was well past 1am. I gotta say, I was quite happy to be able to finally leave them to cool for the night!

When I checked them this morning, I found 2 jars had not sealed properly. Which I’m just fine with! They went straight into the fridge to use right away.

I just love those adorable little jars.

We’ve been out of tomato paste for a while. I typically buy cases of them at Costco. The problem is that we usually only use a small amount at a time. Just adding a spoonful into a dish for extra flavour, for example, leaving us with aluminum cans partly filled with paste, that can’t be resealed well. Then we’d be rushing to use the rest up before it went bad. It will be much handier to have it in sealable jars!

I’ve already had some today, adding a spoonful to some leftover pasta I had for lunch, adding a bit of cream to make a bit of a sauce. As my daughter had mentioned when taste testing the fresh tomatoes for me, the Cup of Moldova tomatoes are very mild in flavour, so the resulting paste is not as strongly flavoured as the tinned paste we would buy. Which I don’t mind at all.

The question will be, is all the time end effort that goes into making and canning the paste worthwhile? There are lots of other ways to can tomatoes that take a lot less time. It’s the time that’s the kicker. I have seen some instructions that use the oven to make the paste – basically, dehydrating the puree – but while that might require less supervision, it means not being able to use the oven for anything else for a very long time.

That’s something we’ll have to talk about and decide after we’ve used this batch up, I think.

The Re-Farmer

Making and canning crab apple sauce

This morning, I canned up the crab apple sauce I started on last night.

It took about 2 hours to go through and cut up the crab apples in one bin – and that’s the one that had apples taken from it for the large batch crab apple cider vinegar, and a small bucket set aside for my mother.

Who has told me she doesn’t want any more apples. She had been appled out. So we still have another bin, plus the bucket!, to process.

The cut up apple pieces filled my giant stock pot to about 2/3 full.

A few cups of water was added to start the cooking process, and it was then boiled until mushy. Which took remarkably little time.

It stained my new giant wooden spoon pink! 😂

All the instructions I read said to peel and core the apples – which was not going to happen with such small apples! – unless you had a food mill to remove the skins and seeds later.

I don’t have a food mill.

I did recently acquire this…

I picked this up at a dollar store for a completely different purpose. I needed something finer than our colanders, but strong than our big sieve. This turned out to be perfect to use as a substitute food mill. I put in a couple of ladles of cooked pulp at a time, then used a silicon spoon/spatula to push it through, before scraping up the leavings and putting it into a bucket for the compost and moving on to the next batch.

I used our taller, normal sized stock pot for this, which conveniently has measurements marked on the inside.

The strained sauce was just shy of 6 quarts.

It was also very runny.

For the next step, the girls took over, in the early hours of the morning. They tasted it to see if it needed sugar, then cooked it down to thicken it a bit. I forgot to ask if they added sugar, but after tasting in myself, I don’t think they did. These crab apples are very sweet-tart on their own.

They cooked down the sauce by a couple of inches to make it thicker. That done, it was my turn again. I sterilized a dozen 500 ml (pint) jars, then canned up the sauce – a job that seemed to go much faster than I expected!

I could hear the lids popping on some of them, even as I removed them from the water bath!

When done, there was 10 jars of sauce, plus one that was about 3/4 full to go to the fridge, for eating right away. These just need to sit until tomorrow, then they’ll go back into the jar case and be ready for storage for the winter. 😊

I’m quite happy with how these turned out. Love that colour, too!

Now… what to do with the rest of the apples? This is more than enough apple sauce to last us; it’s not something we eat often.

I suppose I could just trim and freeze them for later.

On another note, with the season changing, I’ve asked the girls to switch back to “day shift”. There are things we need to do before winter that require an extra person. Which will mostly be my younger daughter, since my older daughter will have commissions to work on, but she will also be coming out to help as much as she can.

I expected to do more canning this year, but the garden just wasn’t productive enough for it – but more on that in my next post!

The Re-Farmer

We have pickles!

Today, I made my first pickled cucumbers, using a mix of our own cucumbers, and those given to us by my sister.

She gave us so many, they over filled my mother’s massive bowl that was left here. When I was a kid, I remember she used this bowl for making pickles, too!

My canning cookbook is still missing, so I found a recipe online – it was surprisingly hard to find a simple, basic recipe that didn’t require ingredients that we didn’t have, either because we don’t like them, or because they aren’t available locally. Or they required ridiculously long preparation – one recipe I found took nine days of preparation before the final canning and, after reading the instructions, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the cucumbers weren’t complete mush long before then! Or, they were for fermented pickles, and I wanted to water bath can these.

I just wanted to make basic pickles.

Who’d have though that would be so difficult? 😄

But I found one, and got to work. I had only 1 case of quart size jars, and I am very glad they were wide mouth jars! They are so much easier to fill than the regular mouth jars.

I filled the dozen quarts, and there was still lots of cucumbers left over!

There we have it! My first canning of cucumbers into pickles. I even got a 100% ping rate – all the lids sealed properly! Once they’re fully cool, I’ll remove the rings, put the jars in the case they came in, and we’ll need to find somewhere to store them. There’s the root cellar, of course, but that’s quite the oubliette right now. Things that go in there, get forgotten! At least it won’t matter as much with canned goods, and if we are able to harvest enough produce from the garden to store in there, that will help us remember we actually have food in there, and not just the Christmas trees and decorations. 😁 I’ll have to get the girls to take things down there, though. With my knees, trying to navigate the stairs while carrying glass jars is just not a good idea. 😉

I’m glad it’s done, though I left quite a bit for the girls to clean up tonight. At times like this, they get the raw end of the deal! They are sweethearts about it, though. 💕

The Re-Farmer

First time canning, and garden clean up progress

Just a bit of catching up on how things went yesterday.

The short version: Long.

It went long. Very long!

For me, it was working on pickling beets using the water bath canner. Until now, we have only done refrigerator canning, and my only experience with water bath canning was helping my mother, as a child. This is the first time I’ve done it myself, from start to finish.

It took WAY longer than I expected!

I have a Ball cookbook of canning recipes. The pickled beets recipe was for a half dozen 500ml jars. They had the basic pickle recipe, but also variations. After looking over our quantities of beets, I figured I could do two batches, with one batch being a “sweet pickle” using cloves and cinnamon sticks instead of the pickling spice mix of the basic recipe.

One batch called for 10 cups of beets. I decided to use up as much of the little beets as I could. Since they would be blanched and trimmed, and their small size would pack tighter than cubed larger beets, I made sure to grab more than 10 cups. I figured, if there was extra, we could just include them with supper or something.

While the first batch was blanching, which filled the blanching pot I found stored in a barely accessible space in the kitchen, I prepped a second batch to blanch. At the same time, I cooked the liquid with the pickling spice bag, and had everything ready to do the sweet spice version.

I was all ready to can the first batch, when I realized I had a problem.

These are the first batch of fully prepared beets.

I doubt I could have filled three jars with that, never mind six!

So I added the second batch.

I still wasn’t sure there would be enough to fill the six jars I had prepped in the canner!

The next step was to put them into the pickling liquid and bring it to a boil, then start filling the jars. After my first jar, I realized I would likely have another problem. Not enough liquid! So I started the spiced version going and continued. I ended up being able to do only four jars with the basic pickling liquid, and the last two got the sweet spice version.

I started working on this before my daughters headed out to work in the garden. They came back four hours later, and I was JUST reaching the point where I actually start putting beets into jar. Most of that time was spent scrubbing beets, blanching beets, removing the outer skins, trimming the tops and tails, and waiting for water to boil.

I know “a watched pot never boils”, but my goodness, it takes a long time for large amounts of water to come to a boil!

But, if finally got done! Our first time canning AND our first time canning our own produce!

Pulling my first jar out of the water, though, was a bit of a surprise.

I mean, I know our water is hard, but wow! For the jars to come out with a layer of scale like this is crazy! You can see on the jar on the far right, where I wiped some of it with a paper towel. They’re going to need to be washed!

I finally had a chance to remove the rings and check the seals, just a little while ago, and they all came out fine! I made sure to keep track of which ones had the different pickling liquid, for when the scale gets washed off and they can be labelled.

Except the jars we open to taste test! 😀

By the time I was done, it was full dark, so it wasn’t until this morning that I could get a photo of the girls’ hard work outside.

They got three of the four remaining beds in the main garden area done – and most of that time was spent on just one of them! The first two weren’t too bad, but the third one was filled with crab grass, and it took them ages to get as many of the rhizomes out as they could!

I am amused by all the cat footprints in the loose soil! 😀

I’m glad they were able to get these done. Today turned out to be a write-off for outside work, but I will cover that in my next post. 🙂

The Re-Farmer