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The art and science of tomato canning

First Posted: 8:13 pm - June 30th, 2015

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Contributed photo “My nose is numb to all other smells but tomato,” Sandi McBride writes. “I smell tomatoes in my sleep.”

It seems like just a few weeks ago that we planted our tomato seeds and waited patiently for the plants to emerge from those tiny little cells to which they had been assigned.

I can’t believe the number of plants that Mac actually had survive. I think at last count there was something like 84 tomato plants in the garden. Part of them are determinate, which only set fruit once, then the plants are kaput, and part are indeterminate, which set fruit up until fall.

You might ask why we’d want any tomatoes that only set fruit once, and I’d tell you because those are the ones I have found best for canning, both in quality and quantity. I have been canning tomatoes for three weeks now and I am here to tell you, I am heartily sick of tomatoes.

My hands burn from the acid that seems to leech through the plastic gloves I don to scald and skin them, my arms ache from lifting heavy batches from the canner, and my nose is numb to all other smells but tomato. I smell tomatoes in my sleep.

Granted, those lovely glass jars of ruby ripe tomatoes will come in handy and be appreciated this winter when some are wanting tomato gravy or hot vegetable soup, but right now, it’s just doggone hard work. I try not to take shortcuts when preserving food that might affect the quality of the end result or poison any of us by accident. You have to be very careful.

I have a pressure cooker that I use for foods that are not as acidic as the tomatoes are, but people, the thing frankly gives me the heebie jeebies. I take it out of the shed and put it in the kitchen at least two full days before I plan to can using it rather than the coldpack canner.

I read all about the pressure dial, how many pounds of pressure to use for what foods for how long. I take a deep breath and start filling jars with homemade vegetable soup, or cabbage, green beans or butter beans….have my chair sitting in front of the stove, fill the pressure cooker with seven quart jars filled with heavenly veggies, put on the lid, set the gauge, turn the burner on high, wait for the pressure to begin to rise, take my seat in the chair so I can watch the gauge carefully, never letting it go above the pressure weight and start timing it.

I wring my hands, and pray that the whole shootin’ match doesn’t end up as something I have to a. wipe from the ceiling or b. remove from the roof of the house. Pressure cookers are notorious for blowing a gasket, so to speak.

My Aunt Della, who loved to can her own spaghetti sauce, often had us children sitting in the chair in front of the stove to watch the little gauge which sits somewhat haphazardly on top of the canner lid. She told us to yell loudly if the gauge went higher or lower than, lets say 10 pounds of pressure.

Often we yelled too late and spaghetti sauce would be dripping from the kitchen’s ceiling and the children assigned to do the pot-watching would be cowering in any corner they could find as far away from the stove as they could get.

I never volunteered to watch the pressure cooker. I was often drafted, and I admit I was a draft-dodger on several occasions. I just felt that any chore that gave me nightmares and not one cent of profit made by it was a bum deal.

Yet, here I am, ready to go to the shed and bring out the dreaded pressure cooker. I’ll let you know how it went on Saturday morning…I should be sober by then.

Sandi McBride is a resident of Jefferson who blogs regularly and enjoys her garden and her furry and feathered friends. She is a wife and mother of two sons.

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