The tomatoes have finally succumbed to the heat and turned an unappealing flaky brown. Before shriveling up they put on a pretty good show of about 14 lbs from 2 plants for 2 months. This was with only one round of fertilizer and spotty-at-best watering. My friend/neighbor/mentor Denise came over and helped me process these 14 lbs of tomatoes into jars of sauce. We both learned a number of things during the process that in hindsight were definite rookie mistakes but valuable learning opportunities none the less.
First mistake: Freezing the tomatoes whole without de-seeding them first. Not only was it incredibly uncomfortable handling frozen tomatoes (despite defrosting attempts), but we lost a considerable amount of tomato mass when trying to separate the seeds when they were still a part of the tomato slushie. Next time, I will definitely peel, seed, and quarter the tomatoes as I harvest and then freeze them. It may seem super obvious to y’all but I thought I was saving myself time.
I did save the tomato guts to try and preserve some seeds. The process worked just fine until I moved the stinky fermenting bowl outside to get rid of the smell. The typical Texas heat combined with our convection oven of a patio turned my fermenting bowl of seeds and tomato guts into a crispy tomato seed chip. I dumped its remains in the compost and will be only a little surprised if I have a mountain of tomatoes in the fall.
Second Mistake: ALWAYS READ YOUR CANNER INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. At least seven times. While the canning process itself went well, we completely skimmed over the part of the instructions telling us to pour boiling water into the canner, not try to get the water to boil inside the canner. Eventually we corrected our mistake and in our own goofy way corrected the situation. (We did use a coffee mug to transfer the almost boiling water to another pot to boil. I know there are simpler ways but we seem to want to avoid those).
After that, everything went pretty smoothly. The tomatoes were cooking down with 1/4 cup of lemon juice and the jars were sterilized.
We filled half of the jars with plain sauce and dropped a basil ice cube and some oregano in the other half. Another minor mistake on my part was repeatedly forgetting that the jars and tomato sauce were both incredibly hot.
We loaded the jars into the canner per instructions and crossed our fingers as we watched the pressure rise. My canner requires 8 minutes at 5 lbs of pressure for the tomatoes to work properly. It was a little anticlimactic when the canner hit 5lbs and 8 minutes later I had to turn the heat off and then wait almost 6 hours for the pressure to drop and the canner to cool.
But it was all worth it. Yes, we did only end up with 5 jars. I think this was mostly due to the first mistake of freezing the tomatoes whole and the amount of mass that was lost during the seeding process. But the lids are all sealed and the sauce looks great. This was the first time either of us had ever canned before and it was pretty exciting and equally nerve wracking. Another thing we decided after this process is that we’ll have to have way more than 14lbs of tomatoes for this process to be repeated. 3 hours of labor for only 5 jars of sauce was kind of a let down, even though it is incredibly satisfying to serve a meal with your own homemade and home preserved produce.