Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Epic Canning Adventure: Homemade Ketchup, Tomato Sauce, and Green Tomato Relish

Tomato Sauce, Tomato Sauce, Relish, Relish, Ketchup!
Last year I had the pleasure of going to Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark, CA, and picking Roma tomatoes for a mere 25 cents per pound over Labor Day weekend. It was amazing both how many tomatoes I got for so little money - and how little food I got from so many tomatoes!

This year, we decided to go back and get at least twice as many tomatoes as last year, so I could make several different tomato-based dishes - and try my hand at canning for the first time!

We went, and the bounty did not disappoint. We came home with 16 pounds of ripe red Romas, and four pounds of green tomatoes.

The green tomatoes were for a relish I LOVED as a child. My mom made it every year with the extra green tomatoes that grew in our backyard garden, and the recipe came from my Grandma's favorite cookbook. My mom has the cookbook now, and I was lucky enough to copy down the recipe for "Indian Relish" when I was at home a few weeks ago.
The American People's Cookbook ©1956
This cookbook has seen a lot of use and a lot of love. The pages are bookmarked and my Grandma's notes on recipes can be found throughout. My Grandma was a great cook and we all really miss her, so making a recipe from her cookbook was really special for me. I hope someday I will make food from her old cookbook for my kids.  

The canning adventure took an entire day. I was lucky enough to borrow the big canning pot, tongs, and citric acid from my neighbor, and I bought a set of 12 pint jars from the hardware store for about $11.

I started off making the ketchup. I looked through a lot of recipes and finally found one that seemed simple. You can see the recipe here; the only changes I made were adding salt and a dash of cinnamon, and using 16 tomatoes instead of twelve. The recipe made about a pint and a half, so I got one jar out of it.

First, I selected the tomatoes and rinsed them well.

I cut off the ends and any funky-looking bits, cut them in half, and roasted them with some olive oil for about 30 minutes, until they were juicy and wrinkly, but not browned.


Then I added Brown Sugar, Garlic, and Onions to a pan.

I cooked them for a couple of minutes, then added the roasted tomatoes.

After the tomatoes had cooked down for a bit, I added the vinegar. 

I let that cook until the tomatoes were very soft and the skins were separating easily from the tomato flesh. Here's the part where having a food mill would have been handy! I pureed the mixture in the blender until smooth, then poured it through a fine mesh sieve. It was a real labor of love to mash all the ketchup through the sieve - a process I would have to repeat with the tomato sauce, too!

The result was a relatively smooth sauce that looked remarkably like ketchup! The flavor is a little sweeter than the store bought kind, and definitely more complex, but it is identifiable as ketchup, and not just a tomato sauce of some kind.

As the ketchup was cooking, my trusty sidekick Nate and I were chopping away at the green tomatoes for the relish. Now, THIS would have taken mere minutes if I had a food processor. But I don't, so Nate and I spent the better part of an hour chopping the tomatoes into a fine dice by hand. 

Mostly green tomatoes (we didn't end up using some of the orangey ones)


Finally all chopped up, along with 2 green bell peppers and one onion.

Then I mixed together vinegar, sugar, salt, dried mustard, mustard seed, celery seed, and turmeric and stirred until the sugar was dissolved.

Then I added the vegetables, brought to a boil, and cooked for 20 minutes.

All done!

Next up was the tomato sauce. I used this recipe as a base, but doubled it and modified the ingredients somewhat (for instance: replaced the parsley with more basil, used twice as much garlic, added half of a red onion, added salt, and omitted the butter).

The recipe calls for the ingredients to be layered, and not stirred up until cooking is complete. I started off following that method, but the ingredients were practically spilling out of my pan and I got too impatient for the tomatoes to cook down, so I eventually stirred it all up.

Here it is after about an hour and a half of simmering, after I've stirred everything together:

I then blended the sauce smooth in batches, then mashed it through the sieve to get a luscious, skinless/seedless sauce. I could have blanched the tomatoes in water and removed the skins and seeds before cooking, but I only have one spaghetti pot that I can boil water in that would fit the tomatoes, and the relish was in it. The blender method worked fine; the end result was a nice tomato basil sauce that was thick and hearty enough to coat a good helping of pasta.

After ALL THIS COOKING, which literally took from 11am 'til 5pm, it was time to embark on the canning adventure! I got most of my information on safely canning from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, which luckily is online in its entirety. It gave me all the information I needed to know about processing times, head space, and acidity, and it includes tons of basic recipes.

The hardest part was waiting for the cans to cool so I could make sure they had sealed. The jars emit little "Pop!"s as the air releases from the cans and a vacuum seal forms, and hearing each one felt like a victory!

The next day, the lids were firm and didn't spring back when pressed, and emitted a high-pitched twang when tapped..apparently all good signs that the seals formed properly! But I guess the true test will come when the food is eaten in a few months..I'll just have to carefully watch myself for any signs of botulism. But hopefully it won't come to that!
Ye old time canning. 
I hate to say it but I think I've caught the canning bug! I need to get my own canning supplies pronto so I can continue to preserve California's bounty and stock up on canned goods to give out as gifts around the holidays.

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