Friday, September 5, 2008

Time to jar the tomatoes

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The tomatoes are growing ripe and ready to be picked. The mornings and nights are chilly. And soon, after 2 days of hard, but fun work, I get to restock my shelves with my Nonna's homemade tomatoes.

The key is fresh tomatoes, some pickling salt, and basil. I can't give out the entire recipe, but can talk about the process. It's a family secret you know?

Each bushel yields around 10-12 jars of tomatoes, give or take.
1. Tomatoes

2. Boil water

3. Pour boiling water over tomatoes

4. Fish them out with a slotted spoon.

5. Peel skin off. Simply flick the tomato with your finger and the skin pops, then peel.

6. cut in half and squeeze out the seeds into a cone colander.

7. flatten each skinned half or quartered tomato.

8. Add pickling salt to the mason jar.

9. Add a layer of tomatoes

10. Add fresh basil

11. Repeat steps 9 & 10.

12. When jar gets half full use a wooden spoon, the non spoon end to push down the tomatoes and release any trapped air.

13. Fill to the top, and place a basil leaf, then add wax sealing lid.

14. To seal, add jars to boiling water until seal pops shut. Place in a cool dry place and check their seal. Any that didn't seal are no good and must be eaten right away. The others are good to go into the cellar.

Now for the tomatoes in the cone colander.

1. Add all the excess stuff.

2. Push down often to extract all the juices.

3. As the juices come through you'll pour it through a cloth that is tied tightly over a clean bucket.

4. When all the tomato juice has been pushed through the cloth you'll add salt and boil in a pot.

5. This makes, in essence, tomato juice that can be added to your tomato fillets when cooking.

This jarring process makes the tomatoes a bit salty so no need to add much when cooking. In fact don't add any more at all. It is a great base for any Italian tomato based sauce or dish.

The key is to reduce it until the tomatoes melt in your mouth, but still hold their shape in the bowl. A skill that will take years to master. My Nonna did it perfectly, but it has taken her a lifetime to master.

Be sure to follow a specific recipe to get great tomatoes. This is only meant to give you an indication of how the process works.
One final note about my Nonna. At her age she had more energy than the entire family put together. She was always the first one up to get started, always the last one standing, and it seemed effortless to her. I miss her dearly and my tomatoes will never be the same without her.

Ciao Nonna :)

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