It is always a little sad when Labor Day rolls around and the summer evenings turn cool and begin to hint at winter’s arrival. However, one of my favorite things about the beginning of fall is the beautiful plum tomato harvest. This year I jarred (canned) 150 pounds of tomatoes, which yielded forty quarts of fresh tomato sauce. It is a long process, but if you enjoy cooking and working with fresh ingredients, it is a very satisfying way to spend a day.
In late August and early September most green grocers will have 50 pound bushels for just under $20. You can also pick them up on 78 Street and 18 Avenue in Bensonhurst – look for a truck filled with tomatoes on the street. This year, I tried a new place on Staten Island, on Arthur Kill Road and I was very happy with the results. On Fort Hamilton Parkway in the 70’s there are many trucks parked selling the tomatoes. It is really quite a sight!
I pick my tomatoes up on a Saturday morning and first thing I do is clear the kitchen and make sure all surfaces are immaculate. Then I put the tomatoes in the sink and start washing them. When that’s finished, it is time to prepare them for steaming.
If you have a dishwasher, make sure it is empty and put just the glass jars in. I went out and bought glass mason jars, which are pretty cheap and have a cool, rustic feel to them. Use your hottest setting, sani-wash if possible. Once the cycle is done, leave them in the closed dishwasher while you work.
It’s important to make sure these jars and totally clean before you jar your sauce. Put the tops and rings in a pot of water to cover. When you are ready to jar the tomatoes, you will bring this pot to a gentle boil for a few minutes.
Kitchen Aid with juicer, or food processor, if you plan on making sauce, rather than whole tomatoes.
Sharp knife, wooden spoon, two large pots with lids, two large bowls,mason jars with lids and rims.
You can jar your tomatoes one of two ways. If you plan to jar them whole, simply cut out the core by making a small circular cut around the top of the tomato. If you plan to jar seedless, skinless, ground tomatoes, (which is my preference), just cut the tomatoes in half. This gives you a chance to see the inside of the tomato to make sure it has not gone bad. Once you have prepared the tomatoes you will be ready to start the steaming process.
Get two large pots, with covers and add a few inches of water. Pile the tomatoes about two/thirds from the top. Cover and let cook until the skins slip off easily. This should take about five minutes for each batch. Remove the tomatoes and let drain while you start the next batch. Remove as much water as possible.
If you are jarring whole tomatoes, remove the skin as soon as you can touch them and start placing them in the sterilized jars. Put in as many as possible and gently use the handle of a wooden spoon to remove air bubbles. Leave uncovered at this point.
If you are making sauce, it is time to get your Kitchen Aid or food processor ready. The Kitchen Aid will remove the skins and seeds for you. Have a large bowl set up under the spout to catch the tomatoes and a smaller one in front to catch the seeds and skins.
If you are using a food processor, you will need to remove the skins and process the tomatoes for a few seconds. Remove the skins by simply slipping them off the tomato. Put the tomatoes into the processor and pulse two or three times until just crushed.
Now your ready to gently boil the lids and rings of your jars (3-5 minutes).
Time to fill the jars! Use a funnel to keep the top of the jars clean. Put in clean, whole basil leaves and fill about half way with sauce. Add more basil and fill almost to the top. Put one more basil leaf on top. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, gently stir the sauce to make sure there are no air bubbles. Fill all your jars and begin putting the tops on. Make sure top of jar is clean and place a lid on. Secure with the ring, but do not over tighten.
Place your jars in a pot large enough to cover the top by at least one or two inches. Bring to a boil and let boil for about 40 minutes. Carefully remove jars and place on a towel to cool. You will start to hear the jars popping as they cool down and the seal is created.
Now you’ve got homemade, delicious tomato sauce for all your fall and winter dishes! However, please don’t blame me if you begin turning your nose up at your friends who still use Prego!