Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You say tomato...

Important note: For the purposes of this post, a tomato is a vegetable and not a fruit. Bear with me, people.

Last night D and I had our first adventure into the world of canning our own food. I picked about 37 tomatoes from our garden this weekend (and only had to toss a couple of them) so we had to do something to preserve them. Enter canning. Last week D made some delicious salsa with our tomatoes and we thought that would be an easy thing to try. So how does one go from a bunch of tomatoes sitting in a Whole Foods reusable bag on the living room floor to canned salsa? Here's the story in pictures.

First you get some tomatoes. Lest you think our tomatoes are any less freaky than our carrots, check out The Jolly Red Giant on the right there:

And the Siamese Tomato Twins:

Okay. Enough with the tomato pictures. How does one make tomatoes into salsa?

First you have to blanch them. This seems to be a recurring theme in vegetable prep. To do this, you cut an X very lightly on the bottom of each tomato, then each tomato is boiled for about a minute

followed by an invigorating ice bath

and a chance to dry.

This makes the tomato's skin shrivel up so you can peel it off.

As you can imagine, this is incredibly messy. Don't wear your prom dress.

Then the tomatoes are cut up and put in the food processor along with onion, jalepeno, and spices.

Puree, and you have salsa.

So now for the canning part. The first thing is that we did not actually put anything into cans. We used jars. I guess we could call it "jarring", but then what would we call my driving or D's atonal musical compositions?

Canning tomato products or anything acidic is easier than canning non-acidic foods because they are less vulnerable to spoilage.

Everything gets washed first thing and then the jars go into a 250-degree oven for 40 minutes and the lids and rings get a dip in the hot tub.

The salsa has to get hot, too.

When everything is nice and sterilized, you funnel the hot salsa into the hot jars and screw on the hot lids.

using some fancy canning tools we bought from Target.

Each jar is set aside to cool. During the cooling process, somehow (physical science is a complete mystery to me) a vacuum is created(?) in the jar which causes the lid to get sucked down. This keeps the bacteria and other nasties out.

And there you have it. Canned salsa. I know you'll all want to run out and do this yourself now that the price of salsa at the store is an astronomical $1.79.

Anyway, as a city girl, it's been an eye-opening experience to learn how much work is involved in the simplest things we buy from the grocery store. It makes me think of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, a book that is mainly about the evils of modern packaged food. I remember reading the book and nodding along to everything he wrote, but it's one thing to believe that and a whole different thing to commit yourself to a life without those conveniences. Just one bag of broccoli, just one can of salsa is the result of hours(!) of work when you think about the whole life cycle of the food from getting the garden ready, tending it, harvesting the crops, and finally preparing it. It makes me appreciate all the conveniences I have and gives me a lot of respect for all the men and women who were and are still completely self sufficient when it comes to food.