When the tomatoes start comin’ on strong it becomes necessary to find a way to preserve them. Even after sharing with friends and family, and eating some myself, I found myself with lots and lots of tomatoes just waiting to fulfill their destiny.
It’s a fairly simple process, but very time consuming…and a
bit lot of a mess.
First, gather the necessary supplies:
-tomatoes (LOTS of tomatoes)
-jar lids and flats
-pots -n- pans
-hot bath (for processing the jars)
-sturdy, thick wooden spoon
-jar grabber (I’m sure there’s a more technical name, but I don’t know what it is)
-1 teas measuring spoon
Start boiling water in a large pot. This water will be used to sterilize the jars, so the larger the pot, the better. Remember to leave some head room so the pot doesn’t over flow when you add the jars.
Get the tomatoes started by cutting off the stems and quartering them (you may need to cut them into 1/6 or 1/8, depending on the size of the tomato – just try to get them all the same size).
Load ’em into a pot, and begin cooking them down. Stir often.
While the tomatoes are cooking down, wash your jars and rings. Even if they are clean, wash them again. Then, submerge them in the water you are boiling in the large pot. Be very careful not to burn yourself!! I drop the heat down a tad so there’s not as much steam nippin’ my hands and arms.
After the tomatoes have cooked down a bit (I usually wait until it looks like all the tomatoes have had some heat on them) carefully pour them into the food mill that’s been placed over a large sauce pan.
Turn the handle and watch as the juice filters into the sauce pan, leaving behind only the skins and seeds!!
Note: the handle turns clockwise for the milling action, but you will need to turn it counter clockwise from time to time to clear some of the leftovers off the milling surface…otherwise nothing can get through!
I scrape this out using a spatula between each batch so there’s less leftover to fight with as I’m milling.
Once your saucepan is nearly full (but not overly so) put it back on the stove on medium low heat.
The juice should come to a gentle boil. This helps the juice thicken a bit. Make sure to stir frequently.
Remember, you’re making juice, not sauce, so you don’t want it to get super thick. I boil mine for only a few minutes.
Then it’s time to transfer this deliciousness into jars. Carefully remove your jars from the sterilizing, boiling water. Make even more certain not to burn yourself. I fish mine out with the handle of my sturdy wooden spoon, dump some of the water out, grab the end with my oven mitt covered hand, pour the rest of the water out, grab the open end with the jar grabbers, and place on a towel folded on my counter.
The juice must be added to warm jars, so don’t get too far ahead of yourself and remove them too early.
I pour the juice from the sauce pan into a large measuring glass. This makes for easier transfer of the liquid to the jars. Since you are working with very hot items, I’d suggest you do the same.
Once the jars are full, let them sit a couple minutes. The juice sometimes settles down and a bit more needs to be added to the top. It’s very important to preserve only full jars, otherwise things can go bad and you can get very sick.
I leave anywhere from 1/2-1 inch of head room, from the very rim of the jar.
Add 1 teaspoon of salt to each jar.
Toss your flats into the boiling water where your jars were being sterilized. If you drop them carefully they will float right on top. You want the side with the rubber seal down, the heat will soften this seal, and for every obvious reason…this is important!
It takes only a minute to soften the rubber seals, so in the meantime wipe all the rims of the jars to remove any juice that might have found its way to the edge.
Remove the flats from the hot water, place on the jars, and screw the lids down as tight as you can. Remember, your jars are still very hot, use your oven mitt or a towel to hang on to the jar while you screw down the lid.
Sometime in the above process, at first opportunity of a large burner coming available, get water started boiling in your hot bath. I fill mine only a bit as I intend to pour the boiling water from my sterilizing pot into the hot bath. It takes quite a while for the hot bath water to come to a boil…so the sooner you can get it going, the better. This is also the place where the process often comes to a stand-still…waiting and watching for water to boil, literally.
Once I’ve poured the water from my sterilization pot into the hot bath, I fill up the pot (about half way) again and get it back on the burner to boil. The reason for this is that I don’t want to over-fill my hot bath because I know I’m adding jars. It’s really hard to judge this though, but I’d rather under fill than over fill (it becomes quite a juggling act working around the jars, trying to get boiling water out of the hot bath so it doesn’t over flow).
Once my jars are added, I can add boiling water if necessary. This also gives me water to add if my hot bath boils off too much water during the processing process.
Once all the water is boiling, it’s time to process the jars. Carefully load them into the rack (it comes with your hot bath), distributing the weight evenly.
I got only 3 jars out of this entire process. It really takes a LOT of tomatoes to make juice, but you’ve gotta use them as you get ’em or they will go bad. Plus, 3 jars is a good place to start.
Or, I think so anyway!
Carefully lower the jars into the water. Add more water, if needed, so the tops of the jars/lids are covered.
The jars will need to process for 30 minutes. Set a timer, but also keep an eye on your hot bath. You may need to add water part way through.
When the 30 minutes are up, the jars need to be removed. You can try to lift up the rack, but I’ve found this to be too tricky (and a serious burn hazard) so I use my jar grabbers and pull each jar individually out of the water.
Set the jars back on towel covered counter, not touching, and let them cool. This takes a LONG time, but as they cool you will hear the lids pop. This means they are sealing! If you don’t hear them pop and they are completely cooled down, push on the lid. If there is give in the center of the lid, it means the jar didn’t seal. The lids have to be sealed for them to store safely. If you didn’t get a seal, no worries, put the jar in the fridge and just drink right away.
It’s quite a process huh? Quite a mess, right?
You’re on your own with the clean-up, but I promise you that the finished product makes it SOOOO worth it.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy tomato juice? Straight up? Red beer? Bloody Mary?