Canapolooza 2016

One might call it a Labor Day tradition: a gathering of many hands, a pitcher of sangria, and an unreasonably large quantity of tomatoes in a Rogers Park kitchen for the annual Canapolooza. In case you missed it, this is what happened:

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Thirty pounds of tomatoes was not nearly enough

As I climbed the step stool and stored jar after jar of tomato sauce on top of the cupboards in my tiny kitchen, I gave myself a serious pat on the back:

Well, Warnecke, you’ve done it.  You preserved enough tomatoes to make it through the winter, and next spring too.  Well. done.

Not really.

A pasta dish and a couple of homemade pizzas later and I’m about half way through my stash before the first snow.  I’ve been yearning for the full experience of eating and living seasonally, and seriously want to make a pizza in February without buying a mealy tomato from Mexico.  I thought this might be my year, but, alas, it seems not.

I realize that my quest to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder is somewhat impeded by living in a twenty-first century metropolis with 8 cubic feet of outdoor space…

It’s a process, but I’m determined to do it, and this year is apparently part of the learning process in what I actually need to do to get through a winter sans the produce aisle.

Next year I’ll be upping my game.  I’m thinking, instead of thirty, I should really be canning more like 130 pounds of tomatoes.

The Crock Pot (a.k.a. “Old Faithful”) makes tomato sauce

“Old Faithful”

I pseudo inherited my crock pot from my mother while foraging her basement on a Sunday trip to the suburbs.  This 1975 Sears “Crock Watcher” is older than me, but undoubtedly in better condition.

If the 70’s got anything right, it’s the slow cooker.  The idea that I can stick something in there at 6am before I leave for work, cover it  with liquid, and come home to a good smelling house AND dinner still boggles my mind, and I do it about every other week…. sometimes more, sometimes less.

Lately Old Faithful has been working overtime cranking out tomato sauce to stock up for the winter.  I bought 30 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun Farm over the course of three weeks and have made tomato processing an obsession.

After an epic fail on the stove of sauce that was way more juicy than saucy, I revamped my approach.  Ok, it wasn’t entirely a fail, just a misunderstanding between me and the tomatoes, really.  After consulting mom (my go-to for kitchen mishaps) and my friend and fellow canning-enthusiast Toni Camphouse, I opted to try the slow cooker approach, and I’m never turning back.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Tomatoes (duh)
  • Salt
  • Lemon Juice
  • Canning jars and lids

Core and quarter tomatoes and fill your slow cooker.  Prop the lid open with a spoon and cook all day on low.

The great tomato stock-up begins…

Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the tomatoes until smooth.  Pre-fill canning jars with salt and lemon juice.  For quart jars, use 2TB lemon juice and 1 tsp. salt*.  Half those if using pint jars.  Add sauce to jars and fill to 1/2″ from the top.  Cover with lid and band, twisting until hand tight.

Add jars to water bath (making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch). Once water is boiling, reduce heat to a rolling boil and set time for 30-40 minutes (30 for pint jars, 40 for quart).  Remove from water bath and set on a level surface to cool (don’t shake the jars).  Store for as long as you like, or about a year, whichever comes first.

* You can add seasoning to your sauce before you jar it, but I prefer to do it once I open the jar so the herbs and spices are fresher.