Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tomato accounting


I canned my second batch of tomato sauce today, and I have to say there were a few moments during the three hours of chopping, mashing, boiling, sieving, filling and processing (not to mention the washing, drying and wiping every tomato-spattered surface in sight that followed) that I wondered if it was all worth it.


Don't get me wrong. I love home grown tomatoes right off the vine, still warm from the sun, sliced and piled on a toasted gluten-free bagel slathered with tzatziki - yum, yum and more yum. But canning tomato sauce is pretty labour intensive, as these things go. Roughly chop the tomatoes, mash them to release the juices, bring to a quick boil, add the onions, garlic and seasonings, reduce to a slower boil for about two hours, stirring regularly to make sure it doesn't scorch. Then when the sauce has reduced to half its volume(or, as happened today, you just get tired of stirring and stirring), run it all through a food mill to remove all the skins and seeds. Then back into the pot for a return to the boil. Meanwhile, wash the jars and bring to a boil in a canner. Remove jars from the canner. Fill jars. Wipe rims. Put on lids and rings. Back into the canner for 35 minutes of a rolling boil. Remove and listen for the magical music of lids pinging as they seal. Look down and remember that white t-shirts and tomato canning don't mix.


Organic tomato sauce costs $5-6 a jar at our local store. Today's efforts started with ten pounds of tomatoes and resulted in six 500 ml jars. If I factor in the time spent growing the tomatoes in the first place, and the cost of the seeds, the fish fertilizer, the canning supplies, and the electricity to keep those pots bubbling for three hours (but not the cost of a new t-shirt) is that minimum wage? Barely. But I think that's the wrong kind of accounting to do. I think you have to factor in the sense of security that comes from knowing how to do this, and the satisfaction of providing for your family, and the peace and contentment that rises from an apron (okay, today I forgot the apron), a wooden spoon and a bubbling pot on the stove, and the feeling of a cycle come to completion I get when I look at the finished jars on the shelf and think of the tiny tomato seeds I planted in April, and the soil I patted around the stems as I transplanted the seedlings into the greenhouse beds, and the hours and hours of sunny warmth they basked in. I'm okay with minimum wage, if it comes with all of that.


On another tomato related topic, I have finally organized myself to save tomato seeds for next year. Not for every kind I grew - some were busts, but four were standouts. Granadero, an indeterminate (climbing) plum tomato that produced an enormous quantity of gorgeous, flavourful fruit. Black Krim, an heirloom variety with a quirky shape and a beautiful dark colour. New Girl, which beat out my previous favourite Early Girl for a reliable early producer. And Orange Blossom, a mild, colourful orange mid-sized tomato.

Here's how you save tomato seeds: squeeze out the seeds into a small dish. Mix in a bit of water. Put them in a warm spot, like a verandah railing. Watch them ferment over the next few days and wonder if you've done something wrong. (You haven't. The fermenting is getting rid of the coating on the seeds that would make it impossible for them to germinate). Stir occasionally. When they have done their thing rinse them and leave them to dry out on a paper towel, then put away until spring.


Our first summer at Mucky Boots I tried saving seeds, but forgot them on the railing and by the time I remembered they were past saving. The second summer I forgot completely. This year I am determined that come next April, the tomato seeds I'll be starting will be my own.

8 comments:

Holly House said...

None of out tomato plants this year were really great. Hopefully next year will be. Lol if I trade you some wild dill would you want to send a few black krim my way?

And it's always worth it to do it yourself! If the economy tanks and food prices sky rocket, you'll be able to feed yourself, that knowledge is priceless :)

jeanives said...

Sorry, but you haven't convinced me to make tomato sauce; I'll be buying it as usual. My food growing limit is greens and herbs with one tomato plant just because...
But if we ever have the big one, I'll be tromping over the Malahat for a visit!

Paula said...

M- don't bother mashing first. Just cut them and cook them and mash once they soften up- lots easier.

I don't look at the labor and expense, because I consider every jar canned to be a lesson in self-reliance and independence, as much as one who still has to order her seed can be independent. I'm still trying to figure out what varieties to grow that will do well and thrill me and I haven't found any yet- tomatoes, for all they're being the easiest things to grow- are still a bit of a challenge for me.

The good news about saving your own seed is that year after year, tomatoes and their subsequent generations will acclimate themselves, so you'll get a tomato that performs well for you.

I'm glad to know about your successes, since we're in relatively the same part of the world (I said relatively) so I'm may try a couple of them.

Did you save your cabbage? cover it with something.

Flartus said...

This kind of sauce is worth more than dollars. Not only is it organic, but you know every ingredient that went into it. Much of our canning is used for Christmas gifts, so it saves us money, AND all the trauma of shopping (and decision-making)!

We use a Victorio strainer, inherited from Mom, to strain out the skins and seeds before concocting our sauce. So it's chop, strain, cook and can. Saves a step. Do you think the skins and seeds add more flavor when you cook with them in?

ADoC said...

I don't bother peeling or mashing, I just toss all the tomatoes in the blender-skins, seeds, and all- and puree them while the onions/garlic sauté. Toss the puree in with the onions, etc, cook, and can.

Cuts down on mess and time.

But any way you go, it definitely worth the effort!

backyardfeast said...

I'm with the other commenters--it's in these processes that you decide just how picky you are about your final product! :) I do a quick blanch to remove skins and then throw the whole toms (now softer) into the sauce pot. Mashing happens as I stir periodically. I've also taken to just doing the tomatoes plain, simmering them to the desired thickness. This means that when I take them out as needed I can add whatever seasonings I want (from curry to Italian) when the time comes (and when I'm cooking anyway). So that all saves some time too. The seeds don't bother me.

So impressed that you'll be saving your seeds this year, and that you have some varietis that worked so well! We may have to do some trades...? I will post my tomato report in the coming weeks--still waiting for a couple of varieties to ripen.. Sigh.

Holly House said...

You inspired me to make tomato soup today! Tomatoes, basil, onions, and garlic from the garden! (the garlic wasn't great this year so I had to supplement, but still) Not enough to can, but still tasty!

Kara said...

I, too, make blender-style sauce, and it couldn't be easier! Well, it would be easier if it didn't take so long to cook down. That's my greatest sauce-downfall....

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