It’s that time of year again: today is August 1st (can you believe it?) and August in the Northeast means one thing in local food circles: tomatoes. Last year was such a dismal tomato crop, what with all the rain creating ideal conditions for late blight, and with so many local farms losing hundreds if not thousands of tomato plants. As such, last year saw very little in the way of tomato preserving, and I am hoping for a bumper crop this season. So far, the hot & sunny days have been perfect tomato-growing weather (she knocks wood) and we’ve enjoyed this favorite salad several times already.
With August comes something else: another edition of Tigress’ Can Jam. This month’s surprise ingredient was selected by our own Miss Julia of What Julia Ate, and (can you guess?) it is: tomatoes! So, in preparation for all sorts of delectable canned tomato treats and for all of you newbie canners out there, I offer my basic recipe for tomato purée. This is how all of my canned tomato sauce recipes start out, or if I am feeling lazy (or, more likely, crunched for time) I just can this up for use in sauces & stews over the long, dark, tomato-less winter.
Adapted from Basic Tomato Sauce in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry and L. Devine, eds.
- food mill, chinois, or medium-fine sieve
- 16 lbs tomatoes, preferably paste varieties (Roma, San Marzano, etc.)
- bottled lemon juice or citric acid
- Wash and sort the tomatoes, removing any bruised areas. Quarter 6 tomatoes and transfer to a large stockpot. Crush lightly with a potato masher to release juices. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat (add just a touch of water to prevent sticking if necessary). While maintaining a low boil, and stirring to prevent sticking, quarter additional tomatoes and add in batches, maintaining a boil throughout. Crush lightly and simmer for about 15 minutes, until tomatoes are softened (you may see some skins float to the surface). Remove from heat.
- Working in batches, press tomatoes through a food mill or fine sieve to remove seeds, skins and cores (I use the medium sieve on my food mill, which lets through a few seeds, but keeps the pulp a little meatier). Measure tomato purée (I yielded about 6 quarts juice/pulp from 16 lbs of tomatoes; this batch was half-n-half beefsteak and paste varieties).
- Return to stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat until the tomato purée is at a low boil; maintain this until the volume is reduced by about half (or to a thickness that you desire; this is dependent on the type of tomatoes you use). You can reduce the purée faster at a high boil, but the long, slow cooking time adds a delicious smoky flavor to the tomato sauce. With this amount of tomatoes, reducing by half at a low boil should take about 2 hours. If you keep it at a simmer instead of a low boil, it’ll take longer and taste even better. Tomato purée can be stored up to 3 days in the refrigerator for use in tomato sauce recipes, or canned as is for future recipes.
- If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.
- To each hot, sterilized pint jar, add 1 tbsp lemon juice OR 1/4 tsp citric acid (for quart jars, add 2 tbsp lemon juice OR 1/2 tsp citric acid). Ladle hot tomato purée into jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rims, affix lids and add the jar to the canner rack. Process for 35 (pint jars) or 40 (quart jars) minutes in a boiling water bath.
Yields 5 to 6 pints of a thick tomato purée.
- Bottled lemon juice is recommended for consistency of acidity; since it is being used for safety (to ensure that the tomato purée is at a pH of 4.6 or below) and not flavor, fresh lemon juice is not recommended.
- If you do not have a food mill or fine sieve, you can peel the tomatoes first (slice a small X in one end of the tomato; submerge in boiling water for 1 minute, then slip the skin off under cool, running water, or submerged in a bowl of cool water); then eliminate most of the seeds by quartering tomatoes and removing pulp with your fingers, leaving mostly the tomato meat behind (this will also speed up the reduction step on the stovetop).
- You may add salt or dried herbs (1/2 tsp per pint jar, 1 tsp per quart jar) for flavor, although I prefer to skip this step to allow for greater flexibility in use later on. It is also safe to add a single, large, fresh basil leaf to each jar; be sure to choose a fresh, green and unblemished leaf.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Alternatively, you could freeze in serving-sized portions for up to 6 months.