Tomato Canning: Basic, Marinara, and Pizza Sauce

Future dinners!

Two years ago, I wrote a rather desperate post about my first experience in bulk tomato canning. I scarcely realized the task I had undertaken, did not have pots quite large enough or a food mill worth its weight in feathers, and I had unwittingly committed to waaaaay to many products for a two-day stint. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort, and there are least a few moments that tears dripped down my tomato-flecked face.

But over the course of that year, I grew quite fond of the sauces I had made and became rather dependent on them in my cooking. When tomato season rolled around again, I decided to tackle the project a second time with a few changes. I reduced the variety of products, but I also added about 25% more tomatoes since I had run out of many favorites in the weeks previous. However, the project still produced a vast amount of stress. I had to do my canning at a friend’s apartment (I didn’t have the right kind of stove to manage it), which meant packing up all my supplies and commandeering a kitchen that was not my own. More tomato-stained tears were had.

Liquid rubies

They say third time is the charm, and in this case I agree: I tackled my tomatoes this year with some MAJOR upgrades that turned this somewhat dreaded experience into an exciting one.

I know many of you are completely uninterested in large-scale canning. Even with upgraded equipment and a few years of experience, putting up 120 pounds of tomatoes (!!!) is a massive amount of work. However, if you are interested but have not approached the craft because it seems too daunting, I want to share with you a few of the things I’ve learned that I wish so much I had known the first time around.


Cranberry Orange Marmalade

Marmalade for the holidays

I’ve always strongly associated oranges with summer. Their summery orange glow, bright flavors, and balmy geographic origins have all contributed to this perception. And yet I also remember that my dad always brought home the best grapefruits, even in thoroughly NOT balmy Colorado, in January and February. Occasionally, we’d receive boxes of citrus as Christmas gifts, and I even recall the local chapter of FFA selling them to neighbors as a fundraiser in the weeks preceding the holidays.

Citrus is cultivated year-round in many of the southern-most states of our continent, but it really shines in the winter. Not surprisingly, when I was driving back to North Carolina from a late-November trip to Florida with the fam, I simply couldn’t resist stopping at a roadside stand for a bag of this fruit so far outside my normal local fare.

Florida souvenirs

I probably could have just eaten or juiced each and every one of these golden orbs, but I’ve been curious for some time about marmalades. I don’t remember growing up with marmalade in the house, though my mom confirms that she loved it when she was a child. Our spreadables tended to be homemade from the berries and stone fruits my grandma and grandpa grew in their garden, so perhaps that accounts for the marmalade vacuum of my youth. I’ve heard from some that marmalade is an acquired taste, that it’s a bitter product not suited for those who prefer sweet jams. I wanted to give it a shot, but wasn’t sure how I would feel about a bitter final product. I ran across this recipe, a blend of oranges and cranberries, and thought that it might be just the transitional product between sweet and bitter I was looking for.


Ginger Apple Chutney

Ginger has never really been something I’ve thought about very much. Occasionally, my dad would add some ground ginger to stir fry, or I’d use some in fall desserts. But the farmers near Durham have been showcasing mounds of baby ginger at their tables for the last few weeks, and my curiosity about this knobby little root grew with each table I passed.

And with fortuitous timing, I came across this recipe for ginger apple chutney. Combined with apples & onions, also plentiful at local markets, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to buy a chunk of ginger. The recipe wasn’t written as one for canning, but I suspected the acid content would be high enough for canning and checked with a deft canning blogger to be sure.


Apple Cider Syrup

Apple cider. It is,without question, my favorite thing to drink. I’m rather fond of apple cider cold and unpasteurized, straight from an orchard, but I also believe that apple cider is truly at its best served warm, in a cozy little mug, for a soothing drink on cool nights in the fall and winter. From early October to New Years Eve, I need only the tiniest hint of a social gathering to bust out the crock pot and a half gallon of cider and am forlorn when parties I attend elsewhere don’t feature this essential holiday beverage.

The singular challenge I face with my affection for spiced hot cider? Unless I am hosting a party, I simply need one mugful. I’ve tried various packets of instant cider mix, but I usually find them far too sweet and not apple-y enough for my tastes. And the Caramel Apple Spice from Starbucks? Tasty, but not good for the wallet. And again with the too sweet.


Dilly Beans

I’m not sure when “pickles” came to indicate cucumbers that are pickled, and nothing else. You can buy pickled garlic, pickled eggs (eeeeeew), but the pickles section is predominantly composed of cukes. Oh sure, there’s variety: sweet pickles, bread & butter pickles, dill pickles, kosher dill pickles, zesty dilly pickles, pickle chips, and more. But they are all cucumbers!

It turns out this was not always so. Those of you who can have probably seen many kinds of pickles in your cookbooks. Pickled okra! Pickled beets! Pickled peaches!

And one of my personal favorites, pickled green beans!

Dilly beans start with a heap of fresh, brilliant green snap beans. They’re dirt cheap right now at my local farmers market, so it’s a great time to buy a bunch and pickle them.


On Canning, On Eating Locally, and On Why I Bother At All

It’s sort of interesting how some posts come about. Sometimes I very specifically know I want to try a recipe, I cook and photograph that recipe, edit the photos, write a little something, and post it to the world. Other times, something comes wildly out of left field and I MUST move it to top of my posting schedule (yes, I have one) because it will either lose relevance or because I’ve made some food I desperately want to share with you.

I had no intentions of writing about this, evidenced by the fact that I took not a single photo aside from before and after shots. This post arose out of a weekend in the kitchen what was, for lack of a better word, grueling. So grueling that it threatened to bring on a veritable identity crisis for this little food blogger.

Just in case you haven’t picked up on this, I care deeply about eating locally. I started this blog, in part, to chronicle my quest toward learning what that means and figuring out just how much of my diet I could change to local fare. This has involved shopping primarily at farmers markets, foregoing produce that isn’t seasonally available, avoiding chain restaurants, starting a garden, and learning the art and science of canning to capture produce when it’s plentiful so that I can eat locally all year long.

I’d say my experience with canning up to this weekend could be firmly classified in the “dabbling” realm. For a while I just made jam. There’s a reason that jam is widely considered an entry-level canning project. Couple together berries and sugar, boil the heck out of them, and you’re left with pretty little jars in brilliant shades of ruby and purple that taste delicious on everything from toast to ice cream. I’d graduated to making a few kinds of pickles, and I tried an inaugural batch of apple sauce last fall.

But none of those things are life-sustaining. They didn’t replace any staples that I was hitherto buying from the grocery store. I’d procured a water bath canner before my apple sauce project, and I knew I wanted to go further this summer. So this weekend, I took my first real crack at canning food that could potentially replace some store-bought staples with homemade ones.


Having selected eight recipes to try (if you’re gonna turn your kitchen upside down, you might as well get a lot done) I came home from the farmers market on Saturday morning well-stocked: two pounds of okra, five pounds of peaches, two quarts of figs, several onions and peppers, large handfuls both of parsley and basil, and, most importantly, nearly sixty pounds of tomatoes. I dug every every sizable pot and bowl from my cabinets and cheerfully set to work.