As a child, I sat next to my mom when she boiled tomatoes for salsa, placed dill in the jars filled with cucumbers, and dunked the glass containers into the water bath canner. Not exactly sure what my mom was doing, I just figured it had to be done. We had a plethora of leftover vegetables from our oversized garden and we would undoubtedly eat the preserved produce throughout the winter months.
As I grew up and out of the house, years began to separate me from my first experience with canning fruits and vegetables. I bought everything I needed year round at the grocery store. Food companies did all the heavy lifting for me. I would be lying if I said they no longer contribute to my diet, but I have certainly stepped up my participation a few notches.
This past summer, I challenged, even dared, myself to can something. I wanted to be the one to preserve the season. I wrote it on my life list and declared it to the world. I started by purchasing a Granite Ware Canner. I ordered it online, so of course I had to wait for it to ship. When it arrived, it sat in the box for quite some time.
I eventually bought canning jars. Then I made excuses that the price of tomatoes was still too high. Every week I stared at them in the farmers markets. “Is it time?”
The first week of October my husband and I drove to Eastern WA and I was tempted to stop at a produce stand on our way home. We pulled off the road at Thorpe and sauntered into Gibson’s Produce determined to purchase tomatoes. I found them, a 25-pound box of Yakima canners on sale for $9.98. It was time.
I cleared my entire Sunday, read and reread every book I had on canning (including Better Homes & Gardens), and lined up my equipment from one end of the kitchen to the next.
To be honest, I was nervous as heck that I would screw this up. I reread the directions one more time, sent up a few prayers, and set to work.
Step One: Wash canning jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse. Soak in hot water until ready to use. (Ok, that’s sound pretty easy.)
Step Two: Fill canner half way with cold water; start to heat. Heat additional water in a second pot in case you need extra when it’s time to process. (Easy enough.)
Step Three: Prepare only as much food as needed to fill the maximum number of jars that fit in your canner at one time. Work quickly, preparing the food as specified. Keep the work area clean. (I had to peel the tomatoes – dunk in boiling water, then dunk in an ice bath, then peel. This is also where I started to worry. The first two tomatoes were not cooperating and I was afraid the mishap would slow me down.)
Step Four: Place hot jars on a towel to prevent slipping while packing. Pack the food into jars and add lemon juice as directed, keeping in mind the recommended head space. (I brought out my ruler for this one.)
Step Five: Release trapped air bubbles in the jars by gently working a narrow rubber scraper down the jars’ sides. (I almost let one jar into the bath with an air bubble… thank goodness I caught it.)
Step Six: Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean, damp cloth to remove any excess food. (I did this twice, sometimes three times a jar. I was determined not to have any leftover food on the rim.)
Step Seven: Place prepared lids on jars; add screw bands and tighten. Set each jar into the canner as it is filled. (At this point, I was beyond committed to the canning process. The jars were officially in the water bath canner.)
Step Eight: Pour additional boiling water into the canner until jars are one inch below the water line. (I brought my ruler out again just to make sure.) Cover; heat to a brisk, rolling boil. Now begin the processing timing. (My halved tomatoes were processed for 85 long minutes).
Step Nine: Remove jars and place them on a rack to cool for 12 to 24 hours and checked to be sure the lids are sealed. (I am happy to report that all of my lids were sealed!)
Whew! The task is over; checked off my life list. However, this will not be the last time I can something; mark this only as the first. On the next go around, I imagine myself plucking tomatoes from the vines in my own back yard and further down the road, I imagine I have a daughter to watch me as I boil tomatoes for salsa, place dill in the jars filled with cucumbers, and dunk the glass containers into the water bath canner.