It’s Tomato Time! Like many others, I put up tomatoes in late September. I’m republishing an article originally from 2014 on how to host your own tomato crush. Why not share the work and turn a chore into a social occasion?
This year, I’m working with a friend, and we’ll start with 1 1/2 bushels of tomatoes – that’s about 75 pounds, or 34 kilograms. From that, we’ll make both tomato paste and marinara sauce to stock our pantries. This is a relatively small tomato day for me; my personal record was 4 bushels / 200 lbs tomatoes. Now THAT was a memorable day, and we had staff and equipment to match.
Tomatoes aren’t hard to work with, especially if you use some kind of motorized tomato strainer. I use the fruit and vegetable strainer attachment for my KitchenAid mixer, which lets me simply cut tomatoes into quarters and squish them – no need to remove the skins.
So you’ve decided to host your own tomato crush, hm? It’s a good idea to tackle a big project with many hands; you’ll get the job done and have fun along the way. In this post, I’ll pass on tips and tricks for holding a fabulous group canning day of your own.
It takes planning! And until it’s routine enough that it’s second nature, I recommend you think it through ahead of time. I made a page of notes, listing what supplies we’d need and where each step in the process would occur. We wanted no accidents from carrying full pots of boiling tomato sauce! It was important that the day should be not just productive, but fun.
This year, we processed five half-bushels – that’s about 125 pounds of tomatoes. It was a full day and we finished tired, but pleased, with lots and lots of jars of wonderful tomato sauce.
- enlist help ahead of time – set a date, and gather the troops. There were five of us at work this year. Extra hands are especially welcome when accompanied by smiles and jokes.
- think it through first – what will happen where? What tools or equipment will be required? Make sure that tools and containers are placed where they’ll be wanted. Where will each task take place? Do you have a good place to put lots of hot jars?
- plan for the volume – be sure you have big enough pots, sufficient burner space, enough jars, to handle the tomatoes you’ll have on hand. Our current equipment limits us to 4 half-bushels of tomatoes for sauce plus another half-bushel for tomato paste. In order to make more sauce, we’d need more pots and more burner space. That might happen next year!
- make it comfortable – we can’t control the weather, but we had a shade umbrella up for the outdoor crew, and lots of chairs.
- stockpile supplies and tools – have ingredients ready. Set out lots of jars and lids, canning tools, clean towels and aprons, trivets, spoons, and the like. Put a trash bag somewhere handy – you’ll need it. NOTE: get a good canning ladle. You want one that holds a lot, has pouring spouts, and a hook so it can rest on the pot without sliding in.
- be ready for minor boo-boos – it’s almost inevitable that someone’s going to nick a finger; have first aid supplies on hand and conveniently located. And then have jobs appropriate for the wounded: no blood in the jars, please!
- supply gloves – tomatoes are acidic. If you spend hours handling them, your hands might suffer. Have gloves available – especially important in case of nicks or scrapes.
- have refreshments handy – since we were beginning at 10am, it made sense to have food ready to go, for breakfast or lunch. We set out a tea both hot and iced, bagels, sandwich materials, salty snacks and cookies. Locate your food station out of way, under cover, in some convenient spot.
- take notes as you go – especially if you’re trying something new, make note of it! You won’t remember next year just what it was that you did. (see above about volume)
- label promptly and wisely – Let the label tell you what’s in the jar, when it was put up, and even which recipe was used, if there would be a question. Label the lid, not the jar: the lid gets discarded, and that way you don’t have to scrub off any sticky residue. Labels don’t have to be fancy, a permanent (Sharpie) marker is just fine.
- use your time well – always be doing something, while prepping for something else. Get the tomatoes simmering as soon as you can – the longest part of the day was cooking the sauce.
- share the results – everyone who helped should take home some of the jars.
- celebrate – you’re finished! Relax and enjoy the feeling of success.
What tips do you have to share? What works when you process tomatoes?