We preserved 6 bushels of tomatoes on Saturday and Sunday this year. Weighing in at almost 300 pounds, our tomatoes produced 120 jars of sauce. It’s our lowest yield in years (though only by 1-2 jars per bushel).
It was the smallest amount of tomatoes we’ve done in years (most years 4 of us have done 8-10 bushels) and we stretched it over two days. It’s not without irony that I had to miss almost 5 hours of preserving on the first day to attend a coaching session for my upcoming TEDxToronto speech which focusses on the importance of making time to preserve with family and friends!
After 5 or 6 years of preserving as a group (comprised of my parents, Dana and I), the biggest lesson is how easy this has become. It’s not that there are any difficult tasks as part of the process; the ease comes from the familiarity of working with each other. We all know what has to be done and it’s easy to step in when a task is falling behind or someone needs a break. We’ve become a great team and the process is thoroughly enjoyable and stress-free.
There a few lessons learned this year:
- We need a bigger measuring cup. We use a 1 liter (quart) measuring cup to remove sauce from the pot to fill the jars. It’s difficult to dip it in sauce and fill it with enough sauce to fill a jar. This results in double-dipping for every jar and slows the process.
- When dipping the measuring cup, always use oven mitts. I didn’t use them for a while on Sunday and, at one point, I touched a single finger to molten sauce. I was lucky to escape without a burn but that could have been far worse (I always wear fully enclosed shoes for the same reason).
- Wear gloves when handling cut tomatoes. I’ve learned this in the past and remembered the importance this year; and am glad I did. The acid of the tomatoes can be really painful after a few hours of handling.
- Process the tomatoes multiple times. After the initial processing of tomatoes, there’s still plenty of juice left in the discarded pulp (seeds and skins). We feed the discards through our tomato squeezer 4-5 times and are constantly surprised by how much juice remains after first passes.
- Pre-squeeze the tomatoes. As Dad would push the tomatoes in the grinder, I’d grab the next handful for the hopper. Giving them a good squeeze made them less likely to stick in the feeder.
- Clean the sieve frequently. When the grinder/ squeezer started to slow down, we’d clean the sieve (this looks a bit like a fine cheese grater and is what allows tomato sauce to be separated from skin and seed). Cleaning it often made for easier cleaning and allowed the juice to freely pass through the processor.
- Check your seals. We had a single jar fail (the jar didn’t seal). It’s easy to get lazy and not check but it’s important to do so!
What have you learned from processing tomatoes?