Garden Tour/Canning Crushed Tomatoes

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a large group of women for a tour around our farm. These ladies do good work - helping other women start businesses, helping young girls go to college if they wish, and providing funds for women looking for a new start in life. It was an honor to have them here. Very few were gardeners, but they were willing to look around and hear a bit about our philosophy, as part of one of their monthly meetings. They had great questions and were game to troop around in the mulch. I even found that one of them is a UC Master Gardener (hi Theresa!) and one is hoping to be, just like me (hi Robin!). I love walking around the garden and talking about what we've done, and I love turning folks on to different ways of having a suburban yard. This crowd was especially gracious, given that so many of them were not really 'into' gardening. Thanks to them and to my neighbor Karen for a great evening!

This morning, given some cooler weather, I decided it was time to start on my annual stockpile of canned crushed tomatoes. One of our tomato plants in particular had a LOT of ripe fruits on it - a variety called "Mortgage Lifter." For those of you who haven't heard the story of this pink, 1-2 lb heirloom tomato, it is said that M.C. Byles of West Virginia crossed varieties for six years until he introduced this one in the 1940's. After he sold the plants for $1 each, he was able to pay off the $6k mortgage on his house, and he named the variety, Mortgage Lifter! It's a beautiful fruit indeed.

 Hello, lover

Hello, lover

They are large, juicy, and very tasty, and I like them a lot despite the fact they won't be paying off any mortgages around here, more's the pity. Today I used quite a few of these particular fruits, along with a few Black Krim, a few Nebraska Wedding, and several paste tomatoes of differing varieties.

 Mortgage Lifters on the left 

Mortgage Lifters on the left 

Here's my process: I cut out the stem, mark an 'X' in the fruit close to the bottom, dip them for a minute in boiling water, then plunge them into ice water. I slip off the skins and rip the fruits up with my hands, discarding many of the seeds as I do so (skins and seeds and extra juice goes to the chickens, though I like a few seeds in my jars too). Then I put all the ripped-up fruit in to a big pot, and bring it to a boil, stirring and crushing as they heat up. I boil them for five minutes, then put them into warm sterilized canning jars leaving a 1/2" headspace. Release the air bubbles, add 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart, clean the rims, and water bath can for 45 minutes. Mine always end up with lots of juice, but that's ok. We tend to use these canned tomatoes for chili or ragu, both of which are only improved with extra juice.

Did you know that the nutrition of tomatoes increases when they are cooked or canned? True!

We tend to use 1-2 cans of crushed tomatoes every month, so ideally I'd like to preserve at least 12 quarts, double that would be better. If you don't grow tomatoes of your own, now is the time to hit your local farmer's market and stock up on your own crushed tomatoes for winter!

Oh yes, I also want to recommend a film, which I haven't seen yet, I just know it's going to be good (I heard about it on 'Forum'). I somehow missed the showing on our local PBS station, but I'm trying to find another place to see it locally, or maybe I can host a screening. The film is called 'Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,' and it's about a peach farm in the central valley of CA. It's a somewhat famous farm here for their lovely, organic, drought-resistant peaches. I've been longing to try a program they have in which you 'adopt' a tree, then go to the farm and harvest the fruit when it comes ripe. Doesn't that sound fun? Unfortunately the farm is hours away from here, so I have to figure out logistics. Field trip?