We eat a lot of pasta. And I mean - a LOT. So preserving pasta sauce is high on my list of priorities. Making and preserving it yourself saves a lot of money and you know exactly what is in the jar. I don't like additives and colours and unnecessary numbers in my food and I've noticed how difficult it is to find things that don't have all that!
I decided it was high enough on the list to take a week of annual leave from work to get a good kickstart on the preserving.
At the moment a fruit and veg shop close to me has 10 kilo boxes of sauce tomatoes for $8. Although I know the tomatoes aren't organic, they are local - and if I was to buy organic tomatoes here the costs would blow out so high as to make the whole preserving thing not worth the money involved. Next year I hope to not have to buy any tomatoes - I would rather grow our own.
So out of 40 kilos of tomatoes and a week of extreme busy-ness, I made lots of goodies!
Firstly, the pasta sauce. Using a recipe from Green Living Australia I made 8 jars of pasta sauce. It's a very easy recipe to follow, all you really need is a really big saucepan. As usual, I doubled the quantity in the recipe.
After this I made 8 jars of tomato sauce (ketchup for our US readers!). I used another recipe from the GLA forum, you can find it here. I haven't made this particular sauce recipe before but it smelled REALLY good and I'm betting that after a few weeks/months in the jars it will be even better.
I also did tomato soup from this site. Some of the recipes on this site are not preserved in what I would consider a safe way. So do be careful. But I made this soup recipe last year and preserved it in the waterbath and it worked out fine. I didn't thicken the soup with the flour before waterbathing due to the safety concerns i have - thicker things in jars can not always reach boiling point in the middle, allowing bacteria to breed in the jars once sealed. I also added lemon juice to every jar, just to ensure that the acid levels are high enough. The lemon doesn't subtract from the flavour of the soup at all, and the thickener can be added later when you go to serve and eat the soup if you want it.
I made a few jars of BBQ sauce using a recipe that I seem to have lost already *sigh*. I have never made BBQ sauce before and it smelled amazing.
By the time I had done all that, my time off work was running out fast and I still had a box and a half of tomatoes left over that were fast going soft in the heat here. So I decided to make passata from the rest of them, to be used in other sauces/casseroles over winter.
Passata is essentially, lightly cooked and sqaushed up pureed tomatoes.
It's very easy to make - just core the tomatoes, cut them up a bit and put them in a big pot with about a half a cup of water on the bottom. (The water is there to stop them burning before they cook down and release their own juices)
Once the tomatoes have started to soften, you can give them a helping hand - I got out my potato masher and smooshed em all up. Then I cooked them down for about an hour.
For the next step, you need one of these. I love mine to bits, it's makes life so easy when making sauce. You just assemble it (clean, of course!), pour the cooked tomatoes into the top, and crank the handle. Tomato puree comes out the bottom - and skins and seeds all come out the side shoot.
It is a messy job because tomato juice has a tendency to go everywhere - but it's lots of fun.
Once all your tomatoes have been pressed through the machine, (oh, and I put the 'waste' pile back through a second time, to make sure I've got all the juices out), put them back into a big pot on the stove and bring to the boil. Add salt to taste.
Traditionally, a sprig of fresh basil is put into each jar before the sauce is ladelled in. But I had no fresh basil this year, so I put dried basil into the stockpot and cooked it for about another half an hour till the basil was well re-hydrated.
By now you should have HOT clean jars and lids ready, and a waterbath unit of some description with HOT water in it waiting. (This is the one I used this time, although I sometimes just use my canner as a waterbath. Not enough room on my stove for the big new stockpot and the canner though!) Using a funnel and a ladle and lots of towels on the benchtop, I filled each jar with hot passata, added a squirt of lemon juice, wiped the rims of the jars, put the lids on and put into the FV unit. I then topped up the unit with boiling water from the kettle until the jars were covered by about 2 inches of water.
Wait for the water to come to a full rolling boil before starting the timer, then let them boil for 20 mins.
Once the time is up, carefully take the jars out of the unit. I have tongs for this purpose, and I learned last year that wearing rubber gloves can be extremely handy too! If the tongs slip at all, or you are short like me and it's hard to get a good grip on something that almost higher than you, rubber gloves on your hands will mean you can stabilise the jars without burning yourself.
Put the jars on a towel on your bench, out of a draft, and let them sit for 24 hours. Then you can wipe them over, check that they are all sealed, label them, and put them away.
I bought a label-maker this year, much easier than writing it on annoying sticky notes by hand when you are doing lots of jars.
So that was my first round of preserving for this year. I will have to get some more tomatoes and do more pasta sauce, because 8 jars will only last us about 4 weeks once the weather cools down. My aim is to make enough while tomatoes are in season to last us the entire year. Last year I did 110 kilos of tomatoes, and we ran out of pasta sauce in about October, so I almost made it.
I am thinking that I will buy one box at a time from now on, and just do a box-full every fortnight, into pasta sauce, until the season is over.
So I am happy, because the wardrobe in our bedroom is once again filling up with full jars instead of empty ones!