Thursday, July 23, 2009

Attempting (a bit of) Self Sufficience, Part 2

Continued from yesterday, Part 1.

On my first foray into self-reliance, I wasn't doing too well so far. I'd chosen the worst time of day to begin canning my tomatoes - dinner time. To be fair to myself (or slightly on the excuses side of fair...), I didn't intend to be doing dinner as well as canning - but who could have guessed that it would take over an hour to boil water in the canner, aka: the biggest pot you've ever seen? Like, I could have piled every other pot and pan I owned in there and still had room for a 5 lb bag of taters. It could be a hiding place for a kindergartner. Or a Labrador. And while waiting for the canner water to boil, dinner preparations beckoned.

All the burners were going on the stove top, the oven was occupied (never mind that I was using my electric range which would be obsolete without electricity - the point is that I was trying!), both sides of the sink were filled with either tomato skins or bowls of prepared tomatoes. I was peeling and coring like crazy, with two attention-needing kids underfoot, and my mind was whirling with the necessary steps to make the canning work.

Those steps could not have been more confusing to me. I needed a physical teacher, not a booklet in which I was expected to flip between several (non-sequential!) pages of explanations before I even got to the filling of the jars. For instance, the lids and jars are supposed to be hot when you fill them (according to my booklet), but if you set them all out to be filled at the same time, they'll inevitably cool before you can get them back into the canner. My brain couldn't handle the logistics of this conundrum because at the same time I needed to be filling my sterilized jars with tomatoes, my potatoes for dinner were boiling over and Lauren was crying at my feet - I felt like I should have been on I Love Lucy, what with all the chaos. If only I'd had a cute retro apron on...

When I realized that I hadn't peeled enough tomatoes to fill all the jars, and had no burners free to boil another pot of water in which to dip them (skin removal, 101), I cheated: I dipped the tomatoes in the boiling canner bath that I'd already put all the other filled jars into. It was way outside of the textbook method, therefore, way outside of my comfort zone - I am not what you'd call a rule breaker. So I did it as quickly as possible in order to keep all the jars in the water for about the same amount of time. Because, maybe that's important? Maybe there's some precise science involved in canning that causes the jars to seal properly? After all, I had read all kinds of things about why a good seal is needed in the first place if your food is to become anything other than poison. But, NO PRESSURE, happy home-canner! You can DO this simple, easy, possibly deadly activity!

Finally, right when dinner was ready, I'd finished filling the jars. I covered the canning pot, set the timer, and walked away with my fingers crossed that I hadn't screwed it all up beyond redemption. And my toes crossed that I wouldn't hear a jar exploding from being under-heated or otherwise mismanaged.

An hour and a half later, Justin rescued the jars from their boiling bath while I put Lauren to bed. We're both learning: myself, how to preserve food, Justin, how to follow my explicit instructions. He was smitten with the handy little jar lifter tool, and teased me about being able to figure it out without my worrying. I just didn't want anything (else...) to go wrong with the whole process and was fretting over leaving my precious jars in someone else's hands. He did great, by the way. Not only is he handsome, he's also handy in a jar-lifting pinch.

We were both concerned with the outcome. Each jar seemed to be filled on the bottom 1/3 with an orangey/yellowed/clearish juice while all the tomatoes had jammed to the top. Not the picture of healthy canned goods, in my opinion. I forgot to get a picture of this...or willfully hid the camera due to embarrassment over my botched results. But hoping for the best, I waited 24 hours (as per the rules) before checking the seals. All this entails is trying to gently tug off the lid, and hoping (praying, chanting, holding breath, hiding eyes) the seal holds. Which, MINE DID! No thanks to my seat-of-pants methodology, I'm sure.

My mom - bless her take-charge heart - showed me how to fix the liquid/tomato separation when she came over the next morning. She shook a jar. Oh, the ingenuity. I don't know if I would have ever considered this without her...I'd have been too nervous that the jar would burst or the tomatoes would react with the liquid in a poisonous way so that they'd fizz up into an acidic, skin-eating concoction and I'd be left with a stump that smelled faintly of ketchup where my hand used to be.

Happily, that did not occur. Instead, we got this beautiful result:

Canned homegrown tomatoes. For real.

Next winter, I'll stand back as far as possible from one of these beauties and attempt to open it to use in some hearty recipe. And I'll tell you all about it.

Until then, I may or may not try my hand at any more self-sufficient homesteader type stuff. Without a personal assistant, I mean. Because while I agree that being able to take care of and provide for my family outside of normal (read: American) means is an important skill to have, I just might scare myself with what I could conceivably produce.

It would take a village to teach me how to be self-reliant. How ironic.


  1. Wow, I am very impressed! And not just at your gardening and canning skills but also by the fact that in the madness you went ahead and fixed dinner too, I would have called for pizza (who am I kidding I wouldn't have been canning my own home grown tomatoes he he).

  2. Wow, great work! I've been wanting to can as well, but was also too afraid. And after reading this, I'm still a bit nervous about it! :)

    Also, my husband planted all cherry tomatoes instead of big normal ones - can those even be canned?

    I think a phone call to my grandmother is in order.

  3. Katie - where are you when i need you? It never occurred to me to order dinner in...I'm quite single minded.

    TMC - I'd think canning cherry tomatoes would be OK, just peel them and put them in whole. Then when you need them later, you could throw them in the food processor real quick for *voila* diced tomatoes :)

    I'm sure this would have been a cinch had I not had my plate way over-filled with other obligations. Next time, I'll plan better.

  4. Your canned tomatoes are beautiful! :) I'm inspired!

  5. I'm impressed. I let my husband handle the canning as he researched it before we were married. So far we've only done applesauce but I'm hoping we'll have enough tomatoes on our plants to fill up a few jars of our own this year. Right now all our tomatoes are still green.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?