The first year I grew tomatoes, I planted about six seedlings. Now, I tend to 16 tomato plants plus several more volunteers that surprised me when they popped from the ground.
The reason for the big leap in plants? I learned to can tomatoes.
It's time consuming and hot—think boiling pots, a hot oven and steamy tomatoes—but the reward is a shelf full of savory, summertime tomatoes for you to enjoy in the dead of winter when others are eating from cans.
A quick online search of canning methods reveals that my method is unorthodox, but I learned from a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York City, so I think her tutelage carries some clout. Plus, the tomatoes are delicious straight out of the jar and I don't do anything but heat them when it's time to serve them over a bowl of pasta.
If you have a large haul of tomatoes you want to enjoy in the winter or if you're eager for a homespun Christmas gift idea, follow these directions to preserving your harvest:
• Start with A LOT of tomatoes. I recently came home with a giant bag of tomatoes that covered my kitchen counter top. It yielded seven 1-quart jars.
• Core the tomatoes, then place them bottom-side up in a baking dish.
• Cut an 'X' on the bottom of the tomato so the skin is pierced.
• Scatter garlic cloves around the tomatoes. You can even put some inside the big tomatoes.
• Press whole basil leaves between the tomatoes as well.
• Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.
• Cover with parchment paper, then aluminum foil.
• Bake for one hour at 400 degrees.
• Meanwhile, put the rings of the new or freshly-cleaned 1-quart jars aside. Place the lids in a small saucepan and simmer as your tomatoes cook.
• Fill a giant stock pot with water and slowly bring to a boil. The pot should be filled with enough water to allow for an inch of water above your 1-quart jars. I use a 21.5-quart pot I bought from Target which came with different useful canning utensils including tongs to pick the jars from boiling water, a magnetic stick to lift the hot lids from the saucepan and a funnel that allows for the easy transfer of hot tomatoes to the jar.
• Let the tomatoes cool before skinning. Set aside the skins to puree for tomato juice or soup.
• Fill the jars with tomatoes and top off with juice from the baking dish. The jars should be filled to within half an inch of the top to allow the lids to seal properly.
• Fasten the lids and rings on the jars and submerge in the boiling water for 20 minutes.
• Remove the jars from the water and let cool. You should hear the lids ping when they seal.
• Once the jars have cooled, remove the rings and tap the lids to confirm they are sealed. They should be concave and not bounce back from your touch.
If all of this sounds intimidating, invite a group of friends to your house and hold a "tomato canning party." That's how I learned. My neighbor invited a dozen or so friends to her house, served wine and snacks, and we all followed the directions of our chef friend. It was a blast! Happy cooking.