When I was a child, there was always one day, near the end of August, when we would drive to my uncle’s farm to pick tomatoes for home canning. This was before mechanical harvesting, and there would always be tomatoes left in the field after the last picking for the local tomato canning cooperative that my grandfather belonged to since the 1940s.
We would go there in the late afternoon, when the heat of the sun was less fierce, and fill 2 or 3 crates of tomatoes, emerging from the fields with legs and hands stained green and our sandals all dusty. Early next morning, mum would wake us up, tell us to put on some old clothes and fix ourselves a quick breakfast before joining her and dad who would already be at work under the shade of the lime tree in front of the house. Dad was boiling large pots of water in which he would dump tomatoes, before quickly scooping them out and cooling them in a bucket of cold water. My brother and I would peel the tomatoes in our hands – this was great fun at first, sliding the tomatoes out of their skins with a satisfying slurping noise, but after the hundredth tomato, the novelty soon wore off. Mum cored the tomatoes and placed them in large glass canning jars with some tomato juice or water, which would be sterilized, ten at a time, in a metal sterilizer filled with water.
We would also make tomato puree by crushing peeled tomatoes in a moulinette. This would be filled into litre sized beer or cider bottles saved during the year for this exact purpose. If there were any tomatoes left, and enough courgettes and aubergines from the garden, we would also make ratatouille. All the jars and bottles would then join the jars of cherries, peaches, apricot and green beans prepared earlier in the summer. In the winter we would be enjoying the healthy flavours of summer. Nothing ever tastes as good as when you have prepared it yourself.
I doubt many people still preserve tomatoes this way. I enjoy making jams but I have never taken the time to can fruits and vegetables. The only exception is the prepared sauces I freeze in October when I pick the last tomatoes before the first frost.
Even if I bought fresh tomatoes for canning at home, time and cost are big dissuaders especially when I can find a wide range of very affordable canned tomatoes or purée on the supermarket shelves. Have you compared the price of a can of wholepeel to that of a kilo of good ripe tomatoes? And who knows how long the tomatoes have been on the supermarket shelf? On the other hand, those canned tomatoes were picked less than 24 hours after harvesting and have therefore kept all their vitamins and antioxidants and great taste so I never hesitate to use them.
Is anyone still preserving their own tomatoes?