Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Grown Close to Home - Preserving Ontario Tomatoes!

Woohoo! In these dog days of summer, Ontario produce is plentiful and beautiful. Charles brought home a gorgeous bushel of Roma tomatoes and I have been canning my little heart out. We have a relatively short growing season in Canada and I love to preserve the bounty for those long winter months. What's better than opening up a glistening jar of homemade preserves in the dead of winter? It's like capturing sunshine in a jar.

I am thrilled that our national grocery chain has recommitted to supporting local produce and producers and is even promoting home preserving of the local bounty.
"Loblaw proudly offers a selection of up to 180 different varieties of high-quality, fresh and affordable Canadian-grown produce that in some instances are in store within 24 hours of harvest," says Mike Venton, senior vice president, Produce, Loblaw Companies Limited. "We have excellent relationships with more than 400 Canadian growers - some more than 40-years strong - which allows us to offer customers outstanding products with the convenience of shopping at their Loblaw banner store."

As a part of Loblaw's Source with Integrity corporate social responsibility pillar, Loblaw works with vendors to provide customers with quality products, while considering the economic, environmental and social impact of those products. The Grown Close to Home™ event puts area growers front and centre during the months of July and August, with approximately 40 per cent of produce found in stores during this time sourced from Canadian growers.

By putting a spotlight on local fresh produce during harvest season, Loblaw customers responded positively evidenced by a 16 per cent increase in produce sales during the Grown Close to Home™ event over the past two years. Complementary to this event, fresh, seasonal, Canadian-grown produce is available all year long at Loblaw banner stores. In fact, approximately 27 per cent of Loblaw's year-round produce purchases are Canadian.
PRESERVING TIPS

Produce

· Use crisp, blemish-free, fresh produce

· Wash thoroughly in running water

· Refrigerate unused produce immediately

Cucumbers

· Use fresh pickling cucumbers, not salad cucumbers. Don’t use waxed cucumbers; wax stops pickling liquid from penetrating the cucumber. Don’t use bruised or damaged cucumbers

· Cucumbers go bad quickly, particularly at room temperature

· Remove any blossoms and stems, and cut about 1/16-inch off the blossom end. The blossom releases enzymes that soften a cucumber

· Wash cucumbers thoroughly and scrub with a soft vegetable brush to remove dirt or sand granules

Salt

· Always use salt indicated for pickling, not table salt. Table salt contains iodine – a chemical that can darken pickles. Anti-caking agents in table salt can cause cloudiness in your brine

Vinegar

· Use commercial white vinegar with at least five per cent acidity. While cider and malt vinegars can add flavor subtleties, they also darken light-colored vegetables

· You can also use "pickling vinegar" (seven per cent acidity) to make pickles more sour

Water

· Use only soft water (water with low levels of minerals and chlorine). Hard water (water with high mineral levels) can lower brine acidity, possibly affecting food safety

Spices

· Use fresh spices (whole, crushed or ground.) Avoid spices stored in your pantry for more than a year

· Powdered spices can turn pickling liquid dark and cloudy

· Tie whole spices in a spice bag, made from a large square of cheesecloth. Avoid using coloured cloth

· If you want to make your own pickling mix, the possibilities are endless! Just a few options include cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, chili peppers, black peppercorns, yellow mustard seeds, fennel seeds, whole allspice, whole cloves, whole coriander, dill seeds, turmeric, fresh or dried ginger, and garlic

Containers

· Use stainless-steel, glass or ceramic bowls. For pots and pans, use stainless steel, heatproof glass or hard-anodized aluminum

· Avoid containers and utensils made of copper, iron, zinc or brass (these materials may react poorly with acid and salt)

Preserving Whole or Halved Tomatoes
Bernardin Recipes

Use fresh tomatoes that are free of blemishes and cracks. Always keep in mind to keep them as fresh as possible to best quality.
I did the variation without the juice, the rest of the instructions are the same.

(Hot Pack with Tomato Juice)
Tomatoes
Tomato Juice
Lemon juice or citric acid
Salt, optional

• Place the required number of clean 500 ml or 1 L mason jars on a rack in a boiling water canner; cover jars with water and heat to a simmer (180°F/82°C). Set screw bands aside. Heat SNAP LID® sealing discs in hot water, not boiling (180°F/82°C). Keep jars and sealing discs hot until ready to use.

• Wash and blanch tomatoes. Slip off skins; remove cores and any bruised or discoloured portions. Leave whole or halve.

• Place tomatoes in a large stainless steel saucepan. Add enough tomato juice to cover; bring to a boil; boil gently for 5 minutes.

• Add quantity of lemon juice or citric acid specified below to each hot mason jar before packing tomatoes. If using, add salt to jar prior to filling.

Jar size Lemon juice or Citric acid Salt, optional

500 ml 1 tbsp (15 ml) or 1/4 tsp (1 ml) 1/2 tsp (2 ml)

1 L 2 tbsp (30 ml) or 1/2 tsp (2 ml) 1 tsp (5 ml)

1.5 L 3 tbsp (45 ml) or 3/4 tsp (4 ml) 1- 1/4 tsp (7 ml)

• Pack tomatoes into a hot jar to within 3/4 inch (2 cm) of top rim. Add hot juice to cover tomatoes to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of top of jar (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if required, by adding more tomatoes and hot liquid. Wipe jar rim removing any food residue. Centre hot sealing discs on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in canner. Repeat for remaining tomatoes and hot liquid.

• When canner is filled, ensure that all jars are covered by at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water. Cover canner and bring water to full rolling boil before starting to count processing time. At altitudes up to 1000 ft (305 m), process–boil filled jars-

Jar size Processing time*
500 ml 85 minutes
1 L 85 minutes

• When processing time is complete, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars without tilting and place them upright on a protected work surface. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours; DO NOT RETIGHTEN screw bands.

• After cooling check jar seals. Sealed discs curve downward and do not move when pressed. Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place. For best quality, use home canned foods within one year.

Next on the agenda - homemade ketchup! Oh! And Bruschetta in a Jar, that sounds cool..

This is the perfect time of year for great Ontario produce, perfect for preserving!

Cute little Galen Weston, surveying the fields. I have actually run into Galen in the grocery store one town over. Nice to know he is so hands-on. I didn't introduce myself though, as, like any other time I have run into a celebrity, I looked like I just rolled out of bed. Galen isn't even the first famous person that I have run into in a grocery store. Several years ago I ran into Colin Mochrie (Whose Line is it Anyway?) while shopping. (l am pretty sure I startled him, I gave a big hello! as I had known that I knew him but had forgotten where from - I figured he was a neighbour or something until it dawned on me). In summary - Galen seemed really down to earth, and I should really shower and put on make-up before grocery shopping.

How will you preserve your local bounty?