As the heat and humidity of summer settle over the landscape, the vivid red of sun-ripened tomatoes begins to peek out from among the green tangle of vines. And, in my opinion, the greatest season of the year is upon us. Tomatoes ripened by the summer sun are a gift, and one must do everything required to enjoy this short but prolific seasonal delicacy. In addition to enjoying fresh tomatoes in sandwiches, salads, and the all-American BLT, you can also capture this seasonal flavor through canning. It’s a way to preserve a small but glorious bit of summer’s essence after the season passes.
My tomato preservation and canning adventures from past years have included spaghetti sauce, whole peeled, and juice. This year, I was inspired to try a recipe that I found in Honey from A Weed, the culinary cult classic penned by Patience Gray during the middle years of the twentieth century. Ms. Gray, an Englishwoman, spent her life defining not only the path of women within the workforce and single motherhood, but also identifying and establishing many of today’s culinary trends, like seasonal cooking, fresh whole foods, and elements of the farm-to-table and slow food movements. This book recounts her life living and cooking in the Mediterranean, specifically Greece and the southern part of Italy. Patience not only weaves a wonderful story of her life and culinary experiences but also documents many simple and ancient recipes and techniques that support a close-to-the-earth lifestyle.
Home-made bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil, shared – with a flask of wine – between working people, can be more convivial than any feast.
This old-world approach toward tomato preservation intrigued me, and I was not disappointed by the simple technique and the unbelievable results that it produced. Once again, quality ingredients combined with a simple approach and light hand within the context of the process results in a product that satisfies and contributes to the joy of living a good life.
I have outlined below my slight adaptation of the original recipe as recorded by Patience but believe the results will not disappoint.
Take ½ bushel of very ripe plum tomatoes. Wash them thoroughly in cool water, and place whole in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook until the tomatoes are soft; then cool.
When cool, process the cooked tomatoes to remove the seeds and skins; this will produce a rather thin, pulpy tomato puree. I use a commercially available tomato processing device, but a food mill or chinois could work just as well.
Clean and sterilize glass canning jars, and place into each a slice of onion and a sprig of garden-fresh basil. Bring the processed tomato puree to a boil, and ladle into your prepared canning jars, leaving appropriate headspace. Wipe clean the rim to assure a good seal.
Process the filled and capped jars to the specification required of your canning approach—either water bath or pressure canner. Many online and print resources are available to aid you with processing times for both methods.
This ½ bushel of plum tomatoes produces approximately 6 quarts of a very fine quality tomato product that will become a pantry staple and the basis for many a delightful sauce, soup, or casserole.
When the warm, sunny days of summer fade into the cool days of fall and dismal days of winter, you can open your pantry door for a little reminder of the summer past, its goodness, and the promise of spring to come.