August 21, 2010

Last week was a very exciting time in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s kitchen. Yes, indeed.

Linda Wertheimer from National Public Radio came for a visit.

I still can’t quite believe it.

(And if you wonder why there are no pictures… Ms. Wertheimer made it clear that anyone taking her photo IN SHORTS was destined for the death penalty. I totally get that.)

This is how it happened – out of the blue, I had a call from a producer at NPR wondering if I was interested in doing a segment on canning for Morning Edition. We exchanged a few emails, I provided some recipe ideas, and we settled on four recipes – Crushed Tomatoes, Pickled Green Tomatoes, Peach Salsa and Fig, Honey, Lemon Confitures. (I’ll be posting all the recipes this week.)

setting up for the day

It was a great morning. Linda and I spent about four hours together. She’s as engaging and charming and totally brilliant as you might imagine. Dennis, who was sitting quietly in the other room, said he kept thinking “That’s a familiar voice in the kitchen.” And he wasn’t talking about mine!

Beyond the canning, because I just can’t help myself (doing what Dennis calls a “full-Cathy”) I cooked some scrambled eggs for Linda and her production assistant, Leah, as the perfect foil to taste the salsa.

gorgeous cheeses and some fig confitures

I offered three spectacular cheeses from Stoneyman Gourmet Farmer – a fromage blanc, aged, washed rind goat cheese, and the magnificent Greyson Reserve, an aged cheese that’s just a teeny bit stinky, all ready to be spread on a nice baguette from Marvelous Market. (I actually got up at 5am to make a fresh baguette and managed to burn it when I was in the shower…)

And at the end of our canning, I made petite bahn mi sandwiches, to show how I use pickled jalapenos.

I practiced all weekend to be ready for NPR – lots of tomatoes were canned

It took all of the three and a half hours to cook up the recipes, starting with blanching about 25 lbs of tomatoes. Big beautiful Brandywines were dipped in boiling water, then shocked in a sink of ice water, before slipping off the skins, squeezing all the juice out, and plopping the pulp into a big stockpot.

It was a great morning in the kitchen. The time flew by for me. I was in some sort of panicked, nervous haze and, of course, can barely remember the experience. Dennis reported that I did not say UM or YOU KNOW or otherwise sound like a teenager. At the end of it all, there was a mountain of dishes. It was all just wonderful fun and very, very exciting.

Next week, when the segment airs, we’ll see just how it all worked out. But in the meantime, it’s time to talk about putting up tomatoes – you’ll want that fresh taste of summer to last.

It’s the height of tomato season and every farmer’s market and farm stand is bursting with the beautiful red fruits. I start to get a little canning anxiety at this time of year, wondering how I will find the time to get enough fresh, local tomatoes into jars before the frost.

There is nothing in the canning cupboard more useful than canned tomatoes. I’ve made sauce, salsa and soup, and while all those are great to have, the fact is, with jars of simple crushed tomatoes on the shelf, you can make sauce and salsa and soup during the year. I probably use two jars a week during the winter.

In the last few days, in preparation for NPR, I purchased “seconds”  – boxes of slightly bruised and very ripe – tomatoes from three farmers. One gave me mostly heirloom tomatoes, Cherokee Purple, Mr. Stripey and some Oxheart. One gave me mostly Oxheart and Brandywine. And the third gave me all Brandywine. I’ve decided I like canning Brandywine tomatoes best. That is, until the Romas, San Marzanos and other plum tomatoes show up.

Here’s the low down on crushed tomatoes. Think about whether you will use pints (16oz) or quarts (32oz). Do you currently buy cans of tomatoes for certain recipes? Always have some of the can leftover? You might be happier with pints. Use three or four cans at a time for your Nonna’s Gravy? Put up quarts, for sure. Determine whether you have a stockpot large enough to accomodate a rack, the jars and 2″ of water over the top of the jars. My 12 qt stockpot will hold pints, and is just barely large enough for quarts.

If you can get some friends to help you, there is no reason you can’t process 100# of tomatoes, or more, in a day. Make it fun. Chill some wine. Put on good music. And dive right in.

practice jars (and some tuna I canned, too)

Crushed Tomatoes in a Jar

Quart or Pint Jars with lids and rings – sterilize these in the dishwasher and leave them in there to stay warm

Ripe tomatoes
Bottled Lemon Juice (Do not substitute fresh squeezed lemon juice. Use the best quality bottled lemon juice you can find – I use ReaLemon – this is what standardizes the acidity in each jar. Regardless of the type tomato you are using and will keep the tomatoes safe)
Kosher or canning salt

Dip the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then plunge into a large bowl filled with ice water. I use my sink or a cooler.

Once all the tomatoes have been blanched, begin peeling and crushing them with your hands. Cut out the core and any soft spots, then cut an X in the base of the tomato and slip off the peel.

Squeeze the tomato in your hands, releasing the juice and most of the seeds, then either chop further or just place the crushed pulp in a deep, non-reactive stockpot. Continue to peel and crush until all the tomatoes are in the stockpot.

Bring the tomatoes to a hard boil and boil well for 5 minutes.

Put 2 T lemon juice and 1 t salt in each quart jar. (For pints, use 1 T lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.)

Fill the jar with hot tomatoes, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Wipe the rims, place the lid and ring, and finger tighten.

Process in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes (quarts) or 40 minutes (pints.)

Turn off the stove, remove the lid, and allow the jars to rest in the hot water for five minutes, then remove them to a towel on the counter. Leave them, undisturbed, for 24 hours.

After a day, test the seals, wipe the jars clean, and store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

If you’re wondering what to do with those crushed tomatoes, here’s one of our favorite vegetarian casseroles. It’s a riff on a classic Mexican dish using leftover corn tortillas. Freezes like a dream. In fact, I made two, and one has come to the beach with us, ready to be popped into the oven for a happy do-nothing dinner.

Mexican Style Vegetarian Casserole
Serves 6

1 T olive oil
1 large bunch kale, leaves stripped from the stem and chopped
1 extra firm tofu block, drained
12 corn tortillas, dried at room temperature for about half an hour
1-1/2 c grated Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese
6 oz queso fresco, crumbled
1 quart crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves
1-2 jalapenos, seeded
3 T olive oil

In a skillet, heat about 1/4″ of oil, and quickly fry the tortillas one at a time, turning them once, until they are soft – just 20 seconds or so. Transfer the cooked tortillas to paper towels to drain.

In a blender, puree the tomatoes, onion, garlic cloves and jalapenos.

Mexican tomato sauce ingredients

In the same skillet, with the remaining oil, add the pureed tomato sauce and cook for 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Set aside.

In the skillet, wilt the kale in a little olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Set aside.

Cut the tofu into cubes. Set aside.

Now, in a 12 x 9 baking dish, compose your casserole – a little sauce on the bottom, a layer of tortillas (about four,) tofu, kale, one-third of the cheeses, some sauce, another layer of tortillas, and so on. Finish with cheese.

Bake at 350° for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 5 minutes, until everything is bubbly.

40 Responses to “Voices in the Kitchen, Tomatoes in a Jar and My Mexican Style Vegetarian Casserole”

  1. Sunday Cook

    Yay! Can't wait to hear the segment later this summer. I also want you to know that you've gotten my canning juices flowing again. I've never packed "plain" tomatoes before, but I'll be jumping in on them soon. In the meantime I've been canning up syrups, jams, and chutneys like a 1920's farm wife. 🙂

    Thanks my dear.

  2. Erin

    I work at NPR and am thrilled that Linda found you – a real expert here in DC – to showcase on air.

    Love your ideas and your writing – hope I can take a class with you someday!

  3. Liz the Chef

    Great post reflecting on a wonderful job in your kitchen with NPR. Please tweet as to when we can listen to you!

  4. wendy

    Oh my! How very exciting and well deserved! Please advise when this will air. I'm inspired to find time to can these crushed tomatoes.

  5. THE Tough Cookie

    CANNOT WAIT TO HEAR THIS!!!!! Mrs. Wheelbarrow is a Canning Rock Star!!!!!

  6. Kelsey B.

    I am SOO excited for you!!! I can't wait to hear everything. You are a canning inspiration!

  7. MrsWheelbarrow

    Mary – I would love to hear about your syrups – what do you do with them? Like maple syrup – for pancakes and such? Or are they destined for cocktails?

    Erin – Thank you so much! Please come take a class. We have a lot of fun, and eat well, and learn!

    Liz, you know I'll tweet as soon as I hear when the segment will air. From what I was told yesterday, it's expected to run sometime in the next week.

    Wendy – Did you wonder what I was doing sitting on a cooler in the rain tasting cheese last Sunday? Now you know. 🙂

    Thanks, Kelsey. I'm so gob-smacked I can hardly believe this all happened. And I'm sure when I hear myself on the radio, I'll faint. Hope you are enjoying your time on the Vineyard. (We're at the beach in Delaware this week with my Edgartown friend.)

  8. MrsWheelbarrow

    Gail – thank you! I've never thought of myself as a rock star, but I know I'm really happy to be canning!

  9. Lynda

    Congratulations, Cathy – that is so exciting! I can't wait to hear the segment. Please keep us posted on the details!

  10. Sean

    Wonderful! We can tomatoes every year — we'll be doing 200 or 250 lbs. this time around. Would you pretty please post this on Punk Domestics?

  11. sarah

    I love the excitement in your post! And the beautiful photos and recipes. You convey so wonderfully the temperament of canning, the deliberate but exciting quality, and the beauty and the connection. It is sensible and it arcs back to women long ago trying to provide through the seasons. there is a hectic intensity to it, and yet a slow steadiness.

    It feels very special to be following the blog of such a delightful expert! Thanks to Bindu for that!

  12. Winnie

    Great write up on your fantastic morning! I can't wait to hear you on the radio 😉

  13. Ken

    Most informative. I love the recipe suggestions. Congratulation for being showcased on NPR. I an't wait to hear the segment.

  14. The Yummy Mummy

    First, congrats. This is awesome and well-deserved. You are amazing in the kitchen.

    Second, I don't want to be a canning freak or join canvolution. I just don't have time to make it my focus, I'm never gonna be obsessed with it, but I would like to can tomatoes and maybe pickle a couple things. Here's my problem: I don't trust myself and I'm pretty convinced I'll poison people. I mean, if I do it wrong, I kill the children in December when we pop open a can for sauce.

    I've seen canning people mock this kind of attitude on twitter but the truth is, it stops me from even trying it. I'm really scared of screwing it up and buying a can of San Marzano's from the supermarket just seems a whole lot easier.

    So, any words of advice? Any way to know I'm creating dangerous bacteria that will kill small children? Tell me. Give me "The Full Cathy". "(I really do love Dennis)

    xo Kim

  15. MrsWheelbarrow


    I certainly understand your concerns about bacteria and botulism with regard to canning. I think every canner worries about this. Good kitchen practices are, of course, where you start. Clean instruments, clean counters, clean pots and pans, sterile jars. Love my dishwasher for that part of the equation.

    Also important – the food you put in jars should be without black spots and mushy parts – that's where bacteria lurks. So, be aware when cutting and chopping!

    But the biggest issue with tomatoes, particularly, is the variation in acidity with different types. As I said in the post, the bottled lemon juice helps a great deal with this.

    Personally, I prefer to use a pressure canner for tomatoes. It was a small investment for the reassurance it provides. Pressure canning will take jarred tomatoes to a temp of 241°, whereas boiling water baths take the tomatoes only to 212°. Botulism spores are killed at 241°.

    I don't know if I've reassured you, or terrified you, Kim, but there's no reason you can't pickle. Botulism can't grow in a brine. (see next post on Tomolives for a quick veggie pickle that will make you happy and requires NO canning.)


  16. Helen

    Cathy, I've heard (perhaps I read it in the Ball Blue Book, some time ago, but I'm not entirely sure)that the reason you put the lids in boiling hot, but not boiling water, just before using them is to soften the gasket, to ensure a tight seal. Do you think that putting the lids in the dishwasher warms them up enough? So exciting about the NPR visit and Wertheimer piece . . . cannot wait to hear it on the radio! ;o)

  17. MrsWheelbarrow

    I'm sorry if my statement was misleading, and thanks for bringing it up. I soften the lids w/the rubber gaskets in boiling hot, not boiling, water for a couple of minutes before placing them on the jars. I only sterilize the jars and rings in the dishwasher.
    I'll post as soon as I know when the piece will run on NPR. I've been told it will be this week.

  18. Obsessed with knitting

    Kale? Tofu? Home-grown tomatoes? YUM! Thanks for posting your recipe!

  19. Anonymous

    Heard you on NPR this morning! You sounded great and holy moly, am I excited to venture into the world of canning!!

  20. maritza.valenz

    Just heard your story on NPR and was so excited that they covered canning! I was introduced last year by a friend and am thrilled to have discovered a way to enjoy farmers market tomatoes all year long. I'm glad to now know about your blog and classes and look forward to reading more. Great story, btw! I'm going to share with others so they can get a good snapshot of what canning is like!

  21. Carol M - Ann Arbor foodie

    Just heard your segment on NPR this morning, and it drew me to your blog. Reading it made me want to go to the kitchen immediately to can some tomatoes! I've been canning for years, but have lapsed in the last few. Back to it this year for sure! I made pickled green cherry tomatoes last year thinking they'd be good for martinis, but the recipe included processing and they turned out quite limp! I think I'll try again this year with your recipe for refrigerator ones. And that peach salsa recipe looks AWESOME! Can't wait to try it. Thanks!

  22. Kenneth

    In the NPR story, Linda says you squeeze the tomatoes loosing the seeds and the juice into the sink and saving the pulp. Can you elaborate on that a bit? Just squeezing the tomatoes over the sink seem like one might loose more than the seeds and juice.

  23. Anonymous

    So I know how many quart jars to purchase, how much does 25 pounds of tomatoes make?
    Thank you

  24. Kamie

    I have been wanting to try canning this year but have been a little scared. This morning I turned on NPR and there you were and even with a blog to help me better understand how to do this! It was a great segment and I look forward to reading over all your fabulous information.

  25. MrsWheelbarrow

    Carol, If I've helped get your canning-mojo going, that's great! Hope you'll try the refrigerator tomolives. I think processing makes them mushy and much prefer the crisp taste of these.

  26. MrsWheelbarrow

    25 lbs of tomatoes have made 7 quarts of crushed tomatoes, which is what fits in my canner. I'm usually left with 15 tomatoes or so, and I'll do something with those – oven roast, soup, or a bunch of tomato sandwiches. Mmmm.

  27. MrsWheelbarrow

    Kamie, Let me know how your canning adventure goes. Jump right in, you'll be glad you did.

  28. MrsWheelbarrow

    Kenneth, I've been quite happy just squeezing the tomatoes over the sink, but today several commenters have pointed me in a new direction. One said to capture the juice and seeds in a cheesecloth lined colander and the resulting water would taste like essence of tomato. I remember doing this once to make a tomato water martini – it was delicious. So, I'm going to mend my ways and capture the seeds and juice. HOWEVER, I will still squeeze the tomato until reduced to mostly meaty pulp, which is what I want to can.

  29. Anonymous

    I LOVED hearing your segment on NPR. It was so inspiring and enticing that I just tried my hand at canning this afternoon! It was a fun day (and my home smells fantastic) but I have a question…I followed your wonderful instructions to the letter until I discovered that my largest pot failed to hold enough water for the 45" boiling water bath! Instead, I laid my two quart mason jars on their sides (vs. upright) to ensure the jars were completely submerged. Was this a problem? After I fished the jars out of their bath and set them on the counter, I noticed the canned, crushed tomatoes seemed to have separated from the liquid-there is about an inch and a half of liquid on the bottom of the jar while the tomato flesh has rested towards the top. After 24 hours can I give the jars a good shake?

    Love your blog, and thanks so much.

    -Christine W.

  30. Peter Root

    Mrs Wheelbarrow, Help. made the crushed tomatoes yesterday, but forgot the lemon and salt as I filled the jars. Should I open them, add salt and lemon, then re-process, and if so, for the entire 45 mins, or some shorter period. I loved the show- thanks very much for your help! Peter

  31. MrsWheelbarrow

    Hi Peter- you must acidify to be safe, so please reprocess by bringing the tomatoes back up to a boil thenpacking in jars (with new lids!) for the full 40 minutes. Glad you gave it a try!

  32. Laura

    Finally got around to checking out your blog! LOVED the NPR segment on canning. Truly inspired me as I have been THINKING of canning for quite awhile….reading up on it, mentally preparing and such. I may just be moved now to do it! My problem is when I start something new, it becomes a passion. So I'm scared…:)

  33. MrsWheelbarrow

    So nice to see how many of you have started canning! Quick answers – your jars should stay upright when you are processing them. Use pints if you don't have a pot large enough for quarts.
    Some crushed tomatoes have more water in them than others, and then you get that separation. It's also a function of how hard you squeezed out the liquid. It takes a few attempts to get it down, but in the meantime, there's nothing wrong with the separated tomatoes/juice. You can always drain them a bit once you open the jars.
    And yes, if they are sealed, after 24 hours, you can shake them up. Sometimes I find that separated tomatoes/juice settle after a couple of days.

  34. Anonymous

    Hello "Mrs. Wheelbarrow",

    My name is Anne-Marie, I live outside of Cleveland and my family belongs to an CSA, plus we grow our own veggies and herbs. You were WONDERFUL on NPR the other day, thank you for doing this segment. You came across as very knowledgeable, interesting, fun and made me want to can!!
    I have forwarded your blog site to all my like-minded friends….Keep blogging and teaching the rest of us.
    Do you have a favorite recipe for canning pears?
    My friend has a bout 5 bushels bought from a local farmer and she's not sure what she can make with them. Any suggestions are welcome!
    Take care and many blessings

  35. MrsWheelbarrow

    The pear post is coming! I make pears in syrup (star anise is nice) and a pear/frangipane jam that's delicious.

  36. Ms. Marsha

    Ok, so I screwed up and didn't separate the juice from the pulp of the tomatoes + I used fresh lemon juice instead of bottled. Out of the canning process, my jars are 3/4 tomato and the rest is liquid.

    Since I did not use bottled lemon juice, and have more liquid in the jars than I'd like to store, should I reprocess (with new lids of course), pouring off the liquid and add the bottled lemon juice to ensure safety?

    Thanks for the extra inspiration. I need to invest in a pressure cooker next.

  37. MrsWheelbarrow

    Marsha, Yes, you should reprocess. But don't pour off the juice – instead just crush your tomatoes in the pot a little more (try a potato masher!) Sometimes, after a day or two, the tomatoes settle and the separation isn't as obvious. It helps to really squeeze the heck out of the tomato before putting it in the pot. It's very important to use bottled lemon juice – this is the only way to make sure you are sufficiently acidifying the tomatoes, without which you risk the food going bad.

  38. Matthew Woodcock

    First of all I heard you on NPR and you were great! Maybe you can become a regular!!! Next, I tried your crushed tomato canning recipe and really enjoyed it and hope that it turns out as well as it looks. I have some more tomatoes in the garden and will either do another batch of the crushed tomatoes or just do a basic tomato sauce.

    Thanks again!

    –Matt in Missoula, MT



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