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Turn tomatoes into a yearlong bounty

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

I grew up with a privileged childhood. Until I left home, I had never eaten a tomato that wasn’t homegrown. I had also never eaten a commercially canned tomato product.

When I got my first apartment and attempted to make a marinara sauce, the results were disappointing. It bore little resemblance to the sauce my mother made from the garden tomatoes.

Every summer my mother cooked large pots of peeled and seeded tomatoes from our garden. She then ladled them into hot jars and sealed them with hot lids. When I began my own canning ventures, I followed in her footsteps. Who argues with success?

Tomatoes from the garden are a great option for canning, but tomatoes from area produce stands and farmers markets are an option for bulk-buying when the garden doesn’t produce.

All was well, until I mentioned my canning technique to someone who worked at the Penn State Extension Service. She admonished me in a voice so loud that several people nearby began to stare in our direction. She explained that modern tomatoes are less acidic than those of times past, and old canning methods were no longer safe.

Although no one in our family had ever gotten sick from my mother’s canned tomatoes, I have abandoned the notorious open kettle method and now put my jars in a boiling water bath for the required number of minutes. The voice of science had spoken, and I listened.

Materials: If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, a great place to buy them is at Lutz Produce in the Red Lion area. Located at 294 Springvale Road, they sell 25 pounds of regular tomatoes for $8 and Roma tomatoes for $13.

If you have a box of old Ball jars in your basement, they are fine to use as long as you buy new lids. Check the rims for any nicks, as they will prevent the jars from sealing. Avoid mayonnaise or other types of single-use food jars; they are not meant to stand up to the heat of water bath canning.

If you want to try your hand at canning a few jars and don’t have a canner, a stock pot will work. Just line the bottom with a folded dish towel to prevent the jars from rattling. Make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water.

Canning is not rocket science. People have been doing it for more than 150 years. For step-by-step instructions, consult these Extension Service pages: 

Let’s Preserve: Basics of Home Canning

Let’s Preserve: Tomatoes

Happy canning!

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.