Tomato Week

It's that time of the year again, when we kind of disappear from the world and descend into a life that revolves entirely around tomatoes.

Labouring over tomatoes

On Saturday we headed up to Eatwell Farm in Dixon, where there is an annual event around tomato sauce. There are actually a few, but this turned out to be the weekend we could all fit in. Eatwell is our CSA, and this is one of the many events they have for subscribers to come out to the farm and have some community with their food. This is the time when we make all the tomato sauce we will use over the next year. Some of us also made crushed canned tomatoes, but Noel and I still have a lot of those from last year so we skipped it this year.

Washing and sorting tomatoes

The process starts with washing and sorting. I wash tomatoes because I am bad with knives and will just cut myself, so I work with my strengths. The tomatoes need to be washed and sorted out as worth canning right away or just for chopping up to make sauce. Sauce is a lot more forgiving than canning, so by having the two streams of tomatoes we can use all of them from the flats we pick up.

Canning tomatoes is a process

The canning was a bit more involved a process, so we had more people over there. The tomatoes went to be scored, then Noel ducked them in boiling water to loosen the skins, then into ice water to shock them. Then they got skinned, cut up, and stuffed into jars with The Persuader, aka a narrow chinois pestle.

Line setup this year

This is how we set up the line this year. There's an extra person in there because people moved from line to line through the day. During lulls the canners helped out with chopping, but for chopping only a few of us filled five large 5-gallon food-safe containers to turn into sauce over the next week. The jar stuffers filled seven flats of a dozen quart jars each.

We had a little adventure on the way home that involved an auto supply parts store and duct tape in the best of ways.

Then it was time to make the sauce.

Milling tomatoes

We take the chopped tomatoes and cook them until they are soft on the stove, then put them through the food mill twice. Once with the largest mesh to get the skins, then on the smallest mesh to get the seeds. That gives us a nice fine tomato sauce that is just a little too watery.

Then in a few pots, we make small batches of sauce. The recipe we use is Marcella Hazan's Butter Onion tomato sauce and it is spectacular. You won't go wrong with Marcella but we've given up making her Garlic Basil sauce because while it is good it's no Butter Onion.

This year we bought a large pressure canner, so we've been using that to can the jars of sauce. It can fit 14 jars at once and takes a lot less time, which is perfect for this week. Still, I'm REALLY looking forward to having our big new stove next year to make all of this better and easier. And the vent hood above it that doesn't just recirculate moist air.

Every year after tomato week we sit down and make a plan for the next year. We have some ideas for next year to try to make it a little more efficient and to make our storage equipment go a little further so we get more sauce out of the event. We've been getting better every year, and its starting to show. Between eight people we processed somewhere around 420 lbs of tomatoes this weekend, which is not nothing. I love knowing where our food comes from and getting it all made all at once, so if we want pasta for dinner it's just a matter of cooking the noodles and opening a jar of sauce. I won't have to think about making sauce again until next June when it's time to sign up for tomato day again.

posted by ayse on 08/26/15