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Can tomatoes for summer's bounty all winter

Home-canned tomatoes are placed in a row for

Home-canned tomatoes are placed in a row for a studio shoot. (August 2010) Photo Credit: TMS/

If the weather is already hot and humid, it will become more so when you start boiling jars and reducing puree. Keep the idly curious out of the kitchen, have plenty of cool drinks handy and follow the process from start to finish without interruption. The reward is the very best preserved produce you can imagine. Nothing in a can will even approach it for flavor and freshness.

WHOLE TOMATOES PUT UP IN JARS

Doing the tomatoes like this makes the canning process easier. You can pass them through the food mill to eliminate any remaining seeds when you use them.

6 (1-quart) Mason jars

12 pounds whole, ripe plum tomatoes

2 tablespoons salt, divided

12 sprigs basil

1. Wash Mason jars in hot, soapy water. Rinse them in hot water and invert them on a clean towel to drain. Rinse the lids and rings (the outer part of the cover that screws onto the jar and keeps the lid in place) in very hot water and drain on a towel.

2. Rinse and pick over tomatoes; remove any blemished ones to use for puree or another recipe. Remove stem ends of tomatoes with the point of a small stainless-steel knife. Bring a large pan of water to a boil and immerse the tomatoes, a few at a time, in the hot water for about 30 seconds. Remove with a skimmer and cool briefly in a single layer. When cool enough to handle, slip off skins and set peeled tomatoes aside in a bowl. Then, make a 1-inch slit in the side of each and gently squeeze tomato to force out seeds.

3. When all the tomatoes are peeled, stemmed and seeded, begin to arrange them in the jars: Bring a pan of clean water to a boil and immerse each jar in it for a minute or so to sterilize it. Remove from boiling water with tongs and fill to 1/3 with the whole tomatoes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a sprig of basil. Fill to 2/3 level and add another sprig of basil. Use a rubber spatula to press tomatoes and compress them slightly. Fill jar to within 1/2-inch of top and add another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Use the spatula to make sure tomatoes are tightly packed and that there are no large air pockets in the jar. Wipe the top rim of the jar with a clean, damp cloth and cover with a clean, new lid. Screw ring onto jar and repeat with the remaining tomatoes and jars.

4. After all the jars have been filled, they must be processed in a boiling water bath: Place a rack in the bottom of a large pot and add the jars. Make sure the jars are not too close together; it may be necessary to process the jars in two batches. Fill the pot with boiling water to cover jars and place cover on pot. Bring to a boil and regulate heat so that the water boils fairly fast for 30 minutes, adding more boiling water as necessary to keep the jars submerged.

5. Remove cover and allow jars to cool in water to lukewarm. Remove jars from water and cool them, well apart. You will hear an occasional "pop" as the jar lids become concave and seal. Check jars to make sure they have all sealed (the lids are concave when they are sealed). Label, date and store in a cool, dry place. Makes 5 or 6 quarts.

TOMATO PUREE PUT UP IN JARS

Though the process is a bit longer than with whole tomatoes, your preserve will be more concentrated and require less cooking to turn it into an excellent sauce later on.

10 pounds whole, ripe plum tomatoes

6 (1-quart) Mason jars

2 tablespoons salt, divided

1. Rinse tomatoes and go over them, cutting away any blemishes with a stainless-steel paring knife. Remove stem ends and halve tomatoes.

2. Film the bottom of a large, nonreactive pan with 1/4 inch of water and add tomatoes. Cook over low heat until tomatoes are swimming in water. Stir occasionally and allow to reduce somewhat, so that they are less watery, about 30 minutes.

3. While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the jars: Wash Mason jars in hot, soapy water. Rinse them in hot water and invert them on a clean towel to drain. Rinse the lids and rings (the outer part of the cover that screws onto the jar and keeps the lid in place) in very hot water and drain on a towel.

4. Once the tomatoes are sufficiently reduced, remove from heat and pass through a food mill to remove skins and seeds.

5. Return puree to pan and return puree to a boil. Reduce further over low heat if you wish, stirring often to make sure tomatoes don't scorch.

6. To fill the jars, bring a pan of water to a boil and immerse a jar in it. Remove jar with tongs and fill with boiling tomato puree to within 1/2 inch of the top. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Wipe rim of jar with a clean, damp cloth. Using tongs, immerse lid in boiling water and place lid on. Screw on ring and set jar aside to cool.

7. Repeat with remaining puree and jars. You will hear an occasional "pop" as the jar lids become concave and seal. Check jars to make sure they have all sealed. Label, date and store in a cool, dry place. Makes 5 or 6 quarts.

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