Tag Archives: seasonal

Savour food – Canning Tomatoes with my Italian connection

Everyone should have a friend like my friend Marianne. I ran into her at the coffee shop and told her I was going home to “do my tomatoes”. She asked if “the job” could wait a day because she’d be able to help if it could. You already know the answer to that question. I won’t trifle with your intelligence.  When someone offers to help you with canning there is only one answer.

The next morning saw sun beams bathing my kitchen and friendship warming my heart as Marianne arrived and we began.  She told me straight away she was impressed with the quality of my 25lb box of Roma Tomatoes.  I got them from my friend, Scott Epple of www.gullvalley.ca at www.calgaryfarmersmarket.ca They are picked, put in a crate and not touched again until the consumer touches them at the market. I like a non-molested tomato.  They are also grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides.  It’s nice to start with that kind of quality and because they were completely vine-ripened they even smelled like a tomato should if it could.

























The first thing we did was wash all the tomatoes and then we cut the tops off and slit an X in their bottoms.

The beautiful Marianne cheerfully at work

















We then blanched the tomatoes by transferring them in bunches to a pot of boiling water for about 1 – 2 minutes. When the skins looked loose we lifted them with a slotted spoon into a transfer bowl and then plunged the works into another bowl of iced water.  We removed all the skins with ease after the ice bath and put the skinned tomatoes into another big bowl.  We were now ready to fill sterilized jars with tomatoes.










Hint: one of Marianne’s family secrets is to add a freshly washed piece of basil to each jar for extra flavour and visual appeal.





























As we filled the jars, we occasionally plunged a metal knife into the tomatoes to remove air pockets and squish as many tomatoes into the jar as possible.  Once we had all the jars stuffed, it was time to wipe the the lip of the jars and add the sealer lids and screw the rings on.  We then lowered the jars into the canning bath. It held the dozen jars my 25lbs ended up producing.


I don’t remember ever being this relaxed while canning

We let the water come back to a boil and then set the timer for 20 minutes.

While the tomatoes boiled away we sat and had a few slices of some late summer blueberry pie recipes I’d been working on with a satisfying cuppa tea.  Marianne asked how I felt about the work we had done together in a little over an hour.  I said it was completely uplifting.  She said, her only suggestion to me would be that if I was going to bring in the Italian muscle for a job, I should consider greatly increasing the number of tomatoes we would work on.  She told me that she was used to doing 200 – 1000 lbs when her family got together to do theirs.  I should maybe aim for 100 lbs next year and she’d still be happy to come and help me.  Now that is a dear friend.

key lime blueberry pie and sour cream blueberry tart











When the timer went, we turned off the stove and lifted the jars onto the counter covered in two thick towels.  We turned the jars upside down and wrapped them snuggly in the towels.


















Marianne told me that her Mom and Aunt taught her to do this because they believe that by cooling the jars more slowly, the tomatoes have a greater chance of sealing properly.  I don’t know if that’s true or not but the next morning I awoke to a dozen perfectly sealed jars.










What did I learn?

1.Clean everything all at once, cut everything all at once, blanch everything all at once, stuff all the jars all at once and put them all in the processor at once.  Other years I was blanching before I was done with cutting and then I was starting to stuff jars before I was done all the blanching.  Everything felt so much more organized with Marianne’s step-by-full step approach.

2. Put your jars upside down and wrap them in towels so they cool slowly.

3. Marianne’s family never adds ascorbic acid.  She says the tomatoes are acidic enough.  I found the tomatoes kept their brilliant colour this way where they had faded with the ascorbic acid I had used in other years.

4. Adding a piece of fresh basil is beautiful and flavourful.

5. I can’t go back!!! I hope my bella Italiana friend knows she has signed an implied bloody tomato oath to help me each year.

Even though she comes from a long line of incredible Italian cooks (both her Mom, Teresa’s, and her Auntie Cathy’s recipes form the backbone of recipes used in several of Calgary’s best Italian restaurants) I will love to think of a way to repay my generous friend.  She loves my Indian cooking so maybe next year we’ll add a few Indian chutneys to our canning day.

Going forward I’d like to think that friends that can together stay together and in this case tomatoes on the vine are the ties that have bound us as friends for life.


Filed under Heritage cooking skills, Recipes

Savour food – Don’t be Jell-ous – Anyone can make Crab Apple Jelly – you just need a little mentoring

Crab apple jelly is so pretty.  It makes a perfect hostess gift or stocking stuffer.  People are always so touched by the care it takes to make something from scratch and with love, especially if it also happens to taste really good. I’m always surprised by the reaction the gift of one of these little jars of clear red jelly elicits.  Friends “oh and ah” and act like they’ve just been given a rare red ruby gem.  They groan and say they wish they knew how to make it but they’re just to scared to try.  Scared to try?  I inwardly scratch my head and think about this for awhile.  I realize several things.

I grew up in a home where jam and pickle making were the norm and so smells of vinegar and bags of dripping juices do not intimidate me.  I’m at home in a steamy kitchen with counters stacked with jars and bundles of fruits or vegetables.  I am reasonably confident that my efforts will turn out and I’ll be rewarded with those glorious little jars to savour and share.  I’ve come to realize through past efforts to organize canning bees for my local chapter of Slow Food International that this is not the case for all.

These canning and preserving the season skills that I take for granted have become known as “heritage skills”.  They are rare.  Without realizing it, I was mentored by my mother, father, grandmother and great-grandmother (she lived until I was 14).  Most people today, are on the third generation of households where cooking consists of re-heating a prepared meal, microwaving something frozen, or taking something out of a package, plastic bag or can.  Home makers were told after WWII that cooking was a chore and food needed to be convenient and cheap.  In a perfect storm, the women’s rights movement reinforced this by propagating the belief that the practical art and science of homemaking was a ball and chain (I believe they should have stuck with philosophical and political ideals that were suffocating women’s abilities and rights and not taken aim at such essential life skills).  So here we are in the new millenium with a few generations of people that like to watch people cook on TV but don’t know how to do so themselves.  I think we were sold a bill of goods and it was not a fair trade.  We lost a vital life skill.

Here’s the thing.  It’s never too late and we need not be so all or nothing in our approach.  We can have it all.  Rights for all and life skills for all.  Being able to cook for oneself from scratch with whole food is a vital part of nutrition and health.  People who cook their own food eat better and weigh less.  They save money.  Cooking is also a great creative outlet and promotes optimal brain function because of all the executive skills it requires – planning, timing, manual dexterity, taste, tactile, olfactory, visual stimulation and use of memory.  It is also a major social connector and social connection not only increases our longevity but also the success and happiness of families.

So, yes, I’m presenting you with a simple recipe for Crab Apple Jelly but I’m also encouraging you to reclaim our heritage.  Learn how to cook again.  Find a mentor.  We are out there and happy to share.  Our recipes and techniques are our gems and we’ll gladly give you our riches.  The true value of cooking skills as life skill is being recognized again and though these skills are scarce, there is no need to be jell-ous.  By sharing them we increase the amount of culinary and life treasure to be had by all.

Crab Apple Jelly

  1. Gather 4 lbs of crabapples from your tree or a neighbour’s – let’s face it, it would be hard to use all the crab apples on any tree and they’d love to give you theirs for some jelly in return.
  2. Wash the apples and remove the stem and blossom ends.
  3. Cut the apples in half (do not core) and place them in a large stockpot and cover with cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently and then reduce the heat and boil gently stirring and crushing the apples until soft – about a half hour.
  5. Transfer the apple mixture to a large sieve lined with cheesecloth set over a large bowl and let the juice drip (without aiding or abetting it) at least 2 hours or overnight.
  6. You’ll need 4 cups of juice (if you don’t have enough you can top it up some regular apple juice).
  7. Prepare your canner, lids & jars. I put my jars in the dishwasher and run them through. When they are done, I put them on a cookie sheet in a 150 degree oven to keep them warm.  I put my lids and rings in a pot of freshly boiled water and lift them out with a magnet lifter (available anywhere canning supplies are).  I inherited a large canning bath from a friend who was downsizing – they aren’t expensive if you need to buy one.  I fill it about two-thirds as the jars will displace volume as you set them in.
  8. Combine the 4 cups of crabapple juice with 4 cups of sugar (this much is needed for the fruit to gel properly) and 1 tbsp of lemon juice (I use bottled Santa Cruz organic lemon juice because it has a set pH– avoid using fresh lemons because you won’t know what the pH is & your batch may not turn out if it is too low or too high) in a deep stockpot.
  9. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve all the sugar.
  10. Boil hard, stirring frequently until the jelly starts to “sheet” (a cold metal spoon is used to pick up some jelly and then turned sideways – if the jelly falls off in drops, it’s not done – if it falls off in a single sheet it is done) This should take about 25 minutes.
  11. Remove from heat and skim off the pink foam that has accumulated.
  12. Pour the hot jelly into the waiting jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. I use a glass 1 cup measuring cup with handle to do this. Wipe the rims. Apply lids and screw bands on until they are fingertip tight.
  13. Place the jars in the canning water bath all at once, ensuring they are completely covered, bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove jars to a counter lined with tea towels.  Wrap the jars in the tea towels and they’ll cool more slowly and have more chance of sealing properly.  Cool completely, admire appropriately and store.

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Filed under Heritage cooking skills, Recipes