My family cans tomatoes every year in September. We would never eat store bought tomato sauce--it was sacrilegious and this was our ritual! Thinking back now, it was mainly a woman's ritual. My grandmother, aunts, sisters and Italian neighbors all gathered to make this red gold. There was an order, but a simplicity to it as with all the old ways. With the artisanal method, we also learned about life, food, gossip and the constant debate on who made the best tomato sauce! Funny enough, I would hear my great aunt ask my mother if any of us girls were currently menstruating, because if we were, we should not participate in the canning because the tomatoes would go bad. As teens, we would love the opportunity to take this superstition to use for our benefit but later and now it still seems quite offensive to my feminist ways--yet so captivating that it made sense to my grandmother's generation.
The health benefits are well worth the effort. The tomato is a fruit form the nightshade family, which originated in South America, was brought into Europe and onto pizza in the late 16th century and took off because it was easily grown in the Mediterranean soil. The tomatoes grown along the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna in Sicily are further bolstered by the nutrients in the volcanic soil-- like the San Marzano Tomato. They contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A and are full of the carotene antioxidant lycopene, which is activated in cooked tomatoes and lends a sort of alchemy to tomato sauce. In fact, the olive oil added to tomato sauce actually increases our absorption of the lycopene. Pure magic!
There are two schools of thought about canning tomatoes: those from Naples (where I am from) and Sicily. In the Neapolitan way we put raw tomato chunks in jars, then boil the jars. My Sicilian neighbors (and other parts of southern Italy) would cook the tomatoes first then can them. Of course, we were always right and to this day we do it our way! I feel like the other way the tomato sauce has an "overcooked" taste to them.
Canning Tomatoes (Our process):
We bought cases of plum tomatoes from local farmers and some from our own gardens. Plum tomatoes were the best suited of the New Jersey tomatoes. They needed to be ripe, washed with cold water and dried with a towel--but laid out on sheets to continue to air dry until their was absolutely no moisture left. The next part of the assembly line was the tomato cutters and they would cut each tomato in quarters. Then they would be stuffed in mason jars with a wooden spoon until there was no space left. Finally the tomatoes were topped with about 3 Tbsp of sea salt, donned with a two basil leaves and then sealed and put into large boiling pots until ready.
We stored all these mason jars in our basements for the Winter and when needed for sauce-- we would open the can and run it through a hand-held tomato strainer and worked into the most delicious Marinara or Ragu sauce that our mother's could make.
Eat Tomatoes to: