Thursday, March 3, 2011

From optimistic beginnings..

This is a blog entry I should have written about two weeks ago. It's to do with a recipe I completed the night before I headed to Picton for the wedding. I didn't have time to blog it before I left, and soon after returning to Christchurch, I had bigger things on my mind. So here it is, only two weeks late:

Since there are several tomato-based recipes of the chutney/sauce/preserves variety in the Edmonds book, I'd been keeping an eye on tomato prices. Finally, Raeward had some cheap tomatoes, so I loaded up a bag and brought them home to cross off a few recipes. Initially I was occupied in dealing with the plums I'd also brought, so the tomatoes sat in the fridge for a day or two.

My plans were slightly restricted by the usual lack of appropriate jars: I'd intended to make tomato puree, but ended up filling the jars I'd set aside for this with plum jam (which subsequently fell from my cupboard in the quake and smashed all over the kitchen) so I had to give that idea up. I did, however, still have two large jars in which I intended to preserve some whole tomatoes (p238). It was Wednesday night, and I had to leave for Picton in the morning, but I didn't think it would take too long; it seemed fairly straightforward.

First you blanch the tomatoes and remove the skins. Then you pack the tomatoes into the sterilised jars and 'process in a waterbath' i.e have the jars sitting in boiling water. Except I didn't actually grasp the finer points of said process, which can be summarised as follows: prepare tomatoes while bringing water to just below boiling point and jars are in the oven at about 100 degrees. Why 100? Because you want them to be the same temperature as the water you're putting them in. When tomatoes are ready, remove the jars from the oven, pack the tomatoes in tightly, put the lid on and then place the jar in the waterbath.

You see, I had it all mixed up in my mind. I had the jars far too hot for a start. Early on, I took a jar out of the oven to see how high the water would come up the sides once I put it in the waterbath. Stupid: the jar was hot and the water not yet warm. Crack! So I was down to one jar for my tomatoes. This was when I grasped the point about the temperatures.

A second difficulty came about because I somehow got the idea that the jars were supposed to be in the water when you're packing the tomatoes in. I gamely put the jar in - and it immediately tipped over and sat sideways in the water. I ended up weighing it down with a plate, all the while wondering how on earth I was going to pack the tomatoes in while trying to keep the jar from tipping up.

Blanching the tomatoes and removing the skins was more difficult than I remembered, probably because I forgot the step where you plunge the tomato in cold water after it's been in the boiling water. So that made it far more difficult to get the skin off.

I had managed to skin two or three tomatoes and wrangle them into the jar, holding it precariously in place with a pair of tongs, when I finally lost my grip and the jar went over, filling with water and letting the tomatoes float around the pot. This was when I went back through the instructions and realised it didn't actually say the jar had to be in the waterbath while you're packing it.

I'd spent far more time on this frustrating enterprise than I intended, and the worst part was that all my problems were caused by me misunderstanding the directions. I packed as many tomatoes into the jar as I could (and it didn't fit very many, either. They just didn't want to squish in), put the lid on and stuck it back in the waterbath.

I left it there for the requisite 40 minutes, then removed the jar, emptied the waterbath and forgot about it while I ran around, packing my bag and faffing about with facemasks, nail files and similar, in an attempt to tidy myself up for the weekend's bridesmaid duties. Since everything else had gone wrong with the tomatoes, I was astonished to hear the unmistakable 'pop' of the lid sealing as the jar cooled.

The tomatoes had sort of shrunk down in the preserving process, so there was quite a bit of room in the top of the jar. I should have squished more in. But after all that effort, I was quite proud of my tomatoes. The rest of the tomatoes never got used for anything, but at least I'd managed to preserve one jar!

Or had I? A week later, as I tidied up my post-quake kitchen, I came across the jar of tomatoes again. And there were distinct signs of mould forming on one of the tomatoes. So not a success after all. Oh well: I had a go, and that's what it's all about, right?


  1. Have never done the water bath thing, only oven method for tomatoes which is apparently not recommended any more. Don't recall having a problem with it...???c

  2. So, the preserved tomatoes didn't work out? Oh well... no big loss! haha ;)
    Seriously though, the water bath seems very complicated and tricky. Good on you for giving it a go.

  3. Ha I don't think it's actually that tricky if you actually grasp what you're supposed to do. Also, not trying to do it in a hurry might help! I think if I had another go I'd get resonable results.


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