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The Art of Preserving | for the love of the south

Every year, I find myself trying to cling onto the last days of summer. By this point, many Southerners are beyond ready for cooler temperatures and shorter days, which I do love. But there is something about summer I wish I could bottle up: flickering fireflies, warm summer nights, and most of all, its produce. I happily endure the heat to devour juicy, ripe tomatoes, peppery okra pods, blushing peaches and beautiful blackberries.

The art of preserving is like a palimpsest, something that has been traced onto the pages of generations before us. With each page, the lines grow fainter and fainter until one day it may completely disappear. So, in pure desperation of holding onto the last days of summer and the art of preserving, I tied my linen apron strings and got to work.

Fresh Tomatoes | for the love of the south

I gathered all of the essentials: clean jars, fresh basil, a pot of boiling water, and a crate full of ripe summer tomatoes, anxiously awaiting their moment to be sealed in a mason jar and put away for the chilly months to come. Standing there in my steamy kitchen, with one hand on my hip and the other fishing out jars of sealed tomatoes with my bare fingertips, which I do not recommend, I instantly felt connected with the wonderful women with worn, wrinkled hands that have perfected the art of preserving generations long ago. There is something romantic and beautiful about preserving; in taking something we have in abundance today and saving it for sparse times in the future. The art of preserving is like an act of faith.

This goes beyond preserving tomatoes; this is a ritual to pass to the next generation in hopes of preserving part of our culture and forever clinging to the flavor of summer in the South.

The Art of Preserving | for the love of the south

Canned Tomatoes:

There isn’t a recipe to go along with this post, but I will give you a few steps for canning tomatoes that I found helpful.

P.S. Make sure you carefully inspect your jars, lids and rings before using. If you notice any rust, dents or chips, don’t use them for canning, please! Also just as a reference, I bought a 25-pound crate of tomatoes and canned 20, 16 ounce wide-mouth jars.

Wash your jars, rings and lids with warm, soapy water and dry completely. Place the jars, rings, and lids onto a baking sheet, making sure the pieces are spaced out and not touching. Place the baking sheet into a 225oF oven for at least 10 minutes. If you keep them in longer, that’s fine, but allow them to stay in for at least 10 minutes, undisturbed.

Cut an “x” on the bottom of each tomato and blanch them in a bowl of recently boiled water. Allow them to sit in the hot water for 5-10 minutes, or until the skin comes off with ease.

Peel the tomatoes, cut the core out and slice in half, lengthwise. (If you are canning larger tomatoes, cut into quarters.)

Whenever you are ready to fill the jars, take the baking sheet out of the oven and fill the jars with the peeled and cut tomatoes, placing a fresh basil leaf into each jar. Gently press the tomatoes down, and drain any excess liquid that comes up to the top. Pressing on the tomatoes does two things: you are making sure you are filling all of the space in the jar, and you are getting rid of excess water from the tomatoes. The result: you end up with actual tomatoes in the jar, not just a few tomatoes and tomato water! After you drain the liquid, fill the jar with more tomatoes until the jars are completely filled. With a clean towel, wipe any excess juice or pieces of tomato from the top of the jar.

Carefully place the lid onto the jar, making sure you do not touch the bottom of the lid. Screw the lid on tightly. Place the jars in a large stockpot, filling the pot with water so that your jars are covered at least halfway. Place a lid on the pot and allow the water to come to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, set a timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, carefully take the jars out of the boiling water, tighten the lid more if you can, and set the jars aside to cool completely. Make sure you check the seal by pressing down on the top of each lid. If the lid doesn’t budge, great job! Store in a dark, cool pantry. But if the lid pops back, place the jar in the fridge and use a.s.a.p.









16 replies on “THE ART OF PRESERVING”

I would love to learn to can. I told my mother I wanted to can tomatoes and she busted out laughing. There really is something special about the old ways.

Everything I’ve read about canning tomatoes notes to use lemon juice or citric acid in each jar to ensure high enough acids levels, especially when water bath canning, due to so much variety in each tomato from breed, water during growing season, etc. This is just my 2nd year canning….I’m a nervous canner!

I was taught to can by a lovely, elderly woman. She taught me how to can the same way she was taught many years ago. She really took the intimidation and “canning fear” out of canning tomatoes. This was her process. But if you want to add acid, go for it! No worries and confident canning!

This is so interesting! I never thought you could preserve tomatoes without using vinegar, sugar, salt or any of those conservatives. How long can you keep them like this? I’m sort of afraid the air in the jars or freshness of the tomatoes won’t make them last very long, but I’m really intrigued to try!

I was taught by an older Italian woman that’s been doing this since she was a little girl! This approach is incredibly simple and straightforward. She let me know they would last all year, until the next tomato season in a cool, dry place. I tried to fill my jars up as much as I could without overloading the jars. Hope this helps!

I recently came across your blog and it is both beautiful and wonderful!

That being said, many people (including myself) continue to use old canning recipes handed down from family members. As someone who has canned for years and keeps up-to-date on safety regulations regarding the practice, my only concern is that you have not put any kind of warning on this non-recipe recipe. Canning and preserving is very serious and while you may keep a clean kitchen, some do not. It is important to refer readers to the National Center for Home Food Preservation site for questions regarding acidity and safety… botulism is very real.

Additionally, (and particularly important for this post) many varieties of tomatoes in today’s age are not as acidic as past varieties available to our grandparents and some acid needs to be added to the jar.

(I’m not trying to be rude, I just could not in good conscience not say anything regarding this post.)

Thanks so much for the concern! One of the reasons I have tackled canning just now is because I was shown how in a very simple way (and also, I’ve had so much fear because of horror stories I’ve heard of canning). I was taught to start with a clean space, making sure to sterilize all jars and lids properly and getting my hands on the best, local, organic tomatoes possible. But if someone is not able to stick to one of these three rules, they need to purchase their canned tomatoes at the market!

Just like learning and respecting the handling of raw poultry and properly cooking meat, canning in the kitchen should be given the same attention and respect! Thanks so much for sharing the very real concerns in home canning!


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