This step by step is especially for Funkbunny who has a blog about veggie gardening in suburbia.
They have great tips for growing and have recently blogged about drying veggies but was reluctant to bottle tomatoes. Tomatoes are super easy, super safe and super successful. Tomatoes are high acid fruits supremely suited for preserving this way. Funkbunny has a Fowlers kit and plenty of tomatoes so they are ready to roll.
The tomato situation here has been a bit lack lustre but here is my first bottling for the season.
I love having jars of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard because I use them for casseroles, winter slow cooking, pasta sauces and bases for curries.
I get myself comfortable with a chair pulled up to my marble table in the middle of the kitchen, a bit of music, a chopping board and a small bowl for scraps.
After washing and de-stalking, I sit and roughly chop the tomatoes, removing and cutting away any blemishes. I leave the skin as I don't mind it.
I also chop whatever tomatoes are available and they are a mix of large fleshy ones, roma styles and tiny tom styles. I like the random mix.
As I chop I put them straight into the clean jars packing them reasonably full and leaving about 1-2cm at the top.
Once the jars are full of tomatoes, the next step is to fit the rubber seals.
Pop them into a dish with some hot water for a couple of minutes to soften them to make them a bit easier to manage.
While they are in the warm water, wipe around the ridge and top with a clean damp cloth to ensure there are no stray tomato seeds. Though small, they will prevent a good seal. At the same time it's your last chance to check the jars for any chips or imperfections.
Now, take the seal and apply to the special groove in the bottle. I tend to grasp it with both hands between thumb and forefinger, fitting the edge closest to me first and stretching it forward and around the jar all the while holding the jar stable with my other fingers. It definitely gets easier with practice.
It's at this point you will realise why I haven't added the liquid yet because it would be a bit spilly.
IMPORTANT: Make sure the seal lies in the groove evenly and flat with no twists. You will note that it has a slightly sloping canter to it.
Now it is time to fill. I use plain good old award-winning Tasmanian tap water.
You can add salt if you want for ready to go seasoning in your cooking but I prefer to start blank.
I use my trusty Bessemer ware jug and fill slowly to limit air bubbles.
You wondering what the green is in the bottle? It's an heirloom green variety called Green Zebra and boy are they delicious.
Fill with water till they are about the level of the fruit. By maintaining 1-2cm of head space, it gives the lid space to vacuum seal, makes sense right.
Now use a skewer or chopstick or like me, plunge the knife in a couple of times releasing air bubbles and tap the jar on the wooden board a couple of times to see if anymore rise. There is nothing scary or mysterious about air bubbles, it just helps to stop the food rollicking with trapped air once it starts to get it's boil on thus displacing the lid or pushing food out of the jar...it's all about a good seal.
Now place the lids on fitting them flat and even to the seal. The Fowlers book suggests a slight screw lids turn to seat it. I spend the small bit extra for stainless steel lids because they are less reactive to food acids and last longer and rust less.
Remember stainless steel means it stains less, not stain proof, so always wash and dry thoroughly after use and store in dry conditions.
Now secure with the clamp.
Place the jars in the pot. If your outfit doesn't have a built in base, place a cake rack or some such in the bottom to stand the jars on. Fill with cold water about three quarters of the way up the jars.
Pop the lid on and put your thermometre in the little well at the side.
Bring to 92C (198F) slowly, this should take about 45 mins. I use med/high heat but you'll get to know your own stove through trial and error what temp works for you. Now hold at this temperature for another 45 mins. I have solid hotplates and generally 20mins into the maintain temp time I can turn the heat off and it still maintains for the rest of the time at the right temp. Again, you'll get to know your own stove. Trial and error, turning down heat, turning off heat...that is an experience thing.
IMPORTANT: My golden rule and I don't ever break it, do not be tempted to try to handle the hot bottles or pull them out straight away. Just let them sit and cool. There is bubbling hot, hot liquid in there. It is not worth risking severe burns.
LEAVE the clamps on for another 12-18 hours.
After this time take the clamps off. Give the lid a gentle tug to see if it's holding. Tip the jar next to your ear, listening very carefully for any air sucking sound. If all is quiet and firm then it's time to store in a cupboard.
Even though they look really pretty, they store better in the dark. It is also a good idea to periodically check them and make sure there are no active bubbles, fizzing or mould but I have never had a fail.