This wasn’t a great tomato year for us, if by great tomato year I take the measure of the years on the CSA and market farm in southeast South Dakota, where 80-100 plants provided plenty for members, market, and for my own canning projects, or even if I look back to the past couple of seasons in Big Stone County, where the smaller but still substantial plantings meant there was plenty to share.
This was more of a getting-by tomato year. The garden at Clinton house was flooded out repeatedly, then drought took hold and weeds took over. Along about midsummer, I started referring to it more honestly as the “weed patch” and not as a garden. The tomatoes I planted there are stunted and spindly and barely producing one fruit every couple of weeks.
The saving grace of that
garden weed patch is all of the volunteers that have sprung up from last year–mostly small varieties like Santorini and Old Pink Plum–tough, wild, and plentiful. So, I am getting maybe 5-10 pounds a week out of there–a pittance, really, but enough to discourage me from brush-hogging the whole thing.
Out here on the farm, I put in six heirlooms (Stupice, Speckled Roman, Japanese Black Trifele, Big Rainbow, Louis’ Oxheart and Hungarian Heart) and that is really saving my butt. Yes, we had to buy tomatoes for an earlier sauce project, but now we are harvesting enough throughout the week to do a batch of something on the weekend, and so the jars are filling up. Considering the ongoing remodeling and landscaping projects that’ve been our primary focus this summer, it’s probably a good thing we aren’t pulling in 100lbs of tomatoes every 4-5 days.
Once we had enough of John’s spaghetti sauce put by (three batches–or nearly three cases), I turned to one of my standby recipes: tomato soup. I started making this during a heavy tomato year, when I was casting around for what more to do with the abundance, and it proved to be so delicious, convenient, and popular that I now make it every year.
The basic rule comes from 4th edition of Putting Food By, Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan’s Bible of canning, freezing, curing, and storing food. I’ve written about this recipe before, but I’ve made some additions to the recipe and fine-tuned the method to fit my schedule, so I’m giving it another post.
I always at least double the recipe–this is one where, if you’re going to invest the time, you might as well really go for it. This is also a recipe that requires a pressure canner–so borrow a neighbor’s or dust yours off if you haven’t been using it.
First off, I fill an 18-quart roaster full of tomatoes–all ripe or very close to it. Really small tomatoes can go in whole, and bigger ones with large cores should be cut up and have the cores and any blemishes removed. I set the roaster to 225 and let them cook overnight–stirring once or twice if I get to it.
The next morning I turn the roaster off and let it cool a bit before running the resulting stew through my tomato strainer to remove seeds and skins (I think this works better for getting more of the juice than putting the tomatoes through raw). As the juice comes through, I have a 16 quart kettle set up on the stove to start it simmering.
The last bowl of tomato juice to come through the strainer gets saved back and put in a smaller (8 quart) stockpot, into which go (chopped) 6-8 sweet peppers–green and/or red or whatever you have (if you are using the big bell peppers, you can cut that down to four), 4-6 yellow onions, a couple to a few cloves of garlic, and 4-6 good-sized stalks of celery (leaves and all if you are using home-grown). I also usually add a handful of parsley and basil leaves to the pot.
At this point I add (also cut up) any tomatoes that escaped the roaster on the first round, but have magically got to ripeness overnight. It’s not necessary to add more tomatoes, but at this point of the season, I find myself simply trying to cut down on the amount of produce building up in the kitchen. If you have them, you might as well use them.
Cover the pot of mixed vegetables and tomato juice and bring to a boil, then simmer until soft. Cool (either naturally, or put the pot in an ice bath and stir), then put through the strainer and add the bulk of the veggie “cocktail” juice to the bigger pot of tomato juice you’ve got simmering. Save a cup or so back for the next step.
In a small mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons salt, and 14 tablespoons cornstarch, then add six tablespoons white vinegar and blend into a paste. Using the cooled juice (it MUST be cool) you saved back from the last step, add enough to the paste to make it pourable, then drizzle the cornstarch blend into the big pot of soup, stirring continuously until it is all blended. (If you forget to save juice back–either to simmer the mixed veggies or to blend with the cornstarch–you can use water instead).
Heat the soup to boiling (not forgetting to stir it often to avoid scorching or cornstarch clumping) and ladle into clean quart jars leaving 1 1/4″ headroom (don’t skimp on headroom–it will boil over if you do). Clean rims, affix caps and rings, and pressure process at ten pounds for 35 minutes. The longer processing time (5 more minutes per batch than in the original recipe) is due to the addition of celery, which in my opinion is really central to making this taste like tomato soup instead of a thin, slightly sweetened pasta sauce masquerading as soup.
At this scale, you should end up with about 12 quarts (a case) of soup.
There are other potential variations of method with this recipe–if I have time and don’t have quite a full roaster of tomatoes, I add all the mixed veggies to roast with the tomatoes on the first round. It saves time on the second day of the process, but typically I am washing and throwing the tomatoes in the roaster in a spare moment the night before I plan to can, and I don’t have time to gather, wash, and prep all the other veggies at the same time.
You could also do the tomatoes in the oven, or do the whole darn thing in one day on the stove top, but this requires more time and attention throughout the day than using the overnight roasting technique. In the end, do it the way that best fits into your kitchen and your schedule. Just don’t skimp on headroom and processing time/pressure.