Putting By: Tomato Soup

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.

DSC05840First 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.

Tomato Soup in the Pressure Canner

If there’s a recipe that can get a person over their fear of the pressure canner, I believe it’s this one.

This soup is so tasty that no matter how much of it you make, you will wish you had more.  It’s fairly simple yet bursting with summer flavor, awesome with grilled cheese sandwiches, and is not diluted before serving (though I often whisk in a little cream or milk as it’s heating).

My goal every year is to process enough to be cavalier about opening a jar any old time I want some–which is pretty much every day. It never happens, but I aspire!

The recipe is from the Bible of Food Preservation: Putting Food By, though I make modifications of course.  The first one is to always, always make at least a double, triple, or–in this case–octuple batch.

OK, we’re actually splitting it into two quadruple batches for ease of processing.

“Country Tomato Soup,” as it’s called, uses a peck (8 quarts) of tomatoes, a couple of green peppers, three onions, plus sugar, corn starch, vinegar, and optional salt.  My modifications call for adding celery, a few basil leaves, and a couple cloves of garlic; substituting a sweet red pepper if I have it; and cutting down on the sugar and typically also the cornstarch since I cook down the tomato sauce base, so it’s thicker to start with.

Somewhat sooty fire survivor


Basically, you make a tomato sauce base, then chop onions, peppers, celery and garlic and simmer them in water ’til tender.  Throw in a few basil leaves.  Put that through the food mill and dump into the pot with the sauce, then mix sugar, optional salt, and cornstarch and mix in a little cooled tomato sauce to make a thin paste before drizzling it into the big pot (stirring to prevent clumps).  Bring to a boil, pour in quarts, cap, and process.

Here’s the important thing to remember (a handy rule for any pressure-processed food to which you make modifications): if you add new ingredients to the mix, you always process for the time/pressure of the least acid (longest processed) ingredient.

That means if you add celery to this soup mix (and I really recommend it or else it tastes more like pasta sauce than soup), you have to process for five minutes longer than the original recipe calls for–thirty-five minutes for quarts rather than thirty.

The next quadruple batch is going to be a little darker-colored simply because we’ve got different tomatoes.

I forgot that the second tub of tomatoes is almost all Japanese Trifele Black heirlooms. They’re kind of a mahogany color with green shoulders–but if I remember correctly they end up making a very deep red sauce in the end.  It should be easy to tell which is batch #1 and which is batch #2 once it’s done.

And it should be a little quicker, too, because I prepped all the other vegetable additions for both batches yesterday.

Back to the kitchen!

Fates are Sealed

So, I checked on the tomatoes today and realized that every tomato in the house was dead ripe.  About thirty pounds.

Don’t worry–I picked more–though they’re still in the back of the truck as of this moment.

It’s Tuesday, and although I could do the Elk Point market today, I haven’t really been able to sell tomatoes there besides the boxes of colorful cherry toms and a few big, pretty heirlooms.  It’s also crummy weather for good sales at a farmers market.

So, considering that the vines are going downhill fast and there won’t be too many more big harvests this season (if any more), and considering that we thoroughly slammed through the one jar of soup that didn’t seal from the last batch, it’s tomato soup-making time again.

I’ve got the peppers, onions, basil, and celeriac leaves in the pot, simmering down to tenderness.  I’ve got the first batch of tomatoes residing in cool water in the sink.  I’ve made myself a cup of Russian Caravan tea, and I may make another.

Last night, when H was getting ready to make a small grocery run, I asked him to pick up another case of quart jars.  While he was gone, I located another close-to-full case of empty quarts in the basement, and when he came back, he brought with him two more cases instead of one.

It’s cool and overcast, with the threat of rain ever-present on this autumnal equinox.  Good smells are starting to waft through the house. Time to start washing tomatoes and putting them through the strainer.  This may (really!) be the last time this season.

Pumpkins and Soup

I pulled one of my Neck Pumpkins from the field too early, and it wasn’t curing well, so I carved it up this morning and roasted the slices piled in a buttered 9 1/2 x 13 dish covered with foil.  I’ll scoop the mass of flesh out of the pan this afternoon and freeze it in bags for eating by itself or in soups and pumpkin pie.

Neck pumpkinAlthough I picked slicing tomatoes last Thursday for market, I hadn’t picked the paste tomatoes for a number of days, so M and I headed out to the farm to harvest those, plus summer squash, slicing and pickling cukes, and sweet peppers-turning-red.

So far for tomato products this season, I’ve canned 57 pints of tomato sauce, about two cases (24 jars) of salsa in pint and half-pint jars, 11 quarts ratatouille, 4 quarts TOS (tomatoes, squash, and okra), and eleven half-pints of Hungarian hot sauce.

(This doesn’t seem like that much now that I write it down.)

After bringing the tomatoes back into town and separating out the red-ripe from the not-quite-ripe, I’ve got another 25lbs. or so of tomatoes that are most definitely not going to make it to market this week.

tomatoes for soupSince H’s vote for the next tomato project is soup, I’ve been poking about the internets for good tomato soup canning recipes.  There are a lot of them out there, and quite frankly, a lot of them are scary.  Lots of flour-and-butter thickeners processed in boiling water baths. Lots of added low acid ingredients processed for much too short a time.

All this has sent me right back to the old standby, Putting Food By.  While the “Country Tomato Soup” isn’t quite what I want, I’ve got enough information in the book to know how I need to process depending on what I add to it.

It does look like I can use corn starch for thickener and celery for flavor and still get by with a 35-minute processing at ten pounds pressure with the goal of a safe and delicious product.

So, there’s yet another tomato canning adventure coming my way.

Someone told me there was going to be a frost next week.  There isn’t as far as I can tell, but I sure wouldn’t mind one at this point.