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Appleton Farms New Kitchen

It was exciting to be at Appleton Farms, a Trustees of Reservation property, and learn about canning while on assignment for Art Throb magazine. I was anxious to try canning at home–I dream about local tomatoes all Winter long. I love New England, but everything about me longs for another climate. I’m always cold, my hair loves the humidity, and I like to eat fresh, local food. Eating tomatoes flown in from California in December is bittersweet when compared to pulling them from my garden in summer, washing and biting right into fruit I wrought from the Earth in my backyard.

Unfortunately, canning tomatoes is not as easy as the terrific hands-on, instructor-led workshop made it seem.

It also helps if you know how to measure, which I suppose I don’t.

The workshop agenda included canning tomatoes following the National Center for Home Food Preservation website instructions and making zesty  salsa from the Ball brand cookbook. About 10 of us got to work on the vegetables while our instructors, Becky and Susan, led the class and answered our questions. All the while I took breaks to video Becky’s instructions, talk to Susan, and write down notes.

Appleton Farms has a fantastic new kitchen–a donor’s gift–that will showcase farm-to-table eating as part of year-round public programming. Part of the “Old House” rebuild–the first LEED Platinum-certified renovated building on the East Coast–the commercial kitchen boasts solar hot water and wood-powered heat and flame from the state-of-the-art, smoke- and particulate-free burner outside. Next summer the kitchen is to expand through the dining room outside to a beehive oven and sugar shack. Produce will come fresh from the field to the kitchen, and onto the table. We used produce from the fields in the water bath canning workshop.

About a week later, I was worried about Hurricane Irene, and plucked most of my heirloom tomato harvest a little early. I’m a novice gardener and this was my first tomato crop, so no way would I risk getting it wrecked by Irene. I decided it was a perfect time to give canning at home a try. I got gear–about $60 worth–and thought I was ready to can 9 pint jars. It seemed like I had several pounds of tomatoes.

Ms. Green Quick Fixes Canning Gear

Lesson one–weigh your tomatoes.

A closer inspection of my canner’s instructions and the workshop materials revealed 22 pounds are needed for 7 quart jars and 14 pounds for 9 pint jars–enough to fill a canning rack. I made other rookie mistakes, too. I thought I would impress the the chef I work with by removing the tomatoes’ seeds. I certainly lost pulp, and about halfway through stopped de-seeding. I think I may have also poached the tomatoes too long, and they released too much water, which ended up spilling off my board. My tomatoes were not ripe enough since I plucked them premature before the storm, and I remembered Becky saying the skins could take longer to split in the boiling water, so I left them in.

After 1.5 hours of work, I had just enough for a pint jar and thought I would try it anyway. I lowered my one jar into the water and put on the pot lid. Things seemed to be going okay when I heard a thud. The jar fell over and the jar lid was beneath the canning rack at the bottom of the pot. Some tomato pieces poached and swam around, looking like jellyfish. They were dancing along to the tune of my canning failure.

Jars--and caps--emerge from water bath at Appleton Farms workshop.

Jars–and caps–emerge from water bath at Appleton Farms workshop.

Lesson two–reread directions.

I forgot to cap the lid!

When I put the video together from the workshop I realized my mistakes. I will try it again. Facebook posts consoled my disappointment–clearly, I am not alone in finding this a challenge. For now, enjoy my “Adventures in Canning,” video which will show you the 10 steps of canning, or listen to the WATD radio segment. As an added bonus, I included my blooper reel at the end.