Continuing in its mission to bring interesting and entertaining programs to seniors in the area, the Rochester Council on Aging hosted Dave Wheeler, an expert on preserving foods via both cold and hot canning processes. On September 23, Wheeler, armed with his tools of the trade – a hot plate and canning jars – demonstrated how easy it is to preserve a harvest of tomatoes.
For tomatoes, Wheeler recommended preserving meaty varieties such as roma tomatoes, best for sauces, although any type of tomato may be preserved and be served as stewed or in soups and stews.
The canning maestro demonstrated the ease of peeling a tomato by first making a small crosscut in the stem end of the precious fruit, heat water to the boil, a process known as blanching, then placing the tomatoes in the water for 30 to 60 seconds and, voila! The skin shrinks and is easily pulled away from the tender flesh. Wheeler surprised the participants when he suggested dehydrating the tomato skins into tiny flakes that are rich in tomato flavor and can be used as a garnish or flavor enhancer in cooked recipes.
Oh, by the way, if you are still wondering whether a tomato is a fruit or veggie, it is a fruit because it has seeds. Vegetables apparently do not have seeds in the harvested food parts that we eat. Still not sure? The internet can assist.
After removing the skins, Wheeler simply put the red globes in a canning jar, filling it nearly to the top, sealed it with a metallic airtight lid, and instructed attendees to place it in simmering water for approximately 45 minutes. Remove jars from water, set aside to cool and wait for that triumphant sound of the lids being sucked airtight via a vacuum action. He said it is not necessary to screw the lids down more than finger tight, “otherwise they can be too difficult to open later on.”
Wheeler also suggested that seniors might want to try their hand at gardening by way of high raised garden platforms that grant easier access to what is growing for seniors and others with mobility issues. The joy of opening a jar of preserved goodness grown in one’s own garden can’t be overstated.
The hot processes of canning simply employ the heating or even cooking of whatever is going to be stored. Place the hot food in the jar leaving a bit of space for expansion of trapped steam (oops, do this for cold process also), place closed jars in pan of boiling water for 30 to 60 minutes, remove, cool, and wait for popping sounds.
Almost since the beginning of humankind, we thinking-brain animals have been preserving foods. Of course, it was being done not as a hobby as most of us do today but was part and parcel to survival during times when hunting and gathering were customary and poverty and starvation were ever present realities.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a really important website to check out if the subject of food preservation interests you. Wheeler also recommended the website USDA.gov.
At the NCHFP site, you’ll find plenty of fun facts, such as how every culture at nearly every stage of evolution has preserved foods. It says that in cold climates, ice and snow kept meat frozen, a practice still used today by indigenous people in the far north. In warm climates, the sun and even the wind were or are used to dehydrate foods. Some cultures in high mountain regions of South America where pre-Columbian societies thrived for centuries used dehydration to preserve the dead. Suffice to say, the process has been around since about 12,000 BC, give or take a few centuries.
Things changed in the 1800s for homemakers who spent weeks preserving harvested foods against the coming winter when Clarence Birdseye invented a quick-freezing process. As a child growing up, we always had bricks of frozen peas and corn at the ready and TV dinners. Frozen foods not only revolutionized the way food was preserved but truly impacted the entire food industry. Frozen pizza, anyone?
Beyond canning, there are pickling and fermenting processes not reviewed in Wheeler’s presentation but equally important to, not only preserving foods, but in adding to the flavor pallet available to humans. Pickles and beer come to mind.
To learn more about preserving foods, visit therapygardens.com or USDA.gov. You may also want to get your food preserving history lessons from nchfp.uga.edu. Happy preserving serving!
By Marilou Newell