Save the season with this simple recipe for canned heirloom tomatoes, and then make refreshing tomato water cocktails with the leftover tomato juice and seeds. Jump to recipe!
Peak tomato season in Virginia means there are expansive flats of heirlooms at every market. It also means that there are plenty of cast-offs. And, as far as canning’s concerned, it’s cast-offs you should be after. It may take some asking around, but you can generally find someone to sell you dented, bruised, or otherwise compromised tomatoes at cut rate.
In search of tomato deals, last weekend we piled in the car and drove down to the town of Scottsville for country prices.
We caught the tail end of the market –– the wizened old man at the Jehovah’s Witness table was already packing up –– but the rest of the market was quietly buzzing with its oddball mix of earnest young hippie types and older country folk with direct signage, like the one that reads simply “Rabbit Meat” with a helpful illustration of a rabbit (before it’s meat). We passed on the rabbit meat, but came away with two flats of mixed heirlooms for $15 bucks, weighing in at just north of 25 pounds. We also snagged the last dozen eggs, an heirloom watermelon, a dozen ears of sweet Virginia corn, and a few more odds and ends for another week of summer feasts.
While in Scottsville, we strolled along the levee that protects the little town from the James River. Buses rolled up full of college students setting out for a day of tubing on the James. Our girls played happily at a riverfront playground. Rain was imminent and it lent our rambling summer morning a hint of urgency. Just as big raindrops plopped onto the windshield, we were buckled in and began the winding journey home, with a pleasant stop at a country junction for some of the best pizza I’ve had in Virginia. Pitchers of beer never hurt, either.
If you do score some bruised and dented tomatoes, you’ll want to turn around and can them right away. I selected the most urgent cases and put up a couple quarts over the weekend. Then I packed up and refrigerated the extras. It wasn’t ideal, but it meant they wouldn’t expire while I made time to get them canned. On Monday, I starting a more massive canning project, with the remaining tomatoes.
Besides enough canned tomatoes to get me through December, I reserved the tomato juices for tomato water cocktails. Before you can have tomato water cocktails, you’ll need to make tomato water. It’s not fast, but left alone in the fridge, the water basically makes itself. You’ll need a lot of tomatoes for even a bit of water. No matter, there’s something perfect about putting the season’s best up while also enjoying a perfectly of the moment cocktail. (In case you’re more of a drinking and less of a canning type, I’ve got links below so you can just go ahead and make the tomato water – no canning needed.)
Tomato water makes for a fascinating drink. I had my first way back when at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Six years later, I still remember the frosty clear glass full of intense tomato flavor. Made at home, it’s just as good. Quiet, savory, and with a hint of spice and lime, this beauty is just what you’ll want to be drinking as we put a gloriously mild summer to bed. Onward!
Heirloom tomatoes have a more watery consistency than paste tomatoes like Roma, but canned heirlooms can offer up a surprising hit of summer flavor in winter braises, sauces, or stews. If you’re new to canning, please review the Ball Canning website in detail before getting started. It’s also worth noting that sterilization guidelines for lids have changed – this recipe is adjusted accordingly. Finally, if home canning is intriguing to you, I highly recommend the Food in Jars cookbook by Marisa McLellan. You may also want to check out this post on tomato canning basics.
- 10 pounds heirloom tomatoes (throw in a few extra if you have lots of compromised fruit you’ll need to cut away)
- 1/2 cup lemon juice (for pH balance, you’ll want to use the prepared kind)
- 4 teaspoons sea salt
- Since canning is a bit complex , you’ll want to have these tools handy. But please, don’t be daunted – I had a double batch in processing in about an hour.
- Special equipment:
- 4 wide mouth quart jars with rings and lids (jars should be inspected carefully to make sure there are no chips or cracks)
- very large pot for sterilizing jars and lids as well as heat processing the filled jars
- large bowl for dipping blanched tomatoes
- cutting board , preferably one with a gutter
- extra sharp paring knife and/or a chef’s knife (sharpen just before you begin)
- 5 quart non-reactive pot for cooking tomatoes
- medium bowl for collecting tomato juices (if using)
- wide mouth funnel (not absolutely necessary, but it helps)
- tongs and jar lifter
Immerse 4 quart jars in a large, water-filled pot. Set over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. As soon as water boils, turn off heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat another large pot with boiling water –– you’ll use this to blanche to heirlooms. Also set out a large bowl of icy water and prepare a large cutting board. Set out a medium bowl to collect the tomato seeds and water.
Dip a group of 5 – 6 tomatoes into the boiling water for 1 minute, and then use a slotted spoon to move blanched tomatoes straight into the ice water. Core and peel the skin from the tomatoes. Cut away and discard any dark spots or sections of mushy flesh. Cut each tomato in half and scoop any juices into the medium bowl. Rough chop tomatoes, and set in a large, non-reactive pot or, temporarily, in a large bowl (if you don’t have a second large pot). Continue until all the tomatoes have been peeled and chopped.
Set the large pot of chopped tomatoes over high heat. Bring mixture to a boil quickly, then turn heat to medium so the mixture bubbles vigorously. Use a potato mashed to mash the tomatoes a bit and stir often. Cook mixture for 10 minutes.
Add lemon juice and salt, and cook for five minutes longer.
Bring large pot of jars back to a boil. Add lids and rims, and remove after one minute. Tip water out of the jars, and set out to fill.
Ladle tomatoes into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2-inch of head space. Tap bottom of jar to displace bubbles. Wipe rims clean with a cloth dipped in hot water. Top with lids and seal with rims.
Set jars into same pot used to sterilize. You’ll probably need to remove about 4 quarts of water – leave enough so jars are covered by an inch or two of water. Bring to a boil, cover with the lid, and process in vigorously boiling water for 45 minutes.
While jars are processing, pour tomato water into jars, seal, and set in the fridge. Within a day, you’ll want to strain the tomato water.
Set jars on a heat proof surface. Tap bottom gently to remove bubbles. Lids should invert and seal overnight. If one of your jars doesn’t seal, set it in the fridge and use within a week.
How to use leftover tomato seeds and juice to make tomato water and a refreshing tomato water cocktail recipe with lime and chives.
- 1 quart tomato juices and seeds
- 4 ounces tomato water
- 2 ounces vodka
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice the tiniest pinch sea salt
- 1 – 3 shakes Tabasco sauce
- lime slice and cherry tomatoes for garnish
(If you didn’t can pounds upon pounds of tomatoes, skip to the front of the line and make tomato water with these instructions.)
To make the tomato water, push tomatoes and liquid through a mesh strainer to remove seeds. Reserve all the liquid discard seeds. Clean strainer.
Line the same strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, or even more for a very clear water. (You can also use a large Chemex filter, as we did). Set strainer over a large bowl and pour the tomato liquid into the lined strainer. Set everything in the fridge overnight.
Don’t try to push tomato water through or your liquid may cloud. Discard red solids and reserve clear tomato water in a jar.
To make cocktails, combine tomato water, vodka, lime, and sea salt in an ice-filled shaker. Gently swirl for 30 seconds. Strain into ice-filled Old Fashioned glasses. Add a few shakes of Tabasco and garnish with lime, cherry tomatoes, and (if desired) chive stalks.