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The Zen of Canning Tomatoes

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Posted: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 1:50 pm

I considered conducting some research for somebody else's profound narrative about the art of canning. But I don't want to. I'd rather write my own.

I will leave you with inspiring words however, in the form of a recipe for the best Tomato Basil Soup. Ever.

I spent part of my day Sunday canning some beautiful local tomatoes. I've done this for years and still find it rewarding. I'm not particularly special for my ability to do this.

Yes I am.

And I'll tell you why. This wasn't something learned in the kitchen with my mother or grandmother. Both of those women carried no domestic DNA at all. My mother was an academic genius, but domestically challenged; and my grandmother was a nightclub singer (a story for another day). I can't sing a note, and I'm not genius material, so I went another direction. I'm not sure where I got my Aunt Bea gene, but I love to preserve produce.

My garden is not prolific enough for the volume of tomatoes to 'put up.' It's good for the day-to-day. But I know people. Oh yes. Lots of people with too many tomatoes. They're good and generous farmers.

What I enjoy the most about spending my day this way is the meditative quality of the task. You have to pay enough attention to what you're doing so you don't screw something up. And you can't rush the process. You're committed to a bit if time on your feet, boiling, peeling, slicing, canning, wiping jars, lather, rinse, repeat. But you also can zone out and completely enjoy the moment. It's an earthy and organic way to spend some time if much of your week is spent sitting in front of a computer.

Along with nicely ripened fresh tomatoes, you have to have some good music. Something earthy and organic. I can different things during the summer depending on what's ready: Tomatoes require jazz for some reason I can't explain; Peaches — gotta listen to some blues; Jams and jellies — Anything old fashioned, maybe even something Celtic. And salsa? The 'Caliente' station on Sirius works fine.

I don't make the rules.

And once the process starts - you're pretty much stuck in the kitchen for awhile.

I love how the bright red vine ripened tomatoes gleam up at me from the bowl after I peel and trim them. Gotta keep a little lemon juice on them to keep them fresh until they enter the jar. And I know exactly where these tomatoes come from and what I'm putting in my mouth when I eat them later. No salty surprises. Yes. It's easier and maybe even cheaper to buy cans at the store. But . . . ew. You can't make me.

Use the whole tomato too. The peels make good fodder for your compost pile. And all that juice left in the bowl after your jars are filled? Drain the seeds and save it for your post-canning Bloody Mary. Whether your Bloody Mary is a virgin, or has been around the block a few times — you can't beat the flavor of fresh juice mixed with the yummy spices in the drink.

Now I dare you to make this Tomato Basil soup recipe and return to the condensed stuff ever again. It's easy, it's fresh, and it pleases everyone. Do it with fresh tomatoes since they're still in season. Save your canned ones for winter. Try a little grated parmesan or peccorino cheese on top. Enjoy.


  • 1 pint jar tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Plus 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, optional


Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, reserving the juices, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add basil and cream, if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.