Snatchy Snatchy

Just One Of The Two Bushels

As nothing more than an honorary Italian, I decided some time over the course of the summer that this year I wasn’t going to “do the tomatoes”.

We still had plenty of canned whole romas and sauce from last year, and the bruschetta recipe I’d canned turned out to be one big, mushy failure, so it didn’t seem necessary to go through all of that dirty, steamy work again this fall.  But, as with all of my best laid plans, more exuberant intentions got firmly in the way.

And so, that was how on the 1st of October I found myself reaching out to every resource I could for advice on where to procure a few bushels of roma tomatoes.  The time of year coupled with our supremely awful growing season left me with some pretty slim pickins’.  Even my old standby, Fiesta Farms was completely sold out of their cache of bushels, with every grocery store I contacted between here and Mississauga all but laughing at me.  One gentleman from Highland Farms was particularly morose, simply stating the the tomatoes were all done, in a manner similar to one used to inform someone of a death in the family.

But, nobody can ever say I do things by half measures.

Wracking my brain for alternatives, I remembered the many organic grocers we’d tested out prior to settling on Bob a few years back.  After a few more calls, I found that Front Door Organics had two bushels of organic local tomatoes left, and in that moment I decided I was taking all of them.  Last year I processed close to 150 pounds of tomatoes.  This year, I was going to have to make due with 40.  Of course, the one catch to the situation was that in order to buy the bushels, I had to order one of their weekly “fresh boxes”, because you can add to an order, but a fresh box is mandatory.  Total cost for 2 bushels of tomatoes plus a fresh box?  Just slightly above $100.  However, I was only personally using 32 of the 40 pounds of tomatoes, and the fresh box replaced my weekly jaunt to the farmer’s market, so the actual cost for 32 pounds was $55.  Still steeper than last year’s $15/bushel, but these were organic tomatoes, and it was the end of the season, so I’m sure the price was reflective of supply and demand.

Weighing

What, (you might ask) did I possibly want to do with 40 pounds of tomatoes?

Conserva Step 1

Well, there was conserva, a heavy-duty super concentrated tomato paste similar to that doppia stuff you can get in little tubes at Italian delis.  I’d wanted to make some last year, but after 3 days spent processing 150 pounds, I was too tired of tomatoes to even think about doing anything else with them.  It’d pretty much slipped my mind this year, too until I saw this picture on Foodgawker recently.  It’s pretty much just passata cooked in a really low oven for a very long time until it becomes viscous and brick coloured.  Appealing, I know.  If you’re looking for a recipe, Paul Bertolli has a really good one in his book Cooking By Hand, but it doesn’t get much simpler than cooking 5 pounds of tomatoes quickly in a pot, passing them through a mill to make passata, and then pouring that onto a sheet pan and cooking it for about 6 hours at 250-300*.  Once it’s cooked, you scoop the stuff into a clean jar and top with olive oil; it keeps indefinitely as long as you keep it confited.

Catsup Step 1

I’d also wanted to try a catsup recipe, and after catching 20 seconds of a Jamie At Home episode where he was making some, I decided I needed to step up my search for appropriate catsup vessels, too.

Coincidentally, I came across a case of beautiful Italian-made Quattro Staggione 1 litre canning bottles at Golda’s Kitchen, which were slightly larger than I’d normally like my catsup, but I wasn’t going to argue in any case.  A dozen of those beauties set me back another $54, as apparently Italian-made canning supplies don’t come cheap.  I had to buy the whole case, but I only ended up using 2 bottles for my catsup recipe, so we’ll consider it a $9 investment in bottles.

20 pounds of tomatoes were earmarked for conserva, while another 12 were set aside for the batch of catsup.  Though I could’ve easily used the remaining 8 pounds to make more catsup or conserva, the Everyman had plans of his own, having successfully experimented with a prior basket of tomatoes to produce something he wanted to contribute to our Thanksgiving dinner (and since his brother occasionally reads the site, I’m not going to spoil the surprise).  Suffice it to say that the other 8 pounds of tomatoes were thoroughly spoken for.

The Pitiful, Spent Food Mill

The Dirty Work

That left me alone in the kitchen for the better part of a day, toiling away at washing, coring, slicing, grinding, pureeing, etc.  One thing that I keep forgetting to do each year is get a better food mill.  Since I only use the thing once or twice a year (albeit vigorously) I’ve procrastinated from purchasing anything better, and obstinately continue to use the 2 cup stainless steel version that I bought several years ago for another soon to be disclosed fall project.  It’s not bad for small, quick uses, but for prolonged grinding, it can give you a claw.

After much sweat equity was expended, and hours of uncomfortably steamy rooms endured, I was left with 3 cups of conserva, and 2 litres plus 1 cup of catsup.

Was it worth it?  Well, as with last year, only time will tell, when in the dead of winter I pop open these heady, sun-soaked jars.  From a sheer cost perspective, it breaks down like this;

It Took 20 Pounds of Tomatoes To Make This???

Conserva

20 pounds of tomatoes @ $34.40 +

3 mason jars @ $0.75/each =

$36.65

Cost of equivalent doppia tomato paste = 4 ounces @ $3.39 x 6 = $20.34

So, probably not winning any awards for frugality with this one, though if I had been able to harvest enough of my own tomatoes to make this (as was the original plan) the cost would’ve been deferred slightly to make this more sensible.

Finished Catsup

Catsup

12 pounds of tomatoes @ $20.64 +

2 mason bottles @ $4.50/each +

1.5 c. vinegar @ $1.34 +

1 onion @ $0.89 +

0.75 c. sugar @$1.25 +

0.125 c. salt @ $0.11 +

miscellaneous spices =

$33.23

Cost of equivalent catsup = 500 mL @ $6.99 x 4.5 = $31.46

So, aside from the cost of my time, the catsup recipe is pretty comparable to that viscous corn syrup-laden crap that you can buy at the grocery store.

A surprising outcome indeed, though I should skew for the fact that commercially produced organics would increase the cost of the comparable items even more.

Foodie’s Tomato Catsup

12 pounds tomatoes, cored and quartered

1.5 c. chopped onion

1 tsp cayenne

2 tsp whole cloves

4 inches of cinnamon stick, broken

0.75 tsp whole allspice

1.5 tsp celery seeds

1.5 c. cider vinegar

0.75 c. sugar

0.125 c. salt

1 bay leaf

Combine cloves, cinnamon, allspice and celery seeds in a piece of cheesecloth and tie off to create a spice bag.  Warm vinegar in a small saucepan until boiling, remove from heat and steep spice bag for half an hour.  In the meantime, combine tomatoes, onion and cayenne pepper in a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil, cooking down until soft, about 20 minutes.  Puree tomato mixture using a stick blender, then push through a strainer using the back of a spoon over another heavy-bottomed pot.  Once all seeds and pulp have been removed from the puree, add bay leaf, sugar and salt and return to heat, continuing to boil until the mixture has reduced by at least half, or achieved commercial ketchup consistency.  Pour the hot mixture into sterilized bottles, sealing tightly.  Process bottles in a hot water canner for 15 minutes.

Makes 2 litres plus 1 cup.

Until next time…

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2 Responses to “Snatchy Snatchy”

  1. [...] and candied peels).  For the most part, I’ve typically soldiered on using the aforementioned food mill, but this year it occurred to me that the meat grinding attachment on my stand mixer would be just [...]

  2. [...] Coincidentally those small, squat rolls are some that I enjoy preparing (and eating) quite a bit.  Of course because I am merely an honorary Italian, I make no bones about putting my own little twists into the bread that I’m baking, and on Family Day yesterday I decided to enhance the ciabatta with a healthy dose of homemade tomato conserva. [...]

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