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Too many tomatoes

It's been a bumper year for tomatoes as the weather was mild for Adelaide and the usual searing heat of summer did not appear and destroy the tiny flowers or burn the fruit. My self-sown garden which sprung from the compost gave me tomatoes for months and everyone I know seems to have been enjoying a successful crop. Last weekend, our brother-in-law was staying and walked past a local cafe giving out bags of free tomatoes which he brought home to us. Then my brother popped past with a box of excess tomatoes from their garden.

So what do you do when you have too many tomatoes? I thought I would try bottling them to have my own winter supply of tinned tomatoes. There is nothing like the taste of summer tomatoes in the depths of winter.

I did this with a great deal of trepidation because I have had only one previous experience of preserving tomatoes and it was a disaster. The annual family passata-making day is a Southern Italian tradition and Raffaele's family was no exception. Every autumn the family would gather in the backyard and puree, cook and then boil up empty beer bottles of passata. They also filled empty coke bottles with tomato pieces. He has many happy memories of these days, the technique, the equipment and the jobs he and his brothers and sisters had in the process. The bottles were boiled in an old copper over a fire in layers with hession bags between them.

His father was a wizz with machines and one year hooked up a motor to the puree maker much to the relief of the children's arm muscles as turning the handle was their job. A long day with every one helping kept the family in pasta sauce until next summer.

Many years ago I decided to give it a try and proudly made about a dozen bottles of passata in my kitchen from a box of locally grown summer ripe tomatoes.

Months later, we invited friends over for a Sunday pasta lunch. Freshly made pasta lay ready on the pasta board and it was time to make the sauce. I took a bottle of passata from the cupboard and opened the top. There was a vesuvian explosion sending red sauce all over the kitchen curtains and up the wall. After much shrieking and frantic cleaning, we tried one after another, carefully removing the tops outside in the garden and they all produced the same fizzy red mess. A mad dash to the local shop to buy a bottle of passata saved the meal just in time but the whole experience curbed my enthusiasm for bottling tomatoes and I never tried again.

My daughter gave us a fantasic Calabrian cookbook one year for Christmas ( My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino) and it contains a large number of instructions for preseving summer vegetables in oil or by bottling. As they say in the classics "when in doubt, read the instructions". With so many tomatoes at my disposal, I was ready to try again!

Below is my adaptation of the instructions. The secret, I gather, is in the sterilisation and sealing! I use the microwave to steralise.

Fingers crossed. Hopefully this time there will be no volcanoes!

How to bottle tomatoes.

Rinse the tomatoes well and put them into a stock pot, cover them with water and heat until you see the first sign of split skins then turn them off.

In the meantime, prepare a bowl of cold water and ice, enough to cover them all.

Drain the tomatoes and put them into the icy cold water to cool.

When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. If they are very seedy tomatoes, squeeze out the seeds.

Take enough glass jars with screw-top lids and wash them well in hot soapy water.(or run them through the dishwasher) Rinse and then put them in the microwave for a couple of minutes. (not the lids)

Fill the jars with peeled tomatoes and screw the lids on tight.

In a big stock pot, deep enough to cover the jars with water, put a tea towel on the bottom and put in the jars, either standing or on their sides but put in another tea towel if there is more than one layer to protect them from breaking against each other.

Fill the pot, covering the jars and bring to boil.

Gently boil for an hour.

Turn the heat off.

Leave the jars in the pot to cool.

Take them out, dry the jars and store in a cool dark place until you need them.

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