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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Freezing Tomato Sauce, with and w/o a Vacuum Sealer





Well its been a couple days since I made that last batch of tomato sauce and I am ready to post on how I have preserved it. I did decide to freeze it because It wasn't a canning recipe and you don't 'mess with' canning unless you are sure you are following a recipe that is safe for canning. I know of two women who got food poisoning from improperly canned tomatoes, one of the ladies was already immune compromised due to a disease and the food poisoning killed her. Tomatoes are probably one of the easiest things to can--but that does not mean you can just take it lightly. I don't can unless I know I'm doing it 100% correctly.

This summer so far, I've been challenged to find good timing with my schedule and my gardens, so although I've wanted to do some canning I haven't yet. No matter, freezing is much easier anyhow. The only drawbacks to freezing are 1. you only have so much freezer space and 2. if your electric goes out longer than a day or two in an emergency, you will need to 'use it or lose it'. I'm not very concerned about that right now, when we lived in the north I did worry about it a little bit, and I know an emergency can happen anyplace--but it does seem a little less likely here. (I hope, I hope, I hope..)

Anyhow How I did the tomato sauce:

1. I wiped the sides of a freezable container with olive oil, then I poured the sauce into the container and let it freeze in one big chunk.

2. After it was done freezing I loosened the sides with my 'kitchen scraper' and dumped the whole chunk out on my cutting board. (*my kitchen scraper is a paint scraper that is 'designated' for my kitchen only. I don't use it for painting--it is super handy, I use it for lots of things, like scraping burnt stuff out cast iron)

3. I then took my 'meat tenderizing hammer' and my 'food scraper' and scored and separated the chunk until it was 8 even sized chunks of frozen sauce. I just pounded it a little like using a chisel and hammer. If the sauce were 'softer' I could have separated it with a spatula but it was frozen pretty hard. I've done this with tomato paste--making 'stips' of seasoned tomato paste and that froze much softer as there was less water in it.

4. I used my foodsaver vacuum sealer for the first chunk following the directions for a foodsaver gadget.
For the rest of the chunks I used some of the zip top freezer bags from Aldi Store, and some Hefty 'one zip' bags that I bought recently on sale with coupons--at that nice little triple coupon day at Harris Teeter.

5. To get the air out of the bags using the non-vaccum style bags I dipped the bags with their contents into a bowl of water until nearly submerged. I partially closed the bags first leaving only a corner open. I let the water force the air to the open corner and then sealed the bags all the way closed.

General Stuff about Expenses, Safety and Work Involved in Food Preserving:

About The FoodSaver--This is a gadget, like my Vitamix--that I bought back in the days when we had, as I like to say, what we thought was 'disposable income'. I'm not sure I would buy these gadgets again. They are expensive and they are not necessary. However they do a good job and I'm glad I have them. If you look at my 8 bags it is pretty easy to see that the Foodsaver bag is keeping the sauce better and that vacuum sealing with that gadget got more air out than water forcing did. That said, FoodSaver bags are crazy expensive in my opinion. I usually buy mine at Sam's club but I know there is--or maybe 'used to be'? a Yahoogroup (e-list) about the foodsaver and I do think they know of sources for less expensive bags. I have noticed myself that FoodSaver Bags do not seem to hold their vacuum as well as they did 15 or 20 years ago--I think they've changed them and I'm not too pleased. I'm on my 2nd FoodSaver machine. My first one was killed when I accidentally sucked liquid into it which finally corroded some inner workings. This is why I now flash freeze liquids before I vacuum seal them, that way no liquid is going to be sucked up into my machine.

Anyhow--When I run out of bags for my FoodSaver next time I may look into finding some different brands. Meanwhile I use my Foodsaver bags mainly for things I want to store more than a month or two and things that are more pricey--like meat and seafood. Because I generally pay 1/2 price or less for meat I like to 'stock up' at good sales and I don't take chances with my meat quality later on. I use the FoodSaver for Cheese too.

Every person must decide for themselves what they can or can't afford to use for food preserving and storage. The FoodSaver works well and I've never thrown out any food I preserved in it. Actually-- the water method works pretty good too--but I use that stuff more quickly, it definitely does not last as long as FoodSaver frozen items. Canning of course also works, freezing is said to produce better quality and it is much easier--but each method has its own risks.

Each method also has its own expense. Canning takes alot of hard work and time, and the equipment for canning costs money--though it is re-usable. Big enamel boiling water bath canners aren't too much money but a pressure canner in particular can be quite pricey, you also need to get your pressure gauge checked yearly to be sure it is spot on. You take it to your nearest University Extension Office-- unless you have the weight style -which personally I prefer the gauge. I have used both and I was never quite comfortable with the weight. Used equipment can save you alot of money. Ebay and Craigs list are good places to look. Also check rummage sales, auctions and thrift stores. I bought alot of my canning equipment from estate sales back in the '80s. I had a pressure canner that only cost me $1. It was quite an antique, my mother was afraid it would explode but it didn't. It worked great but I had to have the gauge replaced. The lady at the estate sale said to me, "you aren't going to USE that are you?" I think many folks are afraid of pressure canning--but I know that if you carefully follow directions it is safe. I repeat CAREFULLY FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.

It takes practice to get comfortable with canning and I always wished I'd had someone by my side to teach me, but that wasn't something I could find. My mom was one of those ladies that got the food poisoning--so she wanted nothing to do with it. I've always been a little 'adventurous' though so I persevered and learned as I went. A good source for more info from someone who really does alot of canning is Jackie Clay of Backwoods Home Magazine. Of course any of the Ball Books are good, but Jackie does an incredible amount of canning so I think her advise is worth looking at for ideas. I would still only use recipes that are known to be safe.

For the most part my own canning has been safe. The only mishap I've had was resulting from trying to be 'too safe'. I once over pressure cooked some soup because I didn't know what on earth the 'rattling' of the weighted gauge was supposed to mean--I was using it the first time and did not understand the directions. I was so afraid to under cook it that I pretty much turned it into goo. It was minestrone --with pasta--which I was kind of surprised at how big pasta can get when it is over cooked. ;)

Anyhow--if you can find a 'mentor' to work with you on canning--do that--especially for pressure canning. Boiling water bath you can do on your own with a good book--like Ball Blue Book.

Last Tip:
Find a nice little country store that sells canning supplies. You can get many things 2nd hand but there's nothing like a good old fashioned hardware/feed store type place in a small country town to supply you with all that you might need. There is such a place near where I work that carries quite alot. I was so excited to find it. They even have the 1/2 gallon mason jars my friend in Wisconsin used to put her goat milk in. She had given me a few and I'd never found them again til recently. You won't find all the nifty canning stuff at Walmart--but you may find some of it. Grocery stores usually will carry a little bit of canning supplies too.

Bon Appetit--when you've done some work first. :)

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