It requires at least one (but preferably five) sleepy kittens--
--some very busy little girls-- --and a finished total of 16 pints of diced tomatoes with basil:On the whole, now that my very first experience in canning is over, I'd say that the process is way easier than I'd thought it would be--if I can do it the first time with no major mishaps, then it's DEFINITELY easier than I thought it would be--but it did require a major fight with my spouse (who agreed before we started that he would not try to tell me how to do anything while we were canning, on account of I have read and watched probably a dozen tutorials on canning and he has read/watched none, and who did not last half an hour before breaking that promise and being asked to go spend some time reading comics at the bookstore), an unplanned trip to Wal-mart on a weekend night to grab more wide-mouth mason jars, and waaaaaaaay more hours than I thought it would. I mean way more, like midnight more.
I've been researching canning and getting advice from real-live people who know how to preserve their own food (thanks, Cake!) for months, now, but this tutorial on canning diced tomatoes and this canning tutorial video were especially super-helpful, and both short enough to look over several times on the day itself. I also was able to follow the instructions that came with my brand-new pressure canner for how to can tomatoes, and thus I was pretty much all set.
I had sort of hoped that the girls would be uninterested in the canning, and would prefer to entertain themselves independently all day while I worked--this was naive. And thus I am now also the expert on how to let a three-year-old and a five-year-old "help" one preserve food. The trick? Have them hand you stuff. They handed me tomatoes from the cold-water bath so that I could peel them, and then they put each skinned tomato into a bowl (and then, sometimes, from that bowl into another bowl...). Or give them scissors and a bowl and let them go mangle your basil plants. And then they can wash the basil, and the tomatoes. And then they can use the scissors to cut the basil. They can stir the pot in which the diced tomatoes with basil needs to boil for five minutes. They can hold the ruler and measure the half-inch headspace in each mason jar as you pour in the hot tomatoes. They can wipe up the ridiculous amount of tomato juice that you spilled. They can carry all the tomato peels out to the compost bin, and help you fill the dishwasher. See? Helpful! And it probably only adds an extra hour or two to the total time you'll spend canning!
So that's one winter's worth of vegetarian chili taken care of:
Now, anybody have a good recipe for a nice, versatile tomato sauce? Cause I bet the farmer's market will have canning tomatoes again this Saturday...