I’m going to be canning tomatoes! Yes, I know it’s just one cherry tomato, but for me it’s just like seeing my first Robin in the Spring! It starts with one, and then there are more, and then I can’t keep the birdfeeders full. Tomatoes are the same way. You can’t wait for that first bite of vine ripened garden freshness, and before you know it you are giving them out to neighbors because you can’t eat them all.
This year I planted six San Marzano tomatoes. They are a delicious Italian heirloom variety that is perfect for sauce and canning. It has smaller seed pockets and more “meat” to it than other tomatoes. I also planted eight Gladiators, a hybrid paste tomato (a cross between two different varieties, nothing bad, no GMO’s) that is supposed to be twice the size of a San Marzano. Also planted were Super Sweet 100’s for snacking and salads, and Brandywine Pink, an heirloom slicer for sandwiches and salads. Lots on the vines and hundreds more forming. I will definitely be canning tomatoes…
All about canning.
Well, a lot about canning tomatoes anyway. We’ll talk about canning other stuff later.
Tomatoes are one of the first things I learned to can when I was a kid. If a kid can do it, so can you! Seriously, they are one of the easiest and most versatile veggies to can. Depending on what you like to use them in, they can be left whole, quartered, diced, seasoned, plain, juiced or *sauce. Just start out with ripe tomatoes that are as fresh as possible. Step 1. Wash the tomatoes. So far, so good? From here on, I’ll talk you through the various steps, depending on what your desired end result is. I’ll also post links to items used during the canning process. (The links on my pages are affiliate links and I do make a very small commission on your first purchases through them. I sought them out to be affiliates because I already like and use their products. They do not pay me to endorse them.)
So, how do you like your tomatoes?
- Tomato juice- Trim off any bruises or “bad” spots and remove stems. Cut into quarters and add to a large kettle. Crush, heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Press them through a food mill or sieve to remove seeds and skins.
- Want sauce? Put the juice back into a kettle and simmer until as thick as you want. (*I’ll explain about adding other seasonings later in this post.)
- Whole, Diced or quartered- You need to peel the tomatoes first. Fill a kettle 1/2 full of water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, have a large bowl of ice water ready. (I find using my sink is easier for this step.) Carefully drop a few tomatoes into the boiling water and time them for 30 seconds, or until if you poke one with a knife the skin splits. Remove them and drop them into ice water to stop the cooking process. The skins should now easily slide or peel off. Cut out any core, leave whole, quarter or dice them. This is also the way to peel your tomatoes for salads if you don’t like the peel.
That was pretty simple, right? Now on to the actual canning part.
What you will need for canning.
Or, what you need and what you’ll be glad you have when canning tomatoes, or anything.
First, you need a canning kettle or large stockpot. Canning kettles come with a rack for your jars to sit in, keeping them off the bottom of the kettle. They are also the right depth to allow an inch or two of water to be above the jars when processing them. If you decide to use a stock pot that you have, make sure you have a rack of some sort in the bottom. Place an empty jar in it to see if you still have space for an inch or two of water above the jar. Remember, the water will be boiling, so you will need space for that, also. IF you have a glass top stove, refer to manufacturers instructions. Some are not recommended for canning.
If you don’t want to do canning on a glass top stove…
Ball makes an electric water bath canner! This is on my wish list with Santa this year, hint, hint... When canners are full they are heavy, another reason some manufacturers don’t recommend using them on glass top stoves. One nice thing about this one is that it has a spigot on the side for draining. You can do your canning next to the sink as long as you have a nearby outlet, and just drain it off when done. It comes with a steamer rack for corn, clams or anything you want to steam. Also, it can be used for cooking pasta, soups or stews, or for serving hot beverages like hot cocoa, apple cider in the fall or mulled wine! A good point is that it uses an average of 20% less energy than a stove. I like the convenience and multi purpose uses. Santa, are you seeing this?
You just need a few more things.
Other than a canning kettle, you need canning jars. If your parent or Grandparent used to can, they may have a stockpile just waiting to be used. Just check them carefully for chips or cracks. If nobody has any, buy good quality jars, such as Ball, Kerr or Atlas. New jars come with lids and rings. The rings can be used over and over again unless they are stored wet and get rusty. The lids are for one time use only, but you can buy packages of those without having to buy the re-usable rings.
A jar lifter is used to add and remove the hot jars from boiling water without getting burned. The magnet wand lifts the lids and rings from hot water to easily place on the jars. You should have a plastic knife or “bubble freer” to slide into the jars to remove trapped air bubbles, and a wide mouth funnel for filling jars. Other than these, you just need a couple potholders, a few paper towels and a dish towel. If you want to check out canning jars, lids, seasoning and pickling mixes, the link to the right takes you directly to the Ball canning site. They always seem to have good sales going on, too.
Finally, the actual canning tomatoes part.
So, you have all the supplies and you have the tomatoes washed, peeled and prepped. Now for the fun part! Wash your jars and rings in hot soapy water and rinse well. Fill your canner about 1/3 full for pint jars or almost 1/2 full for quarts and bring it to a simmer. Place your rack in the bottom, and then add your empty jars to sterilize them. While this is heating up, bring your tomato product to a simmer. Place your lids and rings in a small saucepan of simmering water to sterilize those, also.
Using your jar lifter, remove a jar and carefully pour the hot water back into the canner. You need to acidify tomatoes to safely water bath can them. Add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to pints or 2 tablespoons to quarts.(Do not use fresh lemons as the acidity is not consistant). Using your funnel, fill your jar, but leave 1/2 inch of space at the top. This is called headspace. It is very important and the headspace varies depending on what you are canning. If you want, you can also add a bit of salt. Not necessary, but it won’t hurt anything either. Slide the “bubble freer” around the inside of the jar to release any trapped bubbles and add more tomato if necessary to keep that 1/2 inch headspace.
Use a wet paper towel to wipe the rim and threads of the jar. A tiny bit of tomato could prevent a good seal. Place a lid on top, then screw on a ring. Only tighten it “finger tight”. If you over tighten, the jars cannot vent and they won’t seal properly. Place your jars back into the canner as you fill them. Add or remove water as necessary to have at least 1 inch of water above the jars. When all are in, turn your heat up and place the cover on the canner. When it comes back to a boil, start timing. (You may need to turn the heat down a bit, but you should keep a constant rolling boil.)
Tomato juice and sauce processing time by jar size with altitude adjustments.
Pints, 35 min. 1000-3000 ft- 40 min. 3000-6000 ft- 45 min. over 6000 ft- 50 min.
Quarts, 40 min. 1000-3000 ft- 45 min. 2000-6000 ft- 50 min. over 6000 ft- 55 min.
For crushed, quarters, halves or whole tomatoes, add 5 minutes to those times.
When your timer says they’re done, turn off the heat and carefully remove the lid. Wait a few minutes for the steam to clear a bit and the water to settled down. Spread your dishtowel out on the counter. Use your jar lifter to carefully pick the jars straight up and place them on the towel, keeping an inch of space between the hot jars. In a few minutes you should start hearing them “ping”.
This my friends, is music to a canner’s ears! The lids have snapped down and your jars have sealed!!! Now let them rest, away from drafts and no touching until they are cold! Then, carefully remove all the rings. To check the seal, press on the lid. It should NOT move up and down. Lift the jars up an inch or so by the edges of the lid. It stayed on? GREAT! If a jar didn’t seal, it happens, store it in your fridge and use it within a few days. Wash your jars to remove any sticky residue and store them in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. Don’t store them with the rings on.
Directions are for just straight tomato with a little lemon juice and possibly salt, nothing else. When you start adding other ingredients, like peppers, onion, garlic and other veggies, it changes the acidity and may not be safe for water bath canning. Don’t try to wing it, thinking it will be safe. Only use trusted recipes from trusted sources. I will post some of my favorite tomato canning recipes that I use soon. And then some recipes for canning fruits and salsas and pickles and relishes and jams and jellies and…
If you have any questions that I can help you with, please comment below.
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