If you’ve never canned anything in your life, tomatoes are the place to start! You don’t need a lot of know-how. You don’t need a lot of ingredients. You don’t need to figure out how to use a pressure canner.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED:
- Glass preserving jars with lids (quarts or pints)
- A water-bath canner and a large stock pot
- Canning tongs and funnel (available as a set at any store)
- 2-4 large tomatoes per quart jar
- ½ tsp citric acid or 2 Tbsp lemon juice per quart jar (the plastic lemon works)
- Optional – 1 tsp salt per quart jar, if desired
- Fill your water canner and turn on high heat. It’ll take a while for it to reach boiling temperature. Wash jars with soap and water and submerge them in the canner until ready for use. Only wash your lids. Don’t put them in the canner. They have a wax seal on them that will melt.
- In a large stock pot, dip your tomatoes in boiling water 30 to 60 seconds. Immediately submerge them in cold water. When cool, trim off the stems, core, remove any blemished areas, and slip off the skins. You can dice them, cut them in half, or leave them whole.
- When all tomatoes are cleaned and cut, transfer them into the (now emptied and rinsed) large stock pot you initially boiled them in. Warm them over medium-high heat until hot – about 5 minutes of a low boil.
- Add the citric acid or lemon juice, and add the salt if you wish.
- Using jar tongs, remove one jar from the canning pot, empty the water from the jar, and fill jar with tomatoes, leaving about 1/2 inch open on the top. (Depending how much water is in your canner, you may empty back into the canner or pour water into the sink. When full of jars, your goal is to have your water level a couple inches higher than the jars, so disposed of water as needed.) After your jar is filled, use a paper towel to wipe the rim of the jar, removing any tomato residue which will keep the lid from sealing. Center the lid on the jar and apply the band until fingertip tight. You’ll need a thick towel to hold the hot jar while you tighten the lid. Pick the jar up with canning tongs and place back in the canning pot. Repeat with all other jars.
- Once all jars are full, place a lid on your canner to aid in bringing to the boiling point faster. After your pot is at a rolling boil, that’s when the timer starts. Boil quarts for 45 minutes (pints for 35 minutes).
- Remove jars and allow to cool naturally on a THICK towel on your counter for 24 hours. When cool, check the lids to make sure they are sealed. They should not flex when you press on the center.
TIPS FROM THE PANTRY NINJA:
*If you don’t have quite enough tomatoes from your garden to can as many jars as you’d like, you can rinse the tomatoes and place them in a freezer bag in the freezer. To defrost them, place them in a sink of cold water. The skins will slip off just as if you placed them in boiling water, so you can skip that step.
*If you have a glass stove top, you can still can. Just don’t move or slide your canner. Filled with water, the canner is very heavy and can scratch your stove top. (Always follow your stove’s recommendations, not mine.)
*If you have too many tomatoes to can an equal amount of jars, you can use smaller jars, but always process for the amount of time needed for the largest jar in the canner. Processing a pint jar for 45 minutes won’t hurt, but processing quart jars for only 35 minutes is bad news. You’re not reaching the desired temperature or length of time needed in the center of the larger jars.
*Don’t skip the citrus/lemon step. You NEED the citric acid to store your tomatoes properly. Botulism is a real thing. Citric acid kills any botulinum you may have brought in from the garden soil.
*If you are indeed worried about botulism, just remember to always rolling-boil any canned food for a minimum of eight minutes when you open it. I think you should even do this with store-bought canned food. This boiling temperature and time will kill botulism.
*The process above is called hot-packing, as the tomatoes are hot when you put them in the jar. You can also cold-pack your jars, and take a longer time to bring the jars up to temperature in the canner. Either way is fine. However, I’ve broken more than one jar when cold packing, so I just opt to save myself the trouble of cleaning up broken jars and heat my tomatoes before placing them in hot jars.
*Often, for a host of scientific reasons, your tomatoes and the juice will separate like the picture below. (These orange tomatoes are Nebraska Wedding Tomatoes.) There is nothing wrong with the separation. Once the jar has cooled, just flip it over and back again, and they will re-mix. No problem.
Tomatoes are very simple to can. I guarantee you’ll make a huge mess the first time you try it, but after the third or fourth time you can, you’ll get the hang of it and be a pro!
Always remember SAFETY FIRST! Do not can the way someone’s grandmother used to can. Do not use great aunt Margaret’s family recipe. Only use safe, proven recipes. The Ball Canning Book and the National Center for Food Preservation are both good places to look for recipes and information.
The above recipe is from the Ball Canning Book with narration from yours truly.