For the last two years I have felt compelled to can tomatoes. I actually want to can a lot of things- peaches, blackberries, strawberries. But the U-pick seasons are so short I always miss them. Tomatoes I can manage easily. They aren’t even ready until the end of the summer (like me). And they are super cheap to pick (I get them locally for .60/lb) which makes canning a break even compared to buying commercially canned tomatoes in the grocery store.
I picked these tomatoes in September, probably the 2nd week.
I don’t know what this tomato variety is called, but they are a basic globe and I picked them two years in a row. The year before last I also picked some heirloom tomatoes which look gorgeous, and taste delicious but are difficult to process for canning (thick skins and very tough and pulpy.)
Now then, I own a large pressure canner but so far I’ve only used it for water bath canning because I am essentially afraid of it. Because I canned tomatoes, which are an acidic fruit (and I also add lemon juice), I do not need to use the pressure function. However, were I to can a less acidic vegetable- like green beans or corn, or any type of meat, I would need pressure can to be sure my food was heated and sealed properly and safely.
The canning pot fits 7 quart jars or 12 pint jars. Mine is a Presto 23 Quart Pressure Canner. It comes with a bottom rack to keep your jars from touching the heated bottom. I also recommend a canning utensil kit- I bought this one: Norpro 6-Pc Canning Kit.
Regarding jars, I buy what’s cheap. I discovered that I prefer wide mouth jars for ease of packing and for stacking in the pantry. Canning jars are available everywhere, they are about $8-$10 per dozen and can be re-used year after year. I also use canning jars for wet and dry storage.
Coring, Peeling and Seeding
You could can tomatoes without seeding or peeling them but you will regret it. The peels turn into little red stems and the seeds, well, they’re seeds. Tomatoes grown by commercial growers and sold in grocery stores tend to have smaller, softer seeds that you may not really notice while cooking with fresh tomatoes. However, farm grown varieties tend to have tougher thicker skins ans larger seeds, so you’ll want to remove them.
First, core the tomatoes using a corer or a melon baller. You can use a paring knife too if you’re talented and it’s sharp. This is also a good time to check for any units with rot on them that you will want to reject for canning (but use fresh after cutting out the bad spot).
Next, you’ll need to submerge the tomatoes in boiling water followed by a quick shock in ice water to remove the skins, which should then slide right off. On my third batch, I discovered the magic of making an “x” on the bottom of the tomato with a sharp knife which helps the skins separate.
So you’ll wind up with several containers of naked tomatoes.
Now they need to be sliced, diced, crushed, or chopped, or made into sauce (depending on how you want to can them). I spent a lot of time chopping tomatoes last year only to find that step unnecessary when I actually used them. So I quarter mine. Quartering them makes them fairly to easy to seed as well. Actually they may be in eighths…so I guess I eight’ed them.
Once they’re chopped I use my fingers to scrape out the seeds. You can waggle them around in their own liquid and that will swoosh many of the seeds out.
They are now ready to be canned. I pack them in quart and pint jars and add 1/4 tsp canning salt and 1 TBSP lemon juice (bottled) for each pint. I fill the jars with juice and salt first then cram in the tomatoes leaving about 1/2 inch of head room in top of jar. I prepare the jars in the dishwasher on sanitize and boil the lids in a pot, however since I don’t add hot liquid to these my jars are not hot. Opinions vary on this, apparently.
My recipe says to process quart jars for 40 minutes and pint jars for 30 at boiling. The jars are then removed with the jar grabber and placed on a towel on the counter where they will sit, unmoved, for 24 hours.
You will know they are sealed when the lids suck down and do not flex when you press on them. You can hear the pinging of the jars as they seal! Some jars will take several hours to seal as they cool so don’t worry. If your jar doesn’t seal, you can reprocess it.
Altogether, my 100 lbs made 28 quarts of both sliced tomatoes and sauce. Sauce cooks down considerably and the 30 lbs of tomatoes I processed for sauce only made about 7 quarts. I found the best way to cook my tomato sauce was in my turkey roaster, just dropped the sliced, peeled, seeded tomatoes in and let them cook on 350 for a few a hours. You can add all of your seasonings while it’s cooking, however it’s not recommended to add cheese or oil before you can.
I use my canned tomatoes throughout the winter and spring to make spaghetti sauce, chili, taco soup, other sauces and soups. When you open the lid you can smell the difference- it’s like the smell of summer!! I only canned about half as much last year and ran out in the spring, so I’m hoping my 100 lbs will take me into next summer.
My next canning adventure will involve actually using the pressure canner feature, and hopefully not exploding myself.