Canning Tomatoes: A How To Guide

Tomatoes are the classic summer crop. As flavorful as they are bountiful in the summer months, there is no substitute for a fresh, homegrown heirloom tomato variety paired with fresh basil and olive oil. Especially when you contrast it to the tomatoes that are available during winter; hybridized varieties that were produced for durability during transit, often grown industrially, en masse at a commercial farm and containing just as much flavor and magic as one would expect from such a fruit.

Keep your gardens’ glory by canning tomatoes.

Tomatoes are so rich in vitamins and nutrients, as well as antioxidants, that, ideally, you’d want them year-round. For the gardener, there are few options for procuring tomatoes during the winter. They don’t store well and for summer varieties, bursting with flavor, due to huge sugar and water content, it’s not really an option. You can’t stick them in a barrel, like apples, or bury them, like potatoes. For the lucky soul with an overabundance of tomatoes, there’s only one thing you can do: you have to can them.

Luckily, tomatoes make a wide range of products; you can stew them and pack them whole, dice them, make them into a lower-moisture tomato paste, or mix them up with herbs and spices to make a canned pasta sauce.

For this little tutorial, we’ll be preparing whole tomatoes and canning them. This makes the ingredient list quite easy. Tomatoes and lemon juice.

You can prepare almost any variety of tomatoes this way, but roma tomatoes (which are often called “paste tomatoes”), work best. As their name alludes, romas have a lower moisture content. They’re great for sauces. Beefsteaks and other varieties work in this particular preparartion, but cherry toma,toes and grape tomatoes have a lot of moisture, need extra lemon juice and, in this preparation, we’re removing the skin, so they’re inadvisable, unless you’re really attached to them.

Prepping Your Tomatoes for Canning

Start a pot of water boiling and get a bowl of ice water set aside. When the water is boiling, use a ladle to place a whole tomato in the water for about 30 seconds. Remove them and immediately immerse them in the ice water. The skin will separate and will be easy to peel off. Inspect your tomatoes for rotten spots and cut out whatever looks sketchy to you. Set them aside.

Canning Tomatoes

For water-bath canning, you’ll need:

  1. A water-bath canner, which is essentially a large pot
  2. Mason jars, pint- or quart-sized
  3. Sealing lids with rings
  4. A jar grabber, special tongs that grab jars for easy insertion and removal

You’ll need to sterilize your jars and lids. You can either make this the first step once you get the water in your canner boiling. Fully immerse the jars and lids in the boiling water and remove them after 2 minutes, setting them aside to air-dry.

Once your jars and lids are sterilized and have cooled sufficiently, you can start filling them. Fill the jars with tomatoes, leaving about a half inch at the top of the jar. This “head room” allows the jar to seal properly. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice and either boiling water or hot tomato juice, until the tomatoes are covered, but again leave half an inch from the mouth of the jar. Using a clean spoon, clear any air bubbles out of the jar by gently agitating the tomatoes in the liquid.

Making sure the mouth of the jar is clean and dry (you can wipe it with a clean paper towel, if need be), place a lid on the jar and screw on a sealing ring. Make sure they are tight.

Using the jar grabber, place the jar in the canner bath. If you’re using pint jars, the jars should remain in the canner for 40 minutes. For quarts, they should remain in there for 45 minutes. Remove finished jars with the grabber and set them aside to cool. Using a oven mitt or dishtowel to insulate your hand, loosen the rings a little after a few minutes of cooling. Repeat filling and canning as necessary.

Once the jars have cooled enough to handle, make sure that the lids are properly affixed. If there’s a loose one, don’t store it. Check the mouth of the jar for imperfections and replace the old lid with a new one, as well as a ring and place it back in the canner for ten minutes or so.

Your tomatoes will rise above the liquid. This is normal. Store them in a cool, dark and dry place, such as a pantry, basement, even the garage.

After canning tomatoes, you’ll have plenty of tomatoes to use for sauces for many meals to come until your next garden harvest. -MIKE KLEPFER

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