Monday, September 26, 2011

Adventures in Home Preserving: Tomatoes

We've done it!  Our annual push to preserve as much as we can.   We've already done roasted red peppers, cucumber pickles, and we have dilly beans to do this week!

Our big challenge is always tomatoes.  We try to can at least 25 pint jars of tomatoes each year, and this will last us through the winter for pasta sauces, channa masala, and whatever else we can think to make.

Canning is always better with a friend.  It is madness.  It took about 4 hours on two separate occasions this year.  The tomatoes are first peeled and seeded.  Then, we pack them into jars and cover them with the juice recovered from the seeding.  I make sure everything is as clean as it can be to ensure as many jars stay safe as possible.  In three years of canning, we've never had a bad jar.  This year though, some of the jars that we've been reusing broke during processing.  They must have been slightly cracked or something.  It's so sad to see a floating ghost jar in the water!

It can be scary to can.  It's involved and time consuming, and if you don't do it right, you could have a jar of botulism.  But!  You can do it!  With equipment you probably already have in your kitchen or could borrow from a friend.  Just pay attention and take your time.  It is worth it.  You will have the beautiful tomatoes available now at the farmer's market, all winter long.

There are still fresh tomatoes at the market, but soon, we will be so thankful for these jars!

Whole Tomatoes in their Juice
This is the basic recipe that you will find from the USDA or from contemporary canning mavens like Eugenia Bone
Makes 6 pints (~500 ml)
Takes 3 hours

About 15 pounds ripe and firm roma or plum tomatoes, rinsed and clean
citric acid (available in most grocery stores or health food stores)
basil leaves, oregano, or whatever you wish

6 pint jars, with new bands and lids
One very large pot--your jars need to be submerged in water and covered by at least an inch.
A metal tray to fit in the bottom of the pan so that the jars do not directly touch the bottom--they will break from rattling around and the heat of the bottom of the pan.
A very good pair of rubberized tongs, or a jar lifter
One large strainer
One pitcher
One smaller pot
Three large bowls
A knife
One chopstick

Fill your very large pot with water and place the tray inside.   Place your jars inside, standing upright, and make sure the water comes over them.  Now you know how many jars will fit in at once.  Ours holds 8.  Maybe you are lucky to have two very big pots and you can have two going at once.  Bring the water to a boil with the lid on.  This will take awhile, and the jars will be sterilized as they sit in the pot.

Fill your smaller pot, big enough to hold 6 or so of the romas comfortably, with water and bring to a boil.

Prepare one of the large bowls as an ice bath.  Get the other bowl ready for peels and seeds by placing the strainer over it.

When the water in the smaller pot is boiling, add the tomatoes, six or so at a time, and cook for 30 seconds or so, just enough to loosen their skins.  Remove them and place in the ice bath.  Keep on doing this until you have gone through all of the tomatoes.

Remove the tomato skins, the cores and any blemishes.  The tomato skins can go into the strainer, throw the cores and bad spots out!  Get your fingers in the cavities and get out all of the seeds and put those into the strainer.  The seeds make the tomatoes bitter, so getting as many of them as you can out is good.  Place the prepared tomato in the third large bowl.

Continue doing this until all of the tomatoes are prepared.  When the strainer gets heavy, press down and agitate to get out all of the juice.  Pour the juice into the pitcher.

Remove the jars from the big pot, very carefully draining them, and place them on a clean towel.  Place the bands in the hot water, and put the lids in a heat-safe bowl.

Place 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid in each of the pint jars.  Add basil leaves or what you wish.  I keep my tomatoes simple because I don't know what will happen to them.

Pack the jars with the tomatoes, pressing them down as you do so, until they reach the shoulders of the jars.  Cover the tomatoes with the tomato juice.  Using a chopstick, or a bread knife, poke around the tomatoes until you are sure that there are no air bubbles.  Fill the jars with more juice if necessary so that there is 1/2 inch of room at the top.

Wipe down the tops of the jars with a wet paper towel so that they will make good contact with the lids.  Pour a few ladle-fulls of simmering water onto the lids to soften the rubber bands.  Place them on the jars, and screw the bands on finger tip tight.  It is the lids that create the seal, not the bands, but the bands have to keep the lids on during the processing time.

Now, carefully, so carefully!, place the jars into your canning pot.  Wait for the water to come to a boil again, now start your timer for 40 minutes.  Keep an eye on the pot so that there is always at least an inch of water above the jars.

When it's time, remove the jars, very, very carefully!  Place them on a towel on your counter (not a wooden surface, we have stains from our first attempts).  Now the fun part, they should all pop!  The most satisfying sound, letting you know that your jars have sealed, and you have tomatoes waiting for you.  Let them sit untouched for 12 hours, and check the seals.  They should be concave and not move when you press them down.  Then store them in the dark for up to a year.

Enjoy your labors!!


  1. This is my summer project. Since it's 80 degrees in Iowa today, I'm getting mentally prepared by reading these helpful posts!

  2. Good luck! It is a day of hard work that lasts all winter long. So worth it!