I have a love/hate relationship with canning. I love it at the beginning, but by the end of the day, my back hurts and I’m sick of the entire process. However, the next day when I stock my pantry full of those beautifully canned foods, I stand proud looking at all of my hard work. Thus it goes every year, I forget about the hate I have for canning, and begin the process over again.
This year, I decided not to grow my own vegetables, and just picked them up from a local farmers market. Yes, this is a much more expensive way of doing things, but we are rarely home in the summer – there’s way too much camping, hiking, biking, fishing, etc. to be worried about gardening. After canning my tomatoes, jelly, pickles, and jalapenos this year, I just had to share with you this love/hate relationship with canning I have.
Let’s Begin With Selecting Tomatoes
You can use any type of tomatoes you want, but in my opinion, the best flavor comes from ripe, juicy roma or hot house tomatoes that sit in a basket or box for a couple of days. Push your finger lightly into one, if it feels squishy like baby cheeks, they’re ready! If they’re hard, let them sit a little longer.
Once they’re ripe enough, go ahead and give them all a good rinse, get out the cutting board and paring knife, and put a big pot of water on the stove, set to boil. Some people like to core the tomatoes before they cook them and some do it afterwards. I prefer to do it beforehand, but you may like to do it afterwards – either way is fine. Go ahead and core all of the tomatoes and cut an X on the bottom of them. The X helps the skin come off easier.
Clean out your sink really well, fill it with cold water and ice, and then leave it there to put the tomatoes in after they’re done cooking.
In The Water They Go
When you’re ready to cook the tomatoes, drop about 10 at a time in the big pot of boiling water. You don’t want to do too many at once because it’ll be harder to see when they’re ready to take out.
In lower elevations, it’ll take about 2 minutes for the tomato skins to start cracking, but at a higher elevation (I’m over 8,000 feet), it usually takes 3-5 minutes. When you start to see the skins cracking, it’s time to take the tomatoes out of the boiling water. I usually pull them out with a slotted spoon – actually, I use a Chinese skimmer because I can pull out 2 tomatoes at a time usually.
When you pull the tomatoes out of the hot water, drop them in the icy, cold water to stop the cooking and get them cooled down so you can peel off the skins. When you’re canning, you want your foods to be hot and your canning jars to be hot, so the thought of dropping them in icy, cold water sounds a bit contradictory, but as long as you keep those canning jars hot, you’ll be fine with the tomatoes sitting in the cold water for a short time. We’re not looking to get them freezing cold, just cooled down enough to handle.
Turn the boiling water down so that it stays warm, but isn’t boiling anymore. This same pot can be used to finish the canning process.
Removing Those Skins
The skin should easily slide off of the tomato. If there are some that are stuck on, just cut them off with a paring knife. The skins are edible – it’s fine if they are left behind, but they are very stringy (think about how okra can be sometimes), so most people peel them off.
Don’t throw the peels away, though! They’re still useful. Dehydrate those babies for tomato powder that can be used to make tomato paste and tomato broth in soups.
Filling the Jars with Tomatoes
As I peel the tomatoes, I usually have my hot (sterilized) jars beside me so I can slide the tomatoes right in. Go ahead and squish them down (with your hand or a spoon) to try and fill any empty gaps. You’ll want to fill each jar to within ½ inch of the top. If you prefer your tomatoes to be cut, you can do that before putting them in the jar, but I prefer not to as I can do it later on and customize to the recipe.
Pour 1 tablespoon of lemon juice on top of the tomatoes for pint size jars and 2 tablespoons for quart size jars. If you want, you can add a teaspoon of salt to the tomatoes, but I prefer not to as I don’t know ahead of time what recipes I’m going to be using the tomatoes in.
To get the air bubbles out, take a chopstick and slide it around the outside of the jar, then glide the chopstick across the middle a few times to get rid of any bubbles in the middle of the jar. This will also help get the lemon juice to seep down into the tomatoes.
Wipe the rim of the jar clean with a wet paper towel, put on the sterilized lids and rings, and get ready to process the jars.
Canning Stewed Tomatoes
A lot of people recommend putting a rack on the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from sitting directly on the heat, thus causing the jars to crack or burst open. In all of my years of canning, I’ve never used a rack at the bottom of the pot and have only had one jar rupture (call me Dangerous with a capital D). However, I couldn’t call this a proper canning recipe if I didn’t tell you that you should use the rack because I can’t be responsible for busted up jars and hard earned work being left to the water bath.
The jars need to be lowered into the hot water, gently now, and the water needs to cover the jars by at least one inch. Then turn the water back up to a boil. We want to bring up the temperature of the jars with the temperature of the water to keep the jars from rupturing. Processing time depends on your altitude. At sea level, processing time is 85 minutes for pint and quart sized jars. With elevation gain, we start to add minutes to that 85 minute cooking time.
|Altitude in Feet||Increase in Processing Time|
|1,001 – 3,000||5 Minutes|
|3,001 – 6,000||10 Minutes|
|6,001 – 8,000||15 Minutes|
|8,001 – 10,000||20 Minutes|
Take out the jars after processing time is complete, place on a dry towel, and let them sit overnight. Don’t test the lids until the next day. If the next day the lid isn’t sucked in, the jar needs to go in the refrigerator and be used within the month. If the lid is sucked in (you’ll likely start to hear each of the jars popping after you pull them out of the water), that means your cans are ready to be shelved and used within the year. Mark each of the jars ‘Stewed Tomatoes’ and add the month and year you canned the tomatoes. Finally, put the cans in the pantry and admire your hard work.
I use stewed tomatoes in recipes like chili (my all-time favorite dish), tortilla soup, salsa, spaghetti sauce, marinara sauce, tomato soup, pizza, etc. If you want a thickened sauce, you’ll need to cook the tomatoes down or add some tomato paste. Know that if you add store bought tomato paste, you’ll likely be adding a lot of salt to the recipe, so taste as you go.
Canning Can Be Scary
There are lots and lots of canning recipes out there. Some say it’s safe to can salsa and spaghetti sauce without a pressure cooker, but if you go to the source – Ball or National Center for Home Food Preservation – they’ll tell you otherwise. For this reason, I don’t make my salsa and spaghetti sauce using the water bath method. When you start to add vegetables to the tomatoes, you have to use a pressure. I have a pressure cooker, but it’s tiny, so I haven’t used it for canning, yet. If you want to venture down the road of canning salsa or spaghetti sauce, I’d recommend visiting the right sources to get the details.
Speaking of pressure cookers, if you are trying to can meat – it HAS to be done in a pressure cooker.
For canning tomatoes, you HAVE to add the lemon juice. The lemon juice adds enough acidity to balance out the tomatoes and make them safe for shelving. Because of this, I use all natural lemon juice… I don’t want to risk poisoning my family because I used generic lemon juice (I’m a little OCD sometimes; you’ll learn that as you get to know me). You can use citic acid in place of lemon juice, if you prefer.
You don’t want to add anything else to the jars without doing some research. Adding different foods and liquids – even water – can change the acidity level and can make the tomatoes unsafe for canning. You’ll need to know how to change the recipe to make up for the changed acidity level. Basically, the pH level needs to be below 4.5.
Because there’s this balance in keeping the food and jars warm, it’s easier to use an outdoor cooker for larger canning batches. Like the turkey fryer cooker; those work amazingly!
- Let tomatoes ripen
- Set large pot of water on stove; boil water
- Wash tomatoes
- Core tomatoes
- Cut X in bottom of tomatoes
- Fill sink with cold water and ice
- Put 10 tomatoes at a time in boiling water
- When skin of tomatoes crack, take them out and put in icy, cold water
- Remove skins (but don’t throw the skins away)
- Put tomatoes in sterilized, hot jars
- Push down on tomatoes and fill jar to within ½ inch of top of jar
- Put in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for pints and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for quarts
- Swipe chopstick around jar to work lemon juice into tomatoes and remove air bubbles
- Wipe top of jar rim clean with wet paper towel
- Put on sterilized lid and ring
- Put jars in hot water
- Process for 85 minutes (additional time is needed depending on elevation – see chart above)
- Take jars out of pot and sit on dry towel; leave over night
- If lids are sucked in, in the morning, shelf them; if lids are not sucked in, put them in the refrigerator and use within the month