Monday, September 12, 2011

Canning Tomatoes

I decided to do a post chronicling my adventures in canning tomatoes. This was my first attempt and my first year doing it. It was work, but it's worth it to avoid all the BPA that leaches into store-bought canned tomatoes.

Please don't take anything I say seriously, because I'm sure I didn't do half of what you're supposed to do to can safely. I didn't add any lemon juice (you're supposed to), I processed in a boiling water bath (the internet tells me I should have used a pressure canner) and I used my oven to sterilize my jars (another no-no).

However in my internet explorings as I tried to decide how I was going to go about it I ran across one woman who has been canning tomatoes for decades, and she just brings them to a boil, pours them into clean jars and puts the lid on. I figured if she hasn't died yet, then probably I don't need to be as extreme as some other people!

Here's how I did it:

Tomatoes! They're so cheap right now. These were $1.50 a pound. I wish I could say they were organic, but they're not. They are local though, so that must count for something! Rinse 'em in the sink.

Use a sharp knife to cut an "x" in the bottom. This makes it easier to peel. I've done it with and without and this is easier and only takes a second to do.

Now cut the cores out!

While you're prepping the tomatoes put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Mine is covered in spots because I never bother to thoroughly clean the outside of the pot (hey it never touches the food right?). 

Get a bowl of ice water ready. This isn't ice water. This is cold water with four measly little ice cubes floating in it, but I only have one ice cube tray and it was almost empty. I made two batches of tomato sauce on two separate days and the second time I made it I skipped the ice altogether and just refilled the bowl with really cold tap water in between tomatoes and that worked just fine.

Plunge a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water. Most places say 30 seconds is long enough, but I always go for a full minute. They're going to be cooked soon anyway so who cares if you cook them a little bit now. 

Cute picture of what Eli was doing while I was working. I thought, I should stop him and take the tea away from him, but he's not hurting anything and it's keeping him distracted. Then he smashed my tea canister and I deeply regretted that decision. 

Back to the tomatoes: remove from the boiling water and put them into the "ice" water. My ice melted completely the first tomatoes I put in.  You'll get a rhythm going after a bit. Three tomatoes into boiling water. Set timer for one minute. Pull tomatoes out of ice water, peel, throw them into a bowl. Take tomatoes out of boiling water and put into cold water. Repeat. 

The peels will slide right off. All you have to do is get over how totally gross it feels. And looks.

 Peeled tomatoes!

Toss a few at a time into the blender. Unless you don't mind chunky tomatoes, in which case you can just give 'em a rough chop or even toss them into the pot whole. I hate chunky tomatoes. It makes me want to vomit, so I blend them really well. Now you can cut each tomato in half and scoop or squeeze out the juice and seeds, but I'm lazy and don't care if there are seeds in it. As long as there are no chunks, I'm good. 

Yummy blended tomatoes! Just kidding, this is actually disgusting. And the photo makes it look red but it's actually more of a pale pink. Seriously gross.

Now it's time to turn it into tomato sauce! Pour it into a pot and boil it down until it thickens slightly. I try to skim some of the foam off the top because I read that most of the impurities in food will rise to the top in the foam so it's better if you skim it. I also used a slotted spoon to scoop through it and get out any chunks that didn't get blended. Did I mention that I hate chunks of tomato in my food?

While that's simmering, get the jars ready! I washed them in soap and water and put them in the oven at 225 degrees for at least 10 minutes thanks to a tip from a friend (Thanks Holly!). This was a lot easier than getting out several more pots to boil everything, or running the entire dishwasher just for a few jars. I left them in the oven for about 20 minutes then turned the oven off but still left them in there until I needed them. You'll notice I've got five jars there. That was overly optimistic, this only filled three. I made a bigger batch another day.

Some stuff that is handy but not necessary (do you like my beautiful painted countertop? Joys of living in an apartment...). Well, I would almost say the jar funnel is necessary unless you have some serious talent when it comes to pouring stuff into jars. The rest of it is convenient sometimes but I just as often pull on a pair of oven mitts and just use that to pull the jars out. Then take them off and thoughtlessly grab the hot jar with my bare hands to move it closer to the pot. Every. Time.

I don't have a special canning pot with a rack inside, so I use a regular pot and I like to put a dishtowel in the bottom before I fill it with water. There's no special or fancy reason for this except that it keeps the jars from rattling on the bottom while it's boiling because that sound drives me CRAZY.

Put the jars into the pot and fill it up with water. This is wrong. The water is supposed to come up to at least an inch over the top of the jar, but as you can see my pot isn't big enough. I'm willing to take that risk but you probably shouldn't. Anyway bring this to a rapid boil, put the lid on and boil rapidly for 35 minutes. Then take the lid off, let it stand for five minutes, lift the jars out (this is where those jar lifting tongs come in very handy!) and put them somewhere they can be undisturbed. I put mine on top of the fridge. Then just leave them alone for 24 hours. You should hear the "pop" of the lids sealing fairly soon after you take them out. A couple of mine popped almost as soon as I took the lid off the pot. After they've sat for 24 hours test to make sure they're sealed by pushing on the lids. If it doesn't pop in and out, it's good to go. 
I plan on using these tomatoes anywhere I would normally use canned tomatoes - in soups, sauces, chili, etc. I saved money, avoided - at least for the most part because I think there is some in the plastic on the lids - the BPA, and feel good about doing something with my own hands.

Linking up to The Purposed Heart and these other blog hops...

Growing Home


  1. Wow! Great job! I read the entire post! Whew! I have over a dozen organic (and heirloom) tomato plants growing right now and am getting basket loads of tomatoes. I would love to can, but Mom fears doing so because of the risks. Tomato sandwiches, here we come! Enjoy your sauce!

  2. Ha! If it's any comfort, my mom and I always sterilized our jars in the oven too. And we're still alive. ;-)

    Great tutorial! I'm adding your site to my blog-roll; I love your style of recipes!