As far back as I can remember, my mom & grandma canned tomatoes. In fact, I have very vivid memories of my mom having a huge piece of plywood set up on two saw horses under the car port with her tomatoes laid out to ripen the last little bit before she canned them.
I never understood why they canned tomatoes. I never asked. It was just something that they did. It wasn’t until I was an adult, buying my own groceries and cooking for my own family, that I realized that fresh was really better and that by canning our own tomatoes (or any vegetable) guaranteed that we had the freshest, seasonal, local tomatoes all year long.
In preparation for an upcoming Farm-to-Table dinner that I’m hosting for a local non-profit, I decided to can the tomatoes we planned to use. Since we will be making chili and vegetable soup, I headed to the farmers market the weekend before and picked up a box of locally grown, super ripe, pristine tomatoes for $12. Yep, 25 pounds of tomatoes for $12!
Simple Tomato Canning
Step 1: Sort & Clean
While the top layer in the case of tomatoes may look fine, there may be some squishy and rotten tomatoes hidden in the lower layers. Get rid of them immediately. The rotting tomatoes can cause the others to begin decaying.
If your tomatoes seem extremely dirty or possibly have fertilizers or pesticides on them, wash them before scalding. If your tomatoes are clean, organic, and absolutely free from chemicals, then washing is completely optional. The skins will be removed when scalded.
Step 2: Prepping Jars, Lids & Rings
Even if your jars are brand new, wash them. One cycle in the dishwasher should be plenty. Sterilizing jars is no longer needed, especially since the tomatoes will be processed in boiling water for more than 10 minutes. The same applies to your lids and rings–sterilization is no longer needed. Just make sure that everything is free from dirt and obvious contaminants.
Step 3: Scald Tomatoes
With a sharp knife, cut an “x” in the bottom of each tomato. My mother used to always core the tomato before scalding, I do not. I find it easier to remove the stem end after scalding.
To scald, bring a large pot of water to a boil, place whole, scored tomatoes into simmering water for 30-60 seconds. Remove tomatoes with a wire strainer or slotted spoon. Immediately dip in cold water and skins will slip right off.
Step 4: Salt & Seasonings
While the jars are still hot from the dishwasherAdd 1 teaspoon of salt to each jar. If you want additional dried herbs, like Italian seasoning or basil, add them at this time. Fresh herbs and seasonings, such as garlic, can be added now or with the tomatoes.
Step 5: Cut & Pack Tomatoes
It’s at this point that I remove the stem end of the tomatoes. My mom never cut tomatoes, and instead, placed them into jars whole or crushed them with her hands. I, however, I cut them in quarters to make sure I can pack as much into each jar as possible.
It’s also at this stage that you can add fresh basil leaves, garlic cloves, or any spice that you want suspended in the tomatoes.
Step 6: Seal Jars
Before placing lids and rings on each jar, wipe off any bits of tomato and contamination with a damp cloth. Some people go as far as to clean the mouth of each jar with an alcohol swab. Once clean, place on a lid and screw on the bands to fingertip tight.
Step 7: Processing Jars
Place jars in a large pot (big enough to allow jars to be covered with 1-2 inches of water) or canning pot. Some say that you should place the jars in the pot once the water is boiling. However, I place the jars in the pot, cover them with 1-2 inches of water, and bring them to a boil. Once boiling, allow the water to boil around them for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, remove the pot from the burner and remove jars from the hot water. Allow jars to cool on a towel covered counter. While they cool, you may begin to hear jars lids popping. This sound is the lid sealing to the jar. Leave the jars to completely cool for 12 hours before tightening bands or storing in the pantry.
End Result: My 25 lbs. of tomatoes yielded 13 quart jars, and since I already owned the jars, each jar of canned tomatoes only cost me $.92. Yep…cheaper and fresher canned tomatoes!