How to can tomatoes

Canned tomatoes using waterbath method

Last year I began my quest for expert canning processes. Not that there was a lack of expertise, it’s just the experts were fewer and farther between.

The county fair reined. Two names were synonymous with canning: a mother-and-son team, whose canned tomato sauce, salsa, relish and ketchup were racking up accolades at county fairs.

Junette Young and her son, Tracy, appreciated the beauty of a preserved tomato in all its incarnations. For them, a righteously canned tomato in winter promised a taste of summer in stew, chili and spaghetti.

SEE MORE: All of Our Tomato Recipes

They confided that the secret to canning was not in the technique. The winning ticket was labeled with a straightforward directive for anyone with a water bath canner. Grow your own favorite varieties, and then pick a few to preserve. For best flavor, process only a few jars at a time. (Note: The number of tomatoes is not specified, as it varies depending upon the size of the water bath canner.)

Water Bath Method Instructions

  1. Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full of hot water to boil.
  2. Fill boiling water bath canner half-full of hot water. Put canner on to heat.
  3. Examine jars and sealing surfaces to make sure that all surfaces are smooth. Wash jars and sealers (rims) in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Leave jars in hot water until needed.
  4. Put lids (flats) in saucepan filled with water, and place on stove to simmer until needed.
  5. Select just enough tomatoes for one canner load. Make sure tomatoes are fresh, firm and red ripe. Wash tomatoes and drain. Put in wire basket, and lower into boiling water in the second large saucepan. Remove after about 60 to 90 seconds, or when skin begins to crack. This depends upon the size of tomatoes – smaller varieties may only take 30 seconds.
  6. Dip tomatoes into cold water. Cut out cores and remove skins. You can leave the tomatoes whole or cut them in half. Place in a large pot; add enough water to cover tomatoes. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove 1 jar from hot water and drain.
  8. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart jar. If using pint jars, use 1 tablespoon lemon juice. (This step is optional.)
  9. Pack hot tomatoes into jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Pour hot cooking liquid over tomatoes, leaving ½-inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon canning salt to each quart jar (½ teaspoon for pint jars).
  10. Run a nonmetallic spatula between tomatoes and jar to release any trapped air bubbles. Wipe top and threads (the screw threads at the rim) of the jar with clean, damp cloth.
  11. Using tongs, remove 1 lid from simmering water and place it flat on top of jar so sealing compound is against jar. Screw band down evenly and firmly.
  12. Repeat steps 10 and 11 with all jars. As each jar is filled, stand it on rack in canner of hot, not boiling, water, which should cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. (Add additional water if necessary.) Put cover on canner, and bring water to a boil.
  13. Process quarts for up to 45 minutes (40 minutes for pints) at a gentle but steady boil.
  14. Using tongs, carefully remove jars from canner and set on a wood or cloth surface, placing jars several inches apart and out of drafts. Do not retighten bands. Allow jars to cool about 12 hours.
  15. Remove bands (rims) and test seal. Wash outside jar surface. Store in a dry, dark and cool place.

This recipe has been adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. For more detailed instructions, please refer to the book or its website,

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup Recipe

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About Our Guest Author: Roben Mounger has a penchant for searching out locally produced ingredients for her family’s meals. For some 15 years, she has eaten year round by way of CSAs and farmers markets. Roben writes a weekly column about food for The Columbia Daily Herald and blogs about eating locally at Ms. Cook’s Table.

  • TAGS
  • canning tomatoes
  • how-to
  • preserving tomatoes
  • tomatoes

Step-by-Step Instructions

How to can tomatoes on 100 Days of #RealFoodThe Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

As I mentioned, Kiran and I got together this summer to try our hand at canning tomatoes. I had some experience canning jam before and we’ve both taken canning classes, but the funny thing is even with all that experience we still felt like we had to read the directions 20 million times just to make sure we were not missing a single step. This is how we canned our tomatoes following the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

Prep Work

  1. We went to our local farmers’ market and bought 20 pounds of tomatoes. You want to inspect each one to make sure they’re free of cracks and bad spots.
  2. We then bought a set of quart glass canning jars. It would also be okay to use canning jars you already own, BUT you would need to ensure the jars are free of nicks and cracks and you would need to purchase new (never been used) lids for this project, unless you have the reusable kind. We ended up needing 6 quart jars since a few of our tomatoes spoiled in the 3 days between purchasing them and canning them and had to be trashed.
  3. We also bought lemon juice – this is required and helps increase the acid level of the tomatoes for food safety reasons.
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Canning Day

How to can tomatoes on 100 Days of #RealFoodSterilizing our jars and canning tools

  1. We started by setting out all of our supplies and sterilizing our jars, bands, and canning tools (funnel, lid lifter, tongs, etc.) in the dishwasher. We sterilized the lids separately in hot water (not to exceed 180 degrees F). While you could sterilize everything in pots of water, I think it’s easier to do the bulk of it in the dishwasher, and reliable sources say this is an approved method for everything except the lids.
  2. We filled a large lobster pot I happen to own with water (of course a canning pot would be even better if you have one!), set a wire canning rack inside, and put it on the stove on high to boil. We used this same pot to both prepare our tomatoes and to process our jars.
  3. Next, we prepared our tomatoes. There are different ways to do this, and we chose the “raw pack” method (mainly because it sounded the easiest – ha!). So next we dropped our tomatoes (in batches) into the boiling water and blanched them for about 1 minute. The purpose of this step is to make it easier to get the skins off. Once we were done blanching we set up an assembly line of sorts. Kiran took the peels off then passed them to me to cut out and discard the top of the core. At this point you can leave the tomatoes whole or cut them in quarters. We left them whole because again – it was the easiest way to go!
  4. By then the dishwasher was done so we set up our clean jars on a clean dish towel and dropped in the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice required for each quart jar (it’s 1 tablespoon per pint jar). Then we added as many tomatoes that would fit into each jar, topped them off with water until only 1/2″ of headspace was left (it’s important to follow this measurement guideline), and added a teaspoon of salt to each jar.
  5. Once all the jars were filled we slid a nonmetallic spatula all around on the inside edges of the jars to break up any air bubbles and then added more water if necessary. We honestly didn’t need much water at all because our tomatoes were so juicy!
  6. Lastly, we wiped the rims and jars with a clean towel, carefully placed the sterilized lids on the jars (not touching the underside by using 0ur magnetic lid tool), loosely screwed on the bands, and then lowered as many jars as would fit into the large pot of boiling water. We ensured the water covered the jars completely, let it come back up to a light boil, and started the timer for 45 minutes.
  7. When we were done we carefully used our jar tongs to get the hot jars out of the pot and let them rest on the counter for a while before handling. Little by little the lids started to pop to let us know they were sealed – here is a pic of our finished product!

How to can tomatoes on 100 Days of #RealFoodThe finished product!

Questions We Had

Now even though we were using some very reliable instructions, we found ourselves with quite a few questions along the way. So I called up Ball on the phone (they’re there to answer any of your canning questions for free! 1-800-240-3340) and found out the following…

  • Lemon juice: Does it have to be bottled (not fresh)? Apparently you can use fresh! We did not know that and went with bottled just to be safe because a few recipes we saw specifically said “bottled.” Now we know!
  • Tomatoes: Can you only process whole (or chopped) tomatoes or how about spaghetti sauce? Processing sauce is possible, but requires a different procedure and lemon juice as well, which you might not normally add to sauce. I personally like having plain whole tomatoes on hand because they are more versatile – you could use them to make sauce or soup or anything your heart desires!
  • End product: Why are my tomatoes floating in the jars? This happened to us and we learned it is not ideal, but it’s okay. This is a common (and completely safe) issue and can happen when tomatoes are overripe or not all the air bubbles were removed when packing the jars.
  • Packing tomatoes into jars: Can we use our hands or is a (wooden) spoon better? Clean hands or clean wooden spoon are both okay, but a non-metallic spoon will be more sterilized than your fingers/fingernails.
  • Sterilization: Do you have to boil the jars or is the dishwasher okay for sterilization? Ball has not tested the dishwasher (so they can’t give it their blessing), but other reliable sources say it’s okay. As I mentioned above the lids should not go in the dishwasher and instead be sterilized in a pot of water not to exceed 180 degrees F).
  • Processing time: Is it possible to “over-process” i.e. boil for too long? Over-processing will possibly diminish the quality of the product, but won’t affect the safety of the food.
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Well, overall our canning day was a success! Kiran and I would love to hear your canning tips in the comments …we can’t wait to get together to process our next batch. :)

How to can tomatoes on 100 Days of #RealFood

Canning Tomatoes the Old-Fashioned Way

Canning Tomatoes the Old-Fashioned Way - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter Canning can be very fun and very rewarding. Because tomatoes contain natural acids, they don’t have to be pressured canned. Instead, you can use a water bath canner which is much easier. You just have to be sure that you prep your tomatoes and your jars and lids before you begin. Once you have the tomatoes and jars ready, you just need to add a little lemon juice and a pinch of salt to the jars before you add the tomatoes. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and place the lids on. Be sure that you leave enough room at the top for sealing. Boil your tomatoes in a water bath canner for about 40 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. When your time is up, just remove the jars and ensure that all of them sealed correctly. Just push on the center of the lid. If it is properly sealed, it won’t budge. You can store your home canned tomatoes in a dark area for up to one year so you can enjoy them until it’s time to can again next year.

Techniques and recipes – Momprepares

Freezing Tomatoes for Future Use

Freezing Tomatoes for Future Use - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for WinterIf you don’t have a canner or you prefer to freeze your foods, you can easily freeze tomatoes. You can skin the tomatoes before you freeze them by simply dropping them into a pan of boiling water. Cut a small slot in the bottom of each before boiling them. You will notice that the skins begin to split once the water starts to boil. When this happens, just remove them from the boiling water and drop them in cold water to stop them from cooking any further. The skins will simply slide off. Once you have the skins removed, you can cut the tops off and remove the seeds if you want. If you are working with larger tomatoes, you may want to cut them into quarters. This is entirely up to you. You can simply cut them up and add to freezer bags or if you want stewed tomatoes, you can just cook them in boiling water for about 15 minutes. Cool them thoroughly before adding to your freezer bags. As you add the tomatoes, be sure that you squeeze out as much air as possible so that they taste better when you use them in the future.

Techniques and recipes – Deepsouthdish and Makeithomemade

Freezing Cherry Tomatoes

Freezing Cherry Tomatoes - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter Cherry tomatoes are so small that it really makes little sense to peel them. Instead, you can simply freeze them whole just as they are. This is a really fast process that does not require blanching and freezing them whole helps to retain the nutrients that are found in the skins. To freeze cherry tomatoes – or other smaller types of tomatoes- just wash and dry them thoroughly and lay them out on a cookie sheet. Place the entire cookie sheet filled with tomatoes into your freezer for just a couple of hours until the tomatoes are frozen solid. Laying them out like this eliminates the risk of them freezing together into clumps. When they are frozen through, just add them to a gallon sized freezer bag or other freezer container and you are finished. You can freeze tomatoes for up to a year at a time and enjoy them anytime you want.

Techniques and Recipes – Gardenbetty

Make Tomato Paste

Make Tomato Paste - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter Tomato paste is a kitchen essential for many dishes and although it is not terribly expensive in stores, there is nothing better than your own homemade tomato paste when preparing tasty foods in the kitchen. Tomato paste is also very easy to make and can be frozen for up to six months or so before the taste begins to change. To make your own tomato paste, just peel tomatoes and remove the seeds. Chop into relatively small pieces so that they will break down easier. If you want a rich tomato flavor, you can actually leave the seeds and peelings intact although you will need to strain them through a sieve before you freeze or can. Cook the tomatoes over medium to low heat and add a half a teaspoon of salt for every 5 or so tomatoes that you are going to cook. You just have to continue cooking until you get a pasty consistency. Once you see this, you can cool the tomatoes and add them to ice cube trays for freezing. Once they are frozen, simply remove from the trays and store in a freezer bag.

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Techniques and Recipes – Thekitchn

Easy Sun Dried Tomatoes

Easy Sun Dried Tomatoes - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter You don’t necessarily have to have a dehydrator to make your own sun dried tomatoes. You can use an oven or allow them to dry out in sunlight. By adding a few spices such as oregano, salt, thyme and basil, you can make delicious dried tomatoes and the process is much easier than you may think. Whatever method you use to dry out your tomatoes, you will need to ensure that you scar the underneath side of the core and cut the tomatoes either in half or in quarters. Remove as many seeds as possible without disturbing the pulp and then add your spices. It takes about 12 hours to dry tomatoes in the oven or about 8 hours in a dehydrator. If you want to dry them out in direct sunlight, make sure that humidity levels are low. You will need 3 days for drying time and you need to have a place where the tomatoes can lay in direct sunlight without actually laying on the ground. Be sure to arrange them so that each one gets plenty of sunlight and turn them after the first day and a half to ensure that both sides get plenty of drying time.

Techniques and Recipes –

Make Your Own Ketchup

Make Your Own Ketchup - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter Making ketchup is a bit more complicated than simply canning or freezing tomatoes but it is not so difficult that you can’t do it. You will need to remove the skins from the tomatoes by first boiling them and the soaking them in ice water. This ensures that skins slip off easily. Once you have the skins off, you will need to remove the seed and squeeze each tomato portion to ensure that excess water comes out. You can actually save the liquid that you get from the tomatoes for use as tomato juice or simply throw it out. Ketchup requires a few seasonings and you can add them with your tomatoes to a pot of boiling water or simply put them in cheesecloth and add that to the pot. Add in onions, sugar and a few other key ingredients and simmer and allow your ketchup to thicken. You can preserve ketchup in a water bath canner and store it for later.

Techniques and Recipes – Pickyourown

Can Tomatoes without a Canner

Can Tomatoes without a Canner - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter So, you want to preserve those tomatoes but don’t have a canner? Believe it or not, not everyone who cans tomatoes actually uses a canner. You can do it without one. You will need to peel the tomatoes which is a simple process. You simply have to boil them for a few minutes and then drop in ice water to loosen the skins. Once you have done this, fill your sanitized jars to within about ½ inch of the rim. You can then fill the jars with boiling water, and a little lemon juice to add acidity, and then clean off the rim and place the lid. You should ensure that there are no air bubbles so use a spoon to move the air out before putting the lid in place. Instead of a canner, you can simply use a large stock pot that will act as a water bath canner which is the perfect way to preserve tomatoes. Just boil the tomato filled jars for about 85 minutes and they should seal perfectly.

Techniques and Recipes – Prudentbaby

Freeze Your Own Herb Tomato Sauce

Freeze Your Own Herb Tomato Sauce - Top 8 Most Popular Ways to Preserve Tomatoes for Winter Whether you prefer canning or freezing, you can easily make your own herb flavored tomato sauce that will be delicious on those snowy evenings. You just have to peel the skins from the tomatoes, remove the seeds and chop the tomatoes into relatively small pieces. The sauce has olive oil, garlic and onions along with tomatoes and your favorite herbs and only has to cook for about two hours before processing. If you are planning to can your sauce, be sure that you follow instructions for canning tomato sauce that contains oil. A water bath canner is not safe for products containing oil so if you want to can these, you will need to use a pressure canner. You can however, freeze the sauce by simply putting it in freezer bags or containers after it has cooled. Be sure to leave about ½ inch from the top of any container when filling and date all of your frozen foods so that you know when you preserved them.

Techniques and Recipes – Simplebites

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