Canning Tomatoes: Putting Up the Harvest

Breakfast through dinner. Hot or cold. The tomato is always welcome.
Canned Tomatoes

Canned Tomatoes

Canning whole tomatoes offers plenty of options for the salsas, tomato sauces and other tomato-based recipes to come.

Canning whole tomatoes offers plenty of options for the salsas, tomato sauces and other tomato-based recipes to come.

The versatile tomato. I can’t think of another vegetable that has so many applications in the arena of home cooking. Breakfast through dinner. Hot or cold. The tomato is always a welcome addition. The best part?

This time of year, there’s a good chance you grew them yourself.

One of the great joys of summer is the homegrown tomato. Even those who don’t consider themselves gardeners will keep a plant or two growing in a pot or a sunny spot in the corner of the yard. And it’s no wonder. Homegrown or locally-grown farm fresh tomatoes always seem to taste better than the commercial alternatives. There’s a reason for that.

But what to do when the days grow shorter, leaves turn from green to gold and your beloved tomato plants have given their last?

The good news is, for many applications, you need not leave the homegrown tomato off the menu for those eight or nine months a year when they can’t be plucked directly from the vine.

Let’s talk canning.

Canned at the peak of ripeness, tomatoes hold their nutrients and flavor surprisingly well. And if you are planning to process your tomatoes into sauce to can for later use, the added benefit of knowing exactly what is in that sauce can be of comfort to the careful eater.

There are some choices to be made before breaking out the mason jars. If you are a salsa lover, you may want to mix up a gallon or so to can. Preparing plenty of tomato sauce for canning during peak season will keep your pasta in the red all year long.  I’ll even throw in a plug here for homemade ketchup, a pleasure I stumbled into when thumbing through Darina Allen’s excellent book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best.

If you’re not sure what your cooking plans are going to be in February (and seriously, are you really planning that far ahead?), canning tomatoes whole is your most flexible option.

However you plan to can, the first step is removing the skin. Easier than it sounds. Blanch the tomatoes by dropping them in boiling water for just one minute, then transfer them into a bath of ice water. Cut the core from the tomato, score an “X” into the end and the skin will easily slip away from the flesh.

If canning them whole, you are all but finished. Fill sterilized quart sized mason jars to the top, pushing down gently to pack them tightly and remove as much air from the jar as possible without crushing the tomatoes too much. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice and a little boiling water to top it off (it won’t take much), leaving about half an inch of space at the top.

What’s with the lemon juice? Until relatively recently tomatoes were considered a high acid produce and could be canned unadulterated by either water bath or pressure canning. As more varieties of tomatoes have emerged, its status has changed. For water bath canning, it is now recommended an acidifier be used. Hence, a little lemon juice. Pressure canning processes at a higher temperature and requires no additional acidification.

Seal the jars with fresh lids and bands and place the jars in your water bath or pressure canner to seal the deal. Process time for a water bath canner is about 45 minutes or 15 minutes in a pressure canner.

This crash course in canning whole tomatoes will get you there, but that’s just the beginning. Picking up a good book on the art of canning may change the way you look at your garden produce for life. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is a fine place to start. And once you’re hooked, check out Liana Krissoff’s superb Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry. Liana has no fewer than fourteen different uses for your home-canned tomatoes in there, each better than the last.

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