How to Can Tomatoes

I’ve decided to become a full-blooded Italian. Anyone know how I could go about this?

I’ve been reading everything-Mediterranean these days, and in one of the books I picked up at my last trip to Half-Price Books, I saw a family of Italians canning truckloads of tomatoes in their big Italian kitchen. I wanted to dive into that book and join the happy, messy, chaotic fun. I had to settle instead for buying a truckload of my own tomatoes (since mine are doing absolutely nothing out in the greenhouse right now) and canning all by my lonesome … in my tiny, not-very-Italian kitchen. Feeling sad for me yet?

There’s nothing at all to canning tomatoes. And come winter, you’re pretty happy you spent an afternoon doing it back in September.

How to can tomatoes:

  • buy the freshest, ripest tomatoes you can find (if you didn’t already grow them yourself). And I’m not talking about those lethargic almost-tomatoes in the grocery store. You’re going to have to run out to a farmer’s market and get something worth canning.

  • round up the only other two ingredients you need: pickling salt and either citric acid or lemon juice
  • round up your canner, jar-lifters, funnel, and some pot holders

First step: start the water in your canner to boiling. It’s a lot of water and it can take awhile to get that going.

Next: peel all those tomatoes. This is incredibly easy. Just start a big pot of boiling water and toss in about seven tomatoes at one time. After 30 seconds, scoop the tomatoes out (using a slotted spoon) and plunk them in a bowl of ice cold water.

The peels will just slip off in your hands. (If they don’t, put them back in the hot water for another 15 seconds.)

Collect a mountain of such tomatoes …

… and cut them into halves or quarters, removing the tough areas around the stem and any bruised spots. Place in a big pot and add just enough water to cover.

While you’re bringing the tomatoes to a boil (and you’ll only cook for 5-10 minutes after that), get your clean, sterilized jars ready. To each quart, add 1/2 tsp of pickling salt and 1 tsp of citrus acid OR lemon juice.

Top the jar with your funnel …

… and begin ladling your hot tomatoes into the jar. Start with just the tomatoes at first; you’ll then add the stewing liquid  (the water you added to the pot) to cover all. But try to fill with as many tomatoes as you can first.

Then you need to find a long poking instrument. I use a bamboo skewer that somehow made it through the summer without being kebobbed. I’ve always been a little skeptical of this step, which is supposed to release any trapped air bubbles from the nether-regions of the jar. Apparently, those air bubbles contain germs. But here’s where my skepticism comes in. You’re going to leave a 1/4″ head space at the top of the jar, and that’s going to be full of air. So … what’s the deal? Still, I’m pretty obedient. And complying with the poking and air-releasing gives me a reason to shoot an off-angle picture.

Next, take a damp paper towel and wipe the edges of your jar. If there’s any tomato-y residue left on the rim, the lid won’t seal up properly. Once clean, add lid and ring and screw down tightly.

Place your quart jars in your canner, lower into the water, and make sure the jars are completely covered. If you have to add more water, make it as hot as possible. You don’t start timing until the water reaches a full boil.

Process in the water bath for 45 minutes. Remove with the jar lifter and place on a soft spot to cool.

You’ll know they’ve sealed properly when either a) you hear that satisfying “pop” or b) you push down on the center and it doesn’t spring back. But I really hope you get the pop.

“They” say to store your canned foods in a dark cupboard. But I say that “they” don’t have souls. C’mon. Stick them in the dark, when I could line them up on my kitchen counter instead? I have to look at them for awhile … and dream of winter blizzards in which I calmly assure my family that there will be no starving this year, for I have made tomatoes.


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