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A guide to preserving tomatoes.


TOMATOES ARE ONE OF THE EASIEST and most common plants grown in backyard gardens. Everyone loves fresh tomatoes picked from their own vine but if you planted more than one plant, chances are you are drowning in them by now. The taste of homegrown vine ripened tomatoes is incomparable so don't waste them. Preserve them!

I grew up watching my mom can tomatoes so canning comes naturally to me. If you didn't grow up in a household that preserved their own food, you may assume it is much harder than it really is. If you can raise it, you are no doubt capable of preserving it. All you need to gain a rewarding skill and hobby is a little equipment and instruction.


Many people will tell you they do it to save money and I'm sure they do but that's not why I do it. I do it because I enjoy it and because I want to provide the very best for my family. In just a few hours, I can stock my pantry with beautiful, healthy, organic tomatoes and tomato products to enjoy year round. Once you try it, you'll be hooked too! Home canned tomatoes have the advantage of being stored in glass as opposed to grocery store tomatoes in plastic lined metal cans. Plus, I know my tomatoes have not been exposed to pesticides or herbicides.


The most common method of canning tomatoes and probably the best way to learn is the hot water bath method. Basically, you place peeled tomatoes in a jar and then boil them under water until they are sterilized. Not everything can be preserved in this method since some bacteria require a higher temperature to kill. But, tomatoes are acidic and most bacteria can't survive in an acidic environment. That's why some recipes call for added lemon juice to raise the acidity so just to be sure, add two tablespoons of lemon juice per quart jar. I don't, but then I raise acidic tomatoes.

For this method, you'll need a few things. Of course you'll need jars but make sure they are Ball or Mason jars and not reused disposable jars like old pickle or mayonnaise jars. Many people look for jars at yard sales or thrift stores. As long as they are not cracked or chipped, go ahead and save some money. You can find everything you need in the canning section of the hardware store or a well-stocked grocery store. The canner is simply a big metal pot with a wire rack in the bottom and a lid. Most hold seven-quart jars and even more pint jars. It may also come with a device used to lift the hot jars out of the water. You'll also need lids made to seal (these are not reusable but are sold separately) and reusable rings to screw down on the lids. A canning funnel comes in handy too. It is made to fit the mouth of the jar so you don't drip tomato juice all over them as you fill the jars.


Any tomato can be canned but some have more flesh than others. Tomatoes are mostly water so the Roma paste tomatoes tend to be prettier and thicker once processed. If all you have are the big beef-steak varieties, go for it. They will still turn out better than anything you can buy. What is more important than the variety though is the individual fruits you use. The final product is only as good as what goes in so I like to pick them the day of canning and I only select the fruits in their prime. I don't use green ones or overripe soft ones.

Before you begin, get your equipment ready. Make sure your jars are clean (I rim mine through the dishwasher to sterilize) and you have new lids and clean rings. To peel the tomatoes, drop the washed tomato in boiling water for a few seconds until you see the skin start to curl. Then remove it and drop it in ice water. It should be easy at this point to just peel it off with your fingers. Cut away the stem and any blemish but never use a rotten tomato.

Now they are ready for the jar. You can drop them in whole or you can cut them into pieces, it's up to you. If they are big I will at least cut them in half. As you fill the jar, press down on them with your fingers so the juice replaces the air pockets between tomatoes. Add the lemon juice if you prefer. Use a knife to help remove air bubbles because the only place you want air is in the top one inch of the jar. This is called "head space" and it allows the tomatoes to expand during heating. Without it, the tomatoes will boil over in the jar and ruin your seal. Once the jar is filled within one inch of the top and all air bubbles have been removed, wipe the top of the jar good with a paper towel and place a clean new lid followed by a ring. Twist it down firmly but not tight since the air needs to escape during processing. Continue until you are out of tomatoes or you have enough jars to fill the canner.

Place the jars in the canner and fill with water until the jars are at least one inch below the surface (make it two to be safe). Turn the heat to high and put on the lid. It may take a while to reach boiling so now would be a good time to start another project in the kitchen as long as you can check it every 5 to 10 minutes. Once it reaches a rapid boil, set a timer for 40 minutes for quart jars and keep it boiling hard. When the time is up, turn off the heat and give it a few minutes before removing the jars with the utensil made for removing hot jars. I like to set mine on a dry towel on the counter and then don't touch them until they are completely cool. As they begin to cool, you will hear a pop. That means the lid just sealed and is your assurance the tomatoes are safe. Always check the seal before storing and again before using. If the seal is not still vacuum packed, don't eat it.


Now that you see how easy it is to can tomatoes, let's move on to the next level: sauces. There are so many salsas and sauces that use tomatoes combined with spices along with onions and peppers. As long as they are acidic, they too can be preserved using the water bath method. Serve them to your guests over cream cheese or with chips. These make great gifts and are so pretty to display in your kitchen. Once you start playing around with recipes you can make your own to suit your family's taste. Some like it hot so go crazy with the type of peppers you use but I personally like to "sissy" them down for those of us who prefer milder sauces.


Here in South Texas, there are few varieties of tomatoes that can stand the heat and those are small, so peeling by hand is too time consuming. They have a great taste though and do well in canning and cooking, so I bought a strainer to cut my preparation time from hours to minutes. I will never again be without one of these little gadgets. It comes with various size strainers to alter the texture of the tomatoes but it can also be used with apples and many other fruits and vegetables. I prefer to use the "salsa" sized strainer for the majority of my recipes.

One thing to keep in mind is once the air hits a tomato, an enzyme begins to cause the water to separate from the pulp so you want to heat the strained tomatoes as soon as possible to deactivate the enzyme. I strain a batch at a time and pour it directly in a large pot and heat it up. All this takes place rather quickly so I've not had a problem with them separating like I would if I peeled each individually.


If you have enjoyed canning so far, it is time to kick it up a notch with a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers can safely process all fruits and vegetables along with meats and an endless variety of combined ingredients, limited only by your imagination. You'll want to buy a large one that holds at least seven quart jars. I just bought a new one for $125. If that sounds like a lot, consider it an investment or better yet, put it on your wish list for your family's gift giving.

Many people are intimidated by pressure cookers due to the high heat under pressure, but the modern models are very safe. Unless you are filling it with explosives, you are not going to blow up a pressure cooker! The lid locks in place by design. When you turn the lid to close it, one metal plate slides under another, making it impossible for the lid to blow off. If you were to forget and leave it on the heat, the rubber safety valve would blow out letting the heat and steam escape long before the cooker would explode. The only way to hurt yourself is to get burned by the steam if you open the lid before it cools down, but now that you know, you won't do that.

Okay, now that we're canning with the big girls, on the next page is a great recipe for spaghetti sauce requiring a pressure cooker due to the ingredients. Before you place it in the jars, take a little bite and adjust the spices to your liking, but this is my final recipe based on my preference. I have preserved enough to eat it at least every other week. It's great for when I come in hungry and in a hurry. I simply brown some ground beef, drain, add a jar of sauce and simmer a few minutes. I serve it over pasta or if I have more time I use it to make eggplant parmesan or lasagna. I don't have to worry about what's in it since I not only made it but I grew most of the ingredients. Your kids will love this recipe and you will love that it is safe and healthy.


Homegrown tomatoes are just too good to only enjoy during the summer. With a little bit of equipment and time, you can preserve them as a variety of wholesome products to be enjoyed year round. Now that you have mastered canning and have the equipment, try your hand at ketchup, barbeque sauce, tomato paste, juice, etc. Heck, don't stop at tomatoes. Go ahead and preserve all the great foods our bountiful homesteads provide. You'll be so glad you did!

Here's a fun and tasty recipe to get you started. I use nine 8-ounce jars for this. I like to get the pretty cut-glass jars and decorate the lids before giving as gifts. Once they are completely cool, simply remove the rings and place lovely squares of festive fabric over the lid and replace the ring to dress it up. If you are really crafty, you can cross stitch cute designs for each lid or add a tiny ribbon and they will never eat them because they are just too decorative.
Creole Sauce

From Ball Complete Book of Home

 11 cups coarsely chopped cored
    peeled tomatoes (8 cups if strained)
  1 green bell pepper, seeded and
  1 cup chopped green onions
  4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  1 tablespoon dried oregano
  2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
  1 teaspoon freshly ground black
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine the ingredients in a large
saucepan and bring to a boil over high
heat stirring frequently. Reduce the
heat and boil gently uncovered until
thickened, about 40 minutes. In the
meantime, get your jars and canning
equipment ready.

Since the sauce will be hot, go
ahead and heat your canning water
so the jars will not break when you
place them in (just under boiling).
Ladle the still hot sauce in the jars
leaving one inch head space. Wipe
the tops, add the lids and firmly
screw on the rings and place them
in the warm canner. Put the lid on
the canner and bring to a rapid boil.
Process them for 20 minutes and then
remove and cool.

Sauce Recipe

Makes 7 quarts

 14 pounds of tomatoes
    run through strainer
    (weigh them before
  1 cup of olive oil
1/2 garlic bulb chopped
    very fine
  4 onions chopped fine
  2 bell peppers chopped
    fine (remove seeds and
    membrane from inside)
  2 jalapeno peppers
    chopped fine (remove
    seeds and membrane
    from inside)
1/4 cup packed brown
1/4 cup sea salt
  2 tablespoons of raw
    apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of Italian
    seasoning (marjoram,
    basil, rosemary, thyme,
    oregano, savory and
    sage). Buy mixed spice
    or grow your own.

You'll need a pot that
holds about 2 gallons for
this. If you have nothing
else, use your pressure
canner as the pot and
then clean it before you
need it as a canner.

Saute the peppers,
onions, and garlic in the
oil until tender. Then
stir in the tomatoes,
vinegar, sugar and salt
and bring to a medium
boil. Continue to stir
occasionally for about an
hour holding at a low to
medium boil to reduce
the liquid. Add your
Italian spices the last 15
minutes of cooking. Once
it is as thick as you want,
it is ready to can.

Have seven clean quart
jars ready with rings and
new lids. Ladle the sauce
in the jars leaving one
inch headspace. Wipe
the top of the jars clean
with a paper towel and
top with the lid and ring.
Tighten it but don't crank
it down.

To get your canner
ready, fill the bottom with
three quarts of water
(check your instructions
with your cooker in case
it is a different size). Add
the round rack that fits
inside to hold the jars off
the floor of the cooker.
Since your sauce is going
to be hot, go ahead and
heat the water in the
cooker to just below
boiling. Place the filled
closed jars inside, check
the seal on the cooker
lid (they can stretch out
of shape over time) and
close it up. Turn the
heat on high and watch
for the steam to start
coming out of the vent
pipe. Once it does, time it
for 10 minutes (I use the
timer on the microwave).
This lets the air out which
is important.

After the 10 minutes,
place the weight/
pressure regulator over
the vent pipe. Now
the pressure will start
building and you should
be able to hear the jars
boiling inside. Watch
the dial as the pressure
starts to build. You
want to let it rise to 11
pounds of pressure and
then hold it there for 30
minutes by adjusting
the heat. It is alright for
it to go over some but
don't let it go under.
You'll be tempted to go
do something else while
it is boiling but don't.
You need to watch the
pressure closely.

Once your 30 minutes
are up, turn off the
heat and leave the
cooker alone until it is
completely cool. When
it is, open it and remove
your canned spaghetti
sauce. Write the date
and contents on the lid
and store in the pantry.
You're done!

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Author:Wolfe, Kay
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Oct 21, 2015
Previous Article:The Countryside Cookbook.
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