How to Can Tomatoes

For those gardeners who end up with too many tomatoes, canning may be the answer to the question of what to do with them. Many tomato plants are extremely fruitful, the roma for instance, and some folks just can't get them all eaten but don't want to waste them. Canning tomatoes is a simple process that you can do on an evening when you want to release some stress.

The first step is to pluck your tomatoes and be ready to can them while still fresh. It is best to can very recently plucked, nicely ripe tomatoes. So step 1: have plenty of tomatoes to work with.

Next, you want to have several clean, sterilized jars: either pint or quart will do. The size of the jar can be important. If you have a big family and expect you would use an entire quart of tomatoes, then go with quart. But if you have fewer mouths to feed, go with pint. Pint size jars are also good because they are easier to sterilize and process. Sterilizing is easy: just put cleaned, warmed jars in boiling water for five minutes. Along with the jars, of course, you need lids and rims. Lids should be warmed up in almost boiling water, then dried before they go on the full jars. Rims, after jars are all full, should only be tightened firmly by hand.

The third step, after your jars are ready, is to boil a nice, big pot of water in order to peel the tomatoes. This step is optional, as some people enjoy having the skins with their canned tomatoes. For the boiling water, I use my soup pot. When your water is boiling, you can drop your tomatoes in there and count to about 30 seconds. Now, here is something that depends on the person as well: Some tomatoes have that big, hard green spot where they were attached to the bush. Many folks decide to cut that piece out. If you do that, just try to cut in a cone shape around the spot, so as not to lose much fruit. You can cut the spot out before you throw the tomatoes in the boiling water. After a 30 second boiling water bath, scoop the tomatoes out and drop them in a bowl of freezing cold water. The peels should just rub right off.

The fourth step is to put your tomatoes in the cleaned, sterilized jars! Some tomatoes need to be cut into smaller chunks, and that is fine. Stuff those jars good and tight and fill them until there is about a half inch to 3/4 inch of headspace. Then measure about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice into each jar: the lemon juice is full of ascorbic acid which helps the fruit keep its lovely color. One nice finishing touch to keep in mind is to get a flexible, thin rubber spatula (sometimes a butter knife will work), and slide it right up against the inside of the jar to release air pockets. Again, pack your jars tight!

Finally, put your warmed and dried lids on the jars, then tighten up your rims. In a big pot (I use my soup pot again) you need to get some water boiling. You need to give your jars of tomatoes a boiling water bath for about 60 minutes, depending on your altitude. I am at about 4000 feet, and I process for an hour. The reason this is so long is that you are working with still fairly cold tomatoes that are uncooked and have not put boiling water in your jars. Sixty minutes is a safe amount of time. When the processing is done, scoop your jars out of the water and let them cool and seal. You should hear some pops and such as the jars seal up. These should keep for a year, at least!

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