We had quite an adventure last week in canning our tomatoes. Though we've posted a video detailing that (very, very long) night, we thought some readers might like to see a step-by-step process of how we did it, and what we used.
The biggest change between this year's canning and our previous efforts is a change in method. Two years ago, we used a hot-pack method, meaning that the tomatoes themselves were cooked prior to being placed in the jars.
This year, we opted to skip that step and do a raw-pack method, meaning that the tomatoes go into the jars raw, and boiling water is then added. It was this method (and skipping the cooking step) that allowed us to do 90 pounds of tomatoes in 7 hours. If we had done the cooking step, it likely would have taken us all night to complete the canning process.
So come along on our raw-pack canning adventure! At the bottom of this post, you'll find the full recipe that we used, along with the video of our rollicking night, in case you missed it earlier. And between here and there, you'll find a bunch of photos that show each step of the way.
For our guide, we used the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It's a great resource and didn't fail us here. We studied it going to and from the farm to pick our tomatoes.
Next, you'll need jars. We mostly used jars that we used two years ago when we canned tomatoes.
You need to sterilize the jars: We ran them through a dishwasher cycle, and then submerged each one in boiling water for five to 10 minutes prior to placing tomatoes in them. Our jars are a mix of pints and quarts.
How many jars will you need? We found that we needed one quart jar for every three pounds of tomatoes.
You'll also need rings and lids. Our rings are reused from two years ago, but you need to use new lids every time you can something. We sterilized the lids by submerging them in near-boiling water for four or so minutes.
Two pieces of very valuable equipment: a funnel and a jar lifter. Ours are cheap versions that we bought at a hardware store two years ago.
And lastly, we needed lemon juice to place in the bottom of the jars and give the proper level of acidity. Tomatoes are right on the borderline of being acidic enough to can without a pressure-canner. But depending on the type of tomato and its ripeness, it might not be acidic enough. Adding lemon juice -- one tablespoon for a pint jar, two tablespoons for a quart -- pushes the tomatoes solidly into the "acidic" camp.
Ball recommends against using fresh lemons and instead suggests bottled lemon juice because the level of acidity is more reliable. We bought ours at Whole Foods.
And lastly, you'll need a cutting board and knife at the ready.
Here are the basic steps to canning tomatoes using a raw-pack method.
First, sterilize the jars by placing them in boiling water (see above, in Equipment).
Then, skin the tomatoes. Get some water boiling in a pot and also prepare a water bath.
Then, contemplate your tomatoes. Aren't they pretty?
If you want, you can slice a small "x" into the bottom of the tomato at this step. It will make the skins come off easier. But honestly, we did all 90 pounds of our tomatoes without making the "x" and the skins slid off just fine.
Drop that the poor tomato into the boiling water.
When the skin starts to crack, fish the tomato out....
...and drop him in an ice bath.
After the tomato has cooled in the ice bath, pull him out and remove the skin. It should peel off very easily.
Transfer the tomato to a cutting board, remove the stem and core, and slice into halves or quarters.
Once the tomatoes are chopped, place them in the jars using a funnel and spoon. (You should already have added the lemon juice to your sterilized jars.)
Once you've filled the jar with 1/2 inch to spare at the top of the jar, pour in boiling water, still leaving 1/2 inch head space at the top.
At this point, take a plastic tool (we use the handle of a thin plastic spoon) and slide it down into the jar to release any air bubbles. Once that's done, use tongs to move the lids from the hot water to the jars, and then screw the rings on tightly.
In a large stockpot of boiling water, we drop a barrier that we created using extra jar rings and rubber bands. This is recommended to keep the jars from getting too hot on bottom. We've done canning with a barrier and without. We went with a barrier this time -- better safe than sorry.
Using the jar lifter, carefully lower the jars into a pot of boiling water. Cover and boil for 40 minutes (pints) or 45 minutes (quarts). At this point, Ball recommends turning off the heat and letting the jars sit in the water an additional five minutes. Because we were doing a large quantity of jars, we skipped this 5 minutes of resting.
Once the jars have processed in the hot water, carefully use the jar lifters to remove them from the water, being careful to keep them upright. Don't worry about the water that may have collected on top of the lids -- it will evaporate during the cooling process.
At this point, place the tomatoes a table or countertop (we put down a few towels to place the jars on), and then we cover the jars with more towels. We read a few years ago that it's better if you let them cool slowly. Hence, the towels.
Once the jars have cooled for 24 hours, check the seals. The lids should be concave, and you should not be able to "pop" the lids by pressing on them. When you remove the rings, you should be able to lift the jars while holding onto the lid. In other words, it should be tight!
If the lids are not tight or not concave, the Ball book says you can process them a second time.
And then finally, desperately search your tiny kitchen for storage space for 30 quarts of tomatoes.
Oh. Just us? That's cool.
Finally, here's the video we made of our fun night of canning. Enjoy!
Tomatoes Packed in Water
From the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
- Bottled lemon juice or citric acid
- Salt (optional)
1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
2. Working in small batches, immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until the skins start to loosen or crack. Immediately plunge into a bowl of cold water and slip the skins off. Remove cores and any bruised or discolored portions that become apparent after blanching. Leave whole, halve or quarter.
3. Prepare tomatoes for packing:
Bring about 4 cups (1 L) water to a boil and keep hot (you will use it to fill jars). Do not heat tomatoes.
Place tomatoes in a large stainless steel saucepan. (For best results when canning whole tomatoes, do not layer them in the pan. Quartered and halved tomatoes can be layered.) Add water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring gently. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes.
4. Before packing each jar of tomatoes, add lemon juice or citric acid to the hot jar in the quantity specified below:
Pint Jar (500 ML) Quart Jar (1 L) 1.5 L Jar
Bottled lemon juice 1 tbsp 2 tbsp 3 tbsp
Citric Acid 1/4 tsp 1/2 tsp 3/4 tsp
5. Add salt, if using, in the quantity specified below:
Pint: 1/2 tsp
Quart: 1 tsp
1.5 L: 1 1/2 tsp
5. Pack tomatoes into prepared jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Ladle hot cooking liquid (or boiling water if using a the raw-pack method) into jar to cover tomatoes, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
7. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process pint jars for 40 minutes and quart and 1.5 L jars for 45 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.