While technically a fruit, tomatoes are often mistaken for a vegetable. This nightshade comes in many colors ranging from purple through shades of red & pink, brown, yellow & green.
Deeply (red) colored tomatoes contain the carotene lycopene, which has a positive effect on prostate health including the reversal of cancer. Lycopene is also beneficial as an antioxidant that neutralizes damaging free radicals on the cellular level. This is the same carotene present in other red or pink produce such as watermelon, papaya & pink grapefruit.
This time of year, tomatoes are abundant at our farmers market and are a tasty seasonal treat! Through the colder months, tomatoes are shipped from all over the world to meet our demands for them through winter. It wasn’t always available like this though. Your parents, or maybe even you may recall canning tomatoes in the late days of summer as to ensure your own supply through until the following summer. While most don’t bother with this time & labour intensive practice anymore when tomatoes are just a short drive to the grocery store, some of us still do! And canning is making a comeback! It’s not too late yet to ‘put up’ some tomatoes for the winter. Here’s how:
Ingredients and Equipment
- Tomatoes – about 20 lbs to make 7 quarts (7 large tomatoes will fill one quart jar.)
- lemon juice – fresh or bottled, about 1/2 cup
- 1 quart tomato juice (or plain water)
- 1 Water bath Canner (a huge pot to sanitize the jars after filling)
- 1 large pot (to scald the tomatoes, step 3) and 1 medium sized pot to heat the tomato juice or water to add to the jars (step 6) and 1 small pot to sanitize the lids.
- Pint or quart canning jars (jars can be found at “big box” stores)
- Lids – thin, flat, round metal lids with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the jar. They may only be used once.
- Rings – metal bands that secure the lids to the jars. They may be reused many times.
- Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars)
- Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water where you sanitize them)
- Jar funnel
- Large spoons and ladles
The best variety of tomato to use: Roma; also called paste tomatoes. They have fewer sides, thicker, meatier walls, and less water. And that means thicker sauce in less cooking time! You may can cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, etc., but they do tend to be more watery, and you must be sure to added the lemon juice as recommended in the recipe, because they tend to be lower in natural acidity.
Also, you don’t want mushy, bruised or rotten tomatoes!
And for those of you with an abundance of green tomatoes, the USDA says that since green tomatoes are more acidic than ripened fruit, they can be canned safely with any of the standard tomato directions. I prefer to store them in the basement, where they slowly ripen, but if you have a use later for canned green tomatoes, go for it.
The dishwasher is fine for the jars; especially if it has a “sanitize” cycle. I get that going while I’m preparing everything else, so it’s done by the time I’m ready to fill the jars. If you don’t have a dishwasher, submerge the jars in a large pot (the canner itself) of water and bring it to a boil.
Be sure to let it go through the rinse cycle to get rid of any soap!
Get the canner heating up
Fill the canner about 1/2 full of water and start it heating (with the lid on).
Get a the medium pot of water or tomato juice heating
This is also a good time to get your 1 quart of tomato juice and/or water boiling (you will use it to fill any air spaces in the jars in step 6).
Start the water for the lids
Put the lids into the small pot of boiling water for at least several minutes. Note: everything gets sanitized in the water bath (step 7) anyway, so this just helps to ensure there is no spoilage later!)
Here’s a trick you may not know: put the tomatoes, a few at a time in a large pot of boiling water for no more than 1 minute (30 – 45 seconds is usually enough) then…. Plunge them into a waiting bowl of ice water.
This makes the skins slide right off of the tomatoes! If you leave the skins in, they become tough and chewy in the sauce, not very pleasant.
The skins should practically slide off the tomatoes. then you can cut the tomatoes in quarters and remove the tough part around the stem and any bruised or soft parts.
Fill them to within ¼-inch of the top with tomatoes.
Be sure the contact surfaces (top of the jar and underside of the ring) are clean to get a good seal!
After you fill each jar with tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart jar, 1 per pint jar. This helps to reduce the odds of spoilage and to retain color and flavor. Then fill to 1/2 inch of the top with either boiling water or hot tomato juice.
Using a flat plastic or wood utensil (like a plastic spoon, up side down) free trapped air bubbles by gently sliding it up and down around the inside edge.
Just screw them on snugly, not too tight. If the is any tomato on the surface of the lip of the jar, wipe it off first with a clean dry cloth or paper towel.
Put them in the canner and keep them covered with at least 1 inch of water. Keep the water boiling. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 40 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. Remember to adjust the time if you are at a different altitude other than sea level! Pressure canners work better for tomatoes and other low acid foods – you’ll get less spoilage with a pressure canner.
Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight) You can then remove the rings if you like, but if you leave them on, at least loosen them quite a bit, so they don’t rust in place due to trapped moisture. Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed verifying that the lid has been sucked down. Just press in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it. Some people replace the lid and reprocess the jar, then that’s a bit iffy. If you heat the contents back up, re-jar them (with a new lid) and the full time in the canner, it’s usually ok. Don’t worry if you see the tomatoes floating above a layer of liquid; that’s normal. Tomatoes have a lot of water in them and it separates a bit. If I had packed the tomatoes in the jars a bit tighter or squeezed for of the free liquid out of them before packing them in the jars, the water layer would be reduced.