Throw on an apron, some opera and some rubber boots … you’re about to learn how to can tomatoes! Plan to set aside a day to do this unless you come from a large Italian family with plenty of helping hands.
How to Can Tomatoes
You need to listen to me, and you need to listen to me good. If you want to press your own tomatoes you need to stop reading this post immediately and run out to buy a bushel of tomatoes. Now. GO! You can catch up on how to do it when you get back.
In the middle of September, tomatoes are getting close to their breaking point. 2 weeks ago, they were everywhere. Now? In order to get 2 good bushels of tomatoes for myself this year, I sat on the floor of my supermarket separating all the half rotten bushels of tomatoes into two piles. Gross enough to make me vomitty in one pile, and good in another. It took me half an hour and several questioning looks from the other shoppers to get 2 bushels of good tomatoes.
That is the sort of thing I do.
Because I’m me.
And me is a bit unlike other people. Except for you. I suspect we’re similar, you and I.
Me doesn’t care about questioning looks if it’s going to result in really good pasta sauce.
So! You wanna press your own tomatoes do you? You’re feeling like an Italian pioneer are you? Good. Glad to hear it. But, I have to warn you it can be a miserable, miserable job. Pressing and canning tomatoes is a bona fide “thing” and not something you can do without a bit of planning and a bit of know how. Luckily for you … I’m here to show you how to do it.
I’ve been pressing my own tomatoes since I was in high school. Yeah. I know. Probably not what you were doing in high school. I’ve always used the recipe passed down from my mother who had it passed down to her from someone else. Until this year that is.
Up until now I’d always just boiled the tomatoes and then ladled them into a hot jar. That’s the way they did it in the olden days, and I like to do most things the traditional way. The problem is … things have changed since the olden days.
Why should you process your tomatoes?
Tomatoes have changed since the olden days. They’ve been “improved” and tweeked and hybridized to within an inch of their lives. This tomato mutation has caused the pH level of tomatoes to change over the past century. Where tomatoes used to be high acid, they are gradually becoming lower and lower acid.
Things that are low acid are dangerous to can without either pressure canning them or giving them a hot water bath. And by dangerous, I mean could kill you.
I don’t know about you but if I’m going to die from self inflicted stupidity I’d rather it be something fun like inhaling too much laughing gas or some sort of Bouncy House mishap. Not from eating botulism infused pasta.
So … that is your canning lesson for the day. What worked for gramma’s heirloom tomatoes (or any other veg/fruit) may not work for today’s Frankentomato. The basic canning methods haven’t changed, but food has.
How to Press Tomatoes.
To Process Tomatoes You Need a Manual or Electric Tomato Press.
A good quality tomato press is around $140. Do not cheap out and buy a plastic one. You’ll be cursing the tomatoes, the press and the person who sold it to you within 10 minutes.
Electric presses work much more quickly but are also more expensive.
Just drop the whole tomato into the press, skin and all.
You simply drop the whole tomato into the press and crank the handle. You can fill the entire hopper up and just keep shoving them down the chute one by one.
The tomato press automatically filters the tomato pulp and juice from the seeds and skin.
The seeds and skin come out one end, the good stuff out another. Place a large stainless steel pot under the chute to catch the tomato juice. Place another stainless steel pot or bag under the other side of the chute to catch the seeds and pulp. Save them. You’re going to put those through the press another 1 or 2 times.
Once you run your tomatoes through the press once, put the saved seeds and pulp through the press another couple of times. This way you’ll extract all the tomato juice possible. The final time you run the pulp through it should be almost completely dry.
When your tomatoes are pressed you can bring them inside and bring them to a boil. The tomatoes need to boil for 15 minutes.
How To Can Tomatoes
1. Fill your canning pot(s) with water and get them boiling.
2. Place your clean jars in a 210 °F oven. (this prevents the jars from breaking when the hot tomatoes are funnelled into them)
3. Put the sealer lids (not the rings) into a pot of boiling water. Keep them simmering there throughout the whole process. As you need them, you will pick the lids out of the pot and place them on your jar.
4. Line up bowls of brown sugar, salt and citric acid.
5. Cover counter with dishtowels to sop up inevitable spills.
6. Make sure you have a funnel and a ladle. Jar tongs and a magnetic lid grabber are handy to have too.
This whole event will be much easier if you have the proper tools, a funnel, a magnetic stick for picking up sealers out of boiling water, grabbing tongs for hot jars and a few other things. They aren’t expensive, in fact the entire kit of all the tools you need is only about $10, but they’re indispensable.
Once your tomatoes have come to a boil for 15 minutes, you can start jarring your sauce, first adding your some sugar, citric acid and salt to each jar.
Work with one jar at a time. Don’t try to do multiple jars.
Do yourself a BIG favour and cover your work surface with a few tea towels. It’s gonna get messy.
This process goes on and on for hours and hours. While your 45 minute hot water bath it taking place, you can run outside and start cranking your remaining bushel of tomatoes.
This will take hours. And hours and hours. But it it worth it.
1 bushel will get you 20-22 quarts of tomato juice.
2 bushels of tomatoes will get you 42-44 quarts.
Like so …
These tomatoes will last me 2 years. Now you’re probably wondering … what the hell are you supposed to do with them? They are the perfect base for anything tomato related. Just add spices and a little bit of tomato paste and you have a basic tomato sauce. Cook it for only an hour and it’ll taste very fresh and bright. Cook it longer and it takes on a richer, smokier taste. Use them wherever you would use canned tomatoes or tomato sauce. Like in chili (I happen to think my chili recipe is one of the best) or for a spicy tomato sauce or … best of all … for this … Gramma’s Spaghetti & Meatballs. I also use this as the base of my homemade pizza sauce.
- 1 bushel Plum Tomatoes
- 1/2 cup Brown Sugar 1 tsp. per quart jar
- 1/4 cup Coarse Salt 1/2 tsp. per quart jar
- 1/4 cup Citric Acid 1/2 tsp. per quart jar
- Canning jars with NEW seals
- Large Canning Pot
- Tomato Press
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. This is your hot water bath and should be large enough to fit several jars of tomatoes.
Preheat oven to 210 and place glass mason jars in oven to sterilize and heat.
Place sealer rings into a pot of water on the stove and bring to a simmer. This softens to sealing rings so they can properly seal.
When ready to start canning, pull a hot jar out of the oven with tongs.
Put 1 tsp. brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. coarse salt, 1/2 tsp citric acid into jar.
Place a funnel over your 1 quart jar and ladle in hot tomatoe sauce to within 1/2 ” from the top of the jar. The "head space" is very important to get a proper seal.
- Remove funnel and wipe around the rim of the jar with a clean dishcloth or damp paper towel.
- Take sealer ring from hot water and place on jar.
- Screw screwband on. Barely finger tighten only. Do NOT overtighten.
Once you’ve filled enough jars to fill your canning pot, place your jars inside the pot of water using your jar tongs. Your water should be hot … almost boiling when you place the jars inside. You can also place the jars in the pot one by one as you fill them.
The water needs to cover your jars by a couple of inches.
Put the lid on your canning pot and bring the canning water back up to the boil. Once at boiling again you can start your timer.
- Your jars need to boil for 45 minutes.
While your 45 minute hot water bath it taking place, you can run outside and start cranking out your remaining bushel of tomatoes.
1 bushel will get you 20-22 quarts of tomato juice. 2 bushels of tomatoes will get you 42-44 quarts.
Tips for Canning
- Get everything washed, organized, laid out and ready to go the night before.
- If you don’t have a canning pot, just use a large pot and place a metal trivet on the bottom. (the water needs to circulate around and under each jar)
- If your tomatoes are muddy and dirty wash them in the bathtub. If they only have a bit of surface dirt, just wipe them with a dishtowel.
- Some people also add in a basil leaf to infuse basil flavour into the sauce. I do not.
- Play opera while you’re spending the day pressing tomatoes. Even if you don’t like opera.
I’ve done this so many times it’s second nature so if you’re unsure or think I’ve left something out let me know. Or … you could just sit staring at your computer giving me a questioning look.
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