Home Canned Tomatoes

What do you do when you receive a gift of a huge box full of beautifully ripe summer tomatoes? Why, you get out your canner and jars and go to work!

Last week while I was in south Georgia doing some work and visiting with my mother and grandmother, I was the lucky recipient of a gift of gorgeous, red, ripe summer tomatoes. Thanks Mama!

I’m sure it’s weird, but excessive amounts of gorgeous summer produce get me so excited. I immediately start making plans about how to preserve it and what to do with it later on. If I have peaches, they usually wind up as preserves with some also being frozen for later. Same with berries and other fruits. Peas and butterbeans are always blanched, packaged, and frozen. But when I have an abundance of tomatoes, I almost always can them. I just think canning is the best way to capture that fresh summer taste. Plus, they look so nice on my pantry shelves.

This winter when it’s cold, rainy, or icy, I’ll open a jar of these summer tomatoes and make a soup that will warm us from our heads to our toes. I can hardly wait!

If you have never canned before, or if it has been a while since your last time canning, please review the current guidelines. You always want to make sure that you handle canned goods correctly. Improperly canned foods can really be disastrous. I wrote a post about correct canning techniques a few years ago that you mind find helpful.

The first step in this or any canning session is to prepare your jars, lids, and rings and to start your canner full of water heating. Wash the jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Place the lids in a small pan with enough hot water to cover them and place it on the lowest heat setting on your stove. Put the clean jars in your canner rack and let them come up to the boil along with the water in the canner.

Tomatoes prepared and ready for canning

Then you can get on with preparing the tomatoes. Wash the tomatoes well, then peel and core them. You can leave your tomatoes whole or cut them into halves or quarters. I did quarters this time.

When all the tomatoes are prepped and ready to go, start filling your jars. The method I use for canning tomatoes is the “raw packed in their own juice” method.

The way I proceed is this. Lift the canner rack with the jars in it and hook it over the sides of the canner so that it remains elevated. Remove one jar at a time from the rack and drain the water from the jar back into the canner. Place the hot jar on a folded dish towel.

Adding salt and lemon juice to jars for canned tomatoes

Add the salt and lemon juice to the jar. Just a note about this step, in case you’re interested. Modern varieties of tomatoes are not acidic enough to be safely canned using a water bath method and that is why the lemon juice is required. You can faintly taste it in the finished product, but adding a tablespoon or so of sugar will offset that taste. Additionally, it’s recommended to use the bottled lemon juice from the grocery store instead of squeezing fresh lemons. The pH of the bottled juice is controlled at a specific level and fresh lemon juice may or may not have the necessary pH to maintain the safety of your canned tomatoes. Pickling salt is used because it doesn’t have any additives that could cloud the liquid in the jars. It’s just pure salt.

Way more than you wanted to know about canning tomatoes. Am I right?

Filling jars for canned tomatoes

Fill the jar half to three-fourths full with tomatoes and then gently press on the tomatoes to release the juice and fill all the space between the tomatoes. Continue filling and gently pressing until the contents of the jar are within 1/2 inch of the top rim. Wipe the rim with a wet paper towel. Apply the lid and ring and sit the jar back on the elevated rack in the canner. Repeat the process until all jars are filled.

Now gently lower the rack with the filled jars into the boiling water in the canner. There must be enough water in the canner to completely cover the tops of the jars by one inch. Begin timing when the water in the canner returns to the boil.

Broken jar of tomatoes

I just have to share this photo with you. I know all you seasoned canners will be able to sympathize with me. In all my years of canning, I had never had a jar break. Until now. I got in a hurry and took a shortcut (I’m not telling what I did) that let my jars cool down too much. When I put this one in the canner, I heard that distinctive “pop” and immediately knew that it had broken. If this happens to you, don’t even think about trying to save the contents. There are likely to be teensy-tiny shards of glass in there that you’d never find. Just let it go and learn your lesson like I did!

Process both pints and quarts 85 minutes. Longer processing times are required for higher altitudes (see recipe below). At the end of the processing time, turn off the heat under the canner and allow the jars to sit in the water for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the canner and sit them on a folded kitchen towel. Allow the jars to cool completely before moving them (at least overnight). Check to make sure seals are complete. Store in a dark, cool area.

Home Canned Tomatoes
Cook time
Total time
Procedure for canning the abundance of ripe summer tomatoes at home.
Serves: Varies
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds tomatoes per quart
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Pickling salt
  1. Prepare standard canning jars and lids according to manufacturer’s directions.
  2. Peel and core tomatoes. Leave whole or cut into halves or quarters. When all tomatoes are ready, prepare one jar at a time, keeping the other jars hot while you work.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar (half the amount for pints).
  4. Pack tomatoes into jars, pressing gently on tomatoes until the juice fills the spaces between tomatoes. Leave 1/2 inch headspace.
  5. Remove air bubbles.
  6. Wipe rims of jars and apply two-piece canning caps.
  7. Process in a boiling water bath 85 minutes for both quarts and pints.
Adjusted processing times for higher altitudes: 1,001 – 3,000 ft, 90 minutes; 3,001 – 6,000 ft, 95 minutes; above 6,000 ft, 100 minutes

Information sources: National Center for Home Food Preservation (University of Georgia), Ball Blue Book of Preserving

All text and photographs on Never Enough Thyme are copyright protected. Please do not use any material from this site without obtaining prior permission. If you'd like to post this recipe on your site, please create your own original photographs and either re-write the recipe in your own words or link to this post.

Great internet resources for safe canning techniques and recipes:

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  1. says

    Beautiful tomatoes! I agree with you about opening a jar of those beauties in the middle of the winter–ah, the aroma of summer. After all the work, I love to hear the pops and pings of the jars sealing as they cool.

  2. says

    Fabulous information!! I hve only frozen my roasted tomatoes, haven’t canned yet. I have several plants outside with fruit on them, but don’t think they’ll make it to the canning stage LOL I have a feeling they’ll be gobbled up fresh! I have definitely saved this though, great explanation. And thanks for the info on the lemon juice too!

    • says

      I almost never have enough tomatoes to can from my few plants I grow each year. I just happened to be at my mother’s house at the height of tomato season on one of the local truck farms where you can get boxes and boxes full for next to nothing. So, of course, I just had to put these up for the winter!

  3. says

    Ohhh, I’m jealous of your tomatoes. I’ve never canned tomatoes but you sure put the itch in my pants! I have plans to do a jalapeno peach jam next week for Christmas presents but I might have to add some tomatoes to the canning project…now that I know how to do fresh tomatoes!

    • says

      Oh, Megan, that jalapeno peach jam sounds really wonderful! Will you be posting the recipe? Please, please, pretty please??

  4. says

    Okay, I really need to get over my irrational fear of canning. Before I know it, my garden is going to be bursting with tomatoes and I would love to store some away for winter. Thanks for this post and your previous canning post, Lana.

    • says

      Dara, I’ve been canning, preserving, and freezing for more than 30 years so it’s just second nature to me, but I do understand your hesitation if you haven’t done it before. The most important thing that I always tell beginning canners is to educate yourself first. I recommend purchasing a copy of the Ball Blue Book and reading through the procedures so that you understand the process. The Blue Book is inexpensive (about $10) and can be purchased online or in most stores where canning supplise are sold. And, I’m always around to answer questions :-)

    • says

      Oh, yes! A couple of years ago we had an ice storm in January – very unusual for Georgia – and what do think I put on the stove? A huge pot of vegetable soup with loads of canned summer tomatoes. It was the perfect thing to enjoy on those cold house-bound days!

  5. says

    After reading posts like this I immediately want to go out and start a garden! However, I realize that it simply isn’t part of my DNA .. which means I need to get busy and find a local gardener to befriend, LOL!! Great info. on canning Lana – it really isn’t all that scary if you understand the procedure!!

    • says

      Right, Nancy! Just like any kitchen technique, it’s all about educating yourself and practice. Granted, canning is more precise than most kitchen pursuits, but it’s important to follow accepted guidelines to ensure that your finished product is safe for self storage.

  6. says

    oh Lana, I do hope it was only one quart – was a shame… I have a hankering to put up some salsa this year, I skipped last year and sure did miss it… ‘
    nothing better than reaching for a jar of homemade…. right now, I’m in okra and cuke time – hoping to gather enough from my little garden to put up a few jars…. have a great weekend

    • says

      Just the one jar, thank goodness! In all the years I’ve been canning that was my first broken jar. It just about broke my heart! You just reminded me that I need to make some more salsa, too. It just beats the store bought stuff all the way around!

  7. Jessica says

    Oh my goodness Lana–they are gorgeous tomatoes! A farm market near my parents home had boxes of them for cheap the other day, but I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to try canning them yet. But you’ve once again made it seem so simple–and all of my other attempts at the canning recipes you suggest have turned out beautifully! So excited to try this next week!

  8. says

    This is so great – I definitely need to take the time to do this, especially with so much tomato greatness available this time of year. Great post!

  9. Miss P says

    I have always loved how your pantry looks at the end of summer. All of the beautiful jars of lovingly preserved items, with the colors of summer…. it just invites happy times later in the year.

    Take care.

    Miss P

  10. says

    I remember my grandma canning tomatoes and lining her pantry with jars and jars and jars of beautiful food. I’m pinning this for when the kids are a little older because I MUST do this!


    We had a class on home canning, and the teacher(home economist) said that the savest way to can tomatoes is to use a pressure canner at 13# pressure for our elevation. Don’t know what your opinion is of this. Just throwing it out for comments.

    • says

      Hi Doris. Both pressure canning and water bath canning with added acid from lemon juice are USDA approved methods. Neither is really any safer than other as long as correct procedure is followed.

  12. Patty says

    I never canned before but this year I made pear jam, strawberry jam and peach/apricot jam. I even have a garden but so far I only have green tomatoes – I started late. I also planted a lot of herbs and yesterday I chopped up some parsley and some basil, put them in some ice cube trays with oil and froze them. I am retired now and enjoying this time more than I can say. I am going to can tomatoes but it will be for sauce. Thanks for the instructions.

  13. Roz says

    I do a lot of canning but have given up on tomatoes because when I open the jar there is some kind of black spots on the lid.Any ideas? Tomatoes are the only thing I have trouble with

  14. Nancy says

    I’ve not yet tried tomatoes – but every recipe I find talks about lemon juice and this confuses me. In my grocery, they stock lemon juice CONCENTRATE. Is that what the recipes refer to? If I don’t use real lemons, and can’t find anything else, should I water it down or reduce the amount or just close my eyes and throw in the concentrated juice per the recipe? ???? Thanks

    • says

      You will need to use an exact measurement of real lemon juice. You can’t guess at the amount in a canning recipe. That can affect both the pH and taste of the finished product. Fresh lemons are available in every grocery store’s produce section. There’s also a product called RealLemon that is not a concentrate – just straight lemon juice.


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