Just imagine a cold, snowy winter day with a pot of homemade vegetable soup rich with tomatoes cooking on the stove. That soup will be even more delicious when you use Home Canned Tomatoes in it! So grab a canner and some jars and use the abundant summer produce to make your own. You’ll love having them when cold weather comes around.
What do you do when your carefully tended and nurtured garden rewards you with the gift of beautifully ripe summer tomatoes? Why you get out your canner and jars and go to work.
Canning is a simple, but exacting process that is easily mastered. And opening a jar of Home Canned Tomatoes in the middle of winter is like opening a ray of summer sunshine.
I’m sure it’s strange, 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 frozen for use in cobblers later in the year. 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 tomatoes is the best way to capture that fresh summer taste. Plus, they look so nice on my pantry shelves. And I love using them in stewed okra and tomatoes, tilapia veracruz, tomato gravy, and beef stew!
If you’ve never tried canning tomatoes, here’s my guide to help you through the process.
👓 Review Proper Canning Procedure
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’ve written a post about correct canning techniques that you mind find helpful.
👩🏻🍳 Prepare the Canning Jars, Lids, and Rings
The first step in home canning tomatoes, or for 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. Place the pan 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.
TIP: The initial investment in jars, rings, and lids may seem costly, but remember that the jars and rings can be reused for years. The lids do have to be discarded after one use, but they’re fairly inexpensive.
🔪 How to Make Home Canned Tomatoes
Prepare the Tomatoes
Now 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.
TIP: The easiest way to peel tomatoes is by scalding them in boiling water. Add some ice and water to a large bowl. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a few tomatoes to the boiling water and leave them for about 15 seconds. Immediately remove the tomatoes and plunge them directly into the ice water. The skins should slip right off.
Fill Prepared Jars One at a 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 hot 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 dishtowel.
Add 1 teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of lemon juice to each jar.
TIP: Just a note about this step, in case you’re interested. Most modern varieties of tomatoes are not acidic enough to be safely canned using a water bath method without added acid. You can use either bottled lemon juice or citric acid (2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart, or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid per quart). You can faintly taste the added acid in the finished product, but adding a scant tablespoon of sugar to the recipe in which you use the tomatoes will offset that taste.
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.
Keep the pH at the Correct Level
Most home food preservation sources recommended using bottled lemon juice from the grocery store (such as ReaLemon brand) instead of squeezing fresh lemons and canning and pickling salt.
TIP: Bottled lemon juice is used because its pH controlled at a specific level where 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?
Clean Jar Rims and Apply the Lids
Wipe the top rim of the jar with a wet paper towel. Apply the lid and ring and set the jar back on the elevated rack in the canner. Repeat the process until all jars are filled.
TIP: Remember when applying the ring to only tighten it “finger tight.” In other words, just tighten the ring until you meet resistance. Why? Because air has to be able to escape during the canning process in order to create a seal. Now you know. :
Lower the Filled Jars into the Canner
Now carefully lower the rack with all 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.
Process in Boiling Water
Begin timing when the water in the canner returns to the boil. Process 85 minutes in boiling water. Remember, the water in the canner must remain at the boil for the entire processing time.
TIP: I find that it’s helpful to keep a kettle or pot of boiling water going on the stove to top up the water in the canner when needed.
If you live at a higher altitude, you’ll need to adjust your processing time according to the following:
- 1,001 – 3,000 ft, 90 minutes
- 3,001 – 6,000 ft, 95 minutes
- above 6,000 ft, 100 minutes
TIP: You can also can tomatoes in pint jars if you’d like. For pints, use half the amount of ingredients per jar. Processing time is the same.
Don’t Take Shortcuts!
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!
Final Steps and Storage
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 set them on a folded kitchen towel. Allow the jars to cool completely before moving them (at least overnight). Check to make sure the seals are complete. Store in a dark, cool area.
TIP: How to check for a complete seal: Remove the ring from the jar. Gently press down on the center of the lid. There should be no movement up or down . Then very gently pull upward on the outside edges of the lid. If the jar is not sealed completely the lid will come off. Any unsealed jars can be stored in the refrigerator and used within the next week.
✍🏻 Great Internet Resources for Safe Canning Techniques and Recipes
- National Center for Home Food Preservation (University of Georgia)
- Home Food Preservation Site (Pennsylvania State University)
- The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
- “Some Canning Do’s and Don’ts” from The New York Times
❓ Questions About Home Canned Tomatoes
Yes, she probably did. So did mine. But we know better now. What your grandmother did is called the “inversion method” of canning and it was commonly used by home canners up until about the 1950’s. The inversion method often creates a false or incomplete seal that can allow contaminants to enter the jar. The boiling water or pressure canning methods create a complete seal that better protects the food from contamination and ourselves from botulism.
You can use any variety of tomato! Anything from beefsteak to roma to heirloom varieties (even cherry tomatoes, but I wouldn’t bother peeling them). Just make sure to follow the procedures as outlined above.
You do not have to add salt. It’s for taste only.
Home canned tomatoes are at their best quality when used within 18 months, but can be stored for up to two years.
Store your tomatoes on a sturdy shelf at room temperature. They should not be subjected to large changes in temperature (i.e., don’t store them in an outdoor storage space).
As with any home canned product, you should inspect the jar before use. Check carefully to make sure the jar is still sealed. When the jar is opened, make sure there’s not off odor or color, no mold, and no bubbling of the contents.
According to food science specialists, “natural compounds in some foods cause a black or brown deposit on the underside of the lid. This deposit does not mean the food is unsafe to eat. However, whenever a sealed jar comes open, spoilage is likely and the product should be discarded.” You can read the entire article on the Iowa State Extension Service website.
It sounds like the commenter didn’t pack the jars quite as tightly with tomatoes as they should have been. During the canning process, the tomatoes themselves cook, shrink, and release their juice. Plus, some tomatoes are juicier than others. That yellow liquid is just fresh tomato juice :-) As long as the jars are completely sealed, they’ll be fine.
🧾 More Home Canning Recipes
- Pickled Okra
- Sugar-Free Bread and Butter Pickles
- Favorite Kosher Dills
- Basic Salsa Canning Recipe
- Strawberry Jam
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Home Canned Tomatoes
Ingredients for a standard canner load (7 quarts):
- 21 pounds Fresh, whole tomatoes any variety
- 14 tablespoons Bottled lemon juice
- 7 teaspoons Pickling salt
- Prepare standard canning jars and lids according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Peel and core tomatoes. Leave whole or cut into halves or quarters.
- When all tomatoes are prepared, fill one jar at a time, keeping the other jars hot while you work.
- Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar
- Pack tomatoes into jars, pressing gently on tomatoes until the juice fills the spaces between tomatoes. Leave 1/2 inch headspace.
- Remove air bubbles.
- Wipe rims of jars and apply two-piece canning caps.
- Process in a boiling water bath 85 minutes for both quarts and pints.
- Jars and rings may be reused multiple times; lids must be discarded after one use.
- Keep a kettle or pot of boiling water on the stove to top up the water in the canner when needed.
- Tomatoes may be canned in pint jars if desired. For pints, use half the amount of ingredients per jar. Processing time is the same.
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.