Tomatoes. It doesn’t get any better than a homegrown tomato, straight from your garden or purchased from a local farmer’s market. As a child, I learned to eat them fresh. All I needed to add to a slice was a little salt and pepper. Lusciously red, juicy, and packed with flavor, tomatoes are worth every minute of the time it takes to plant them, weed around them, and water them.
Two of my canning “bibles” are the Ball Blue Book and So Easy to Preserve, by the Cooperative Extension at the University of Georgia.
Here’s how the Ball Blue Book introduces their chapter on tomatoes: “Tomatoes are the ultimate summer’s bounty and the requisite pantry staple for any home cook. Naturally, they make the perfect subject for canning. Few other fruits have the range of tomatoes – easily transitioning from savory to sweet; from simple to extravagant.”
I agree. When I open a jar of canned tomatoes to add to a soup or make a tomato sauce, I say a prayer of thanks for the bounty of the land that has been preserved to sit in my pantry, ready to augment whatever dish I am making, whether it’s simply a flavor or the star of the particular recipe.
As wonderful as tomatoes are, there are safety issues. Tomato acidity varies, which means that they are only borderline when it comes to whether they can be water bathed or whether they must be pressure canned. Citric acid or bottled lemon juice must be added to ensure safe canning. It’s an easy step, and it offers a lot of peace of mind. Vinegar may also be used, but because more of it is required (4 tablespoons per quart and 2 tablespoons per pint), it may affect the flavor. I prefer citric acid. I add it to the jar along with salt before I add the hot tomatoes.
According to both Ball and the Cooperative Extension, here are the ratios:
• Pints – 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon citric acid
• Quarts – 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice* or ½ teaspoon citric acid.
The other safety issue is how much time to add to the recipe for the particular altitude. In our area, our altitude is around 2,000 feet above sea level, so we need to add 5 minutes.
My favorite way to can tomatoes is the Crushed Tomatoes recipe, which is based on the recipe at food.unl.edu. A similar version can be found at the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I love this method because the only thing added to the tomatoes is citric acid and salt. That means when you open the jar to use it, you can do virtually anything you want. It’s simply delicious – flavor-packed – tomatoes.
*Bottled lemon juice is used as opposed to fresh because the acidity of bottled lemon juice is uniform.
The trick to this recipe is to start off heating only about a pound or about a sixth of the total tomatoes. You need to heat them quickly, but to prevent scorching not overly high. While heating them, crush them as you add them to the pot. Constant stirring at this stage will prevent burning. Once liquid is released and they are boiling, gradually add the rest of the quartered tomatoes. The reason for doing this is that it prevents separation once they are jarred. There is no safety issue with the separation, but they do look better when they don’t separate.
Up to 22 pounds of tomatoes are needed for 7 quarts; 11 pounds for 7 pints.
Wash your quart or pint jars and have them heated. I use my dishwasher. I know how long it takes for them to wash, so I time the tomato cooking to coincide with when the jars are clean and hot. Also, wash the rings and the flat lids.
Wash the tomatoes, then dip in boiling water until the skins begin to split, up to about 1 minute. Dip each into ice water, core, and remove the skins. Trim off any bruised or otherwise bad parts of the tomato. Depending on their size, cut the small tomatoes into halves or quarters, and for very large ones, even eighths.
Quickly heat about a sixth of the tomatoes, crushing them to release their liquid. After they begin boiling, you can start adding the rest of the tomatoes in 5 or 6 batches. The idea is to add them in small enough amounts that the tomatoes in the pot will keep boiling. You don’t need to crush the next batches as the heat will break them down. Once you have all the tomatoes in the pot, boil gently for 5 minutes.
At this point you can remove the hot jars from the dishwasher. If you don’t want to use a dishwasher, you could also dip the jars into a pot of simmering water to heat them after washing. If you are using quarts, add ½ teaspoon of citric acid to each jar along with 1 teaspoon of salt. If you are doing pints, the amount would be ¼ teaspoon of citric acid and ½ teaspoon of salt. (When I first started making these tomatoes, I had a hard time remembering to put the citric acid and salt in before the tomatoes. It works much better to have the citric acid and salt in the jar before you add the tomatoes.)
Leave 1/2 inch of headspace. Debubble the jars with a knife or other utensil, then clean the rims and put on the flats and rings. I tighten them until they are just tight. It’s usually described as “fingertip tight.”
For Northeast Nebraska with our altitude, the processing time for pints is 40 minutes and for quarts it is 50 minutes. Once the time is up, carefully remove the jars and set them on a kitchen towel on the counter. Do not disturb them for 12 to 24 hours. Once the time has passed, I remove the rings and wash the jars under running water. When they are dry, they are ready to be stored.
You now have delicious tomatoes that can be enjoyed all winter long.
By Alexandra McClanahan
***Not all of our recipes are “USDA APPROVED” We highly recommend that you follow the USDA guidelines when canning and cooking. Our recipes are all “tried and true”….some are recipes our families have passed down for generations, some are just made up from the joy of cooking and canning, some of the recipes that we use are straight from the USDA Canning Book and some are passed along by our dear readers. With all of that being said – can and cook at your own risk. If you feel that a recipe is “unsafe”, simply overlook it and move on. None of us are, “Canning Police” and we all should respect others. Safe in your kitchen and safe in my kitchen – two different things….We won’t criticize your recipes please don’t criticize ours :).
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