Tomatoes at last.
I was seriously fretting that we’d miss out on canning tomatoes this year—I was out of town during our usual week for tomato preserves, and we’re traveling next weekend, too. I kept dreaming of an early frost before I got back, a tornado, a nationwide run on citric acid, maybe? Catastrophizing the harvest.
But it all worked out. We picked up our promised 40 pounds of tomatoes and set to work.
Canning tomatoes at home has the highest return-on-investment of all the preservation things I do. I’ll use them in soups, stews, braises, crushed over pizza, in sauces, in sandwiches, everywhere all the time. For my money, good local tomatoes canned carefully at home beat commercial tomatoes hands-down—flavor-wise, footprint-wise, definitely price-wise.
Canned whole, peeled tomatoes
- You can can most kinds of dense, meaty tomatoes with good results. If you want to use a globe or beefsteak tomatoes, you will get better results with the slightly boring ones—smoothish tomatoes without too much pulp, i.e., Better Boys or generic beefsteaks. Crazy heirloom types with lots of ridges and complex interiors are a hassle to peel and sometimes cannot stand up to processing heat.
- The best tomatoes to can, though, are Roma, or paste, types. We found a guy growing real San Marzanos (so excited!) but any Roma-type tomato will work.
- In general, larger tomatoes are more efficient to process and stay together better. And you want your tomatoes to be in good condition—generally firm-ripe, not overripe, not blemished or afflicted with blossom-end rot. Overripeness and disease can affect the acidity of the fruit.
NOTE: You will need some way to acidify your tomatoes to ensure that they are safe. I use food-grade citric acid, which is available at homebrewing stores or at Indian markets and in the Kosher aisle at the grocery store (look for “sour salt”). If you can’t find citric acid, you can use two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per quart jar…but be prepared for lemony tomatoes).
YIELDS: I generally find that a typical 20 lb box of tomatoes will yield about 10 quarts.
So! Collect your tomatoes and wash them gently. Drain your tomatoes and refill the sink with cold water and ice. Sanitize your jars (the hot cycle on your dishwasher will do) and fill your canner half-full with water and bring to a boil.
Cut a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato. Bring a big pot of water to a boil and drop in one tomato. Count 45 seconds and then skim the fruit out and put immediately into the ice water. Wait a minute, and then see if the peel comes away easily. If so, go ahead and blanch and shock the rest, a single floating layer at a time. If your peel comes away with a lot of flesh underneath, cut the boiling time by 15 seconds and try again. If the peel won’t come off, add 15 seconds and try again.
Pull the peels off all your tomatoes and cut out the cores shallowly. Trim off any underripe or nasty bits. Keep the peels, cores, and non-gross trimmings for making barbeque sauce; chuck them in the freezer if you can’t work with them the same day.
Bring a kettle of water to a boil and put your jar lids in a little pan of hot, not boiling, water. Put out a bowl of citric acid and a 1/2 teaspoon measure. Get a heat-absorbent jar surface ready.
Put a canner load’s worth of jars out on your work surface. Put 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid in each jar. Then pack your hot jars quickly with whole peeled tomatoes to within 1/2” of the top, filling them densely and pressing down gently—tomatoes shrink a lot after processing and you’ll be left with a lot of room if you don’t fill the jars tightly. It’s okay to mash them a little as you go.
Top up each jar with boiling water to within 1/2” of the rim; slide a spatula down each interior side of each jar to let water flow into any air pockets. Top up again if you need to.
Wipe your jar rims clean with a damp paper towel; seat your lids and rings. Process for 45 minutes for quart jars, counting from when the water comes back to a boil. Let cool without disturbing.