Introduction to Canning Tomatoes:
You probably have spent all spring getting your tomato plants established, making sure the ground was perfect and weed free, giving them plenty of water to get on their way. As the summer rolls in and the first green little fruits start to pop out, the excitement builds as you can see the first fruits of your labor. So you spend the next weeks watching them every day as they slowly ripen. You guard them like your first born, keeping away insects and pests alike, until the day when you can harvest a basket full of fresh, ripened tomatoes…now what?
There are nearly an unlimited number of things you can do with your fresh tomatoes, and if you are like most gardeners, you probably grew far more than you could possibly eat in one season and still love them. So you will need to find something to use them on. We have already covered tomato soup recipes, and tomato sauce recipes in other articles, so in this one we will discuss canning tomatoes.
Equipment for Canning Tomatoes:
There are two basic ways of canning tomatoes at home quickly and efficiently, one of which is a water bath canner, the other is to use a pressure canner. The water bath canner is essentially a covered stockpot, roughly 21 quart capacity or so, with a few basic tools to make it easier to fill the jars, as well as a rack that holds the jars stable and allows you to get them in and out of the pot easily all at one time.
The pressure canner is a little different in that the lid actually sealed tight and creates pressure under the lid, as the name implies. While the pressure canners tend to run a little more expensive, it is generally accepted that they will give you much better results in your canning, both in the nutritional value of the end product, as well as the quality of taste. Canning using the water bath will take you longer than with the pressure canner, but it is up to you if the investment is worth it. In the long run you will most likely want to invest in the better equipment if you expect to can a lot of tomatoes.
Selecting the Right Fruit for Canning Tomatoes:
This might seem like a no brainer but believe it or not a lot of new tomato gardeners make the mistake of selecting poor fruit for canning, and then months later when they go to use the can, they are upset with the taste. You might be amazed to discover how differences in the fruit can lead to vastly different results after canned. Always use the freshest tomatoes you can find, making sure that they are both disease free and undamaged. Never try to can tomatoes that came off of vines that were dead or still dying.
A lot of folks ask if the seeds have to be removed from the tomatoes prior to canning, and the answer is no, but you can do so if you wish. Obviously if you are canning tomatoes whole, then removing the seeds is no longer an option (or else they wouldn't be whole tomatoes would they?). If you would like to remove them to make it easier on you later, simply cut them in half and you can then scrape out the seeds prior to canning. It's a little tedious, but it will get the job done.
Preparations for Canning Tomatoes:
During the canning process, higher acidity levels will help with the preservation so when you are ready to begin canning, make sure you add a small amount of a high acidity liquid to the jars. Among your choices are lemon juice, which you would add 1 tbsp per pint or 2 tbsp per quart; citric acid at the rate of 1/4 tsp per pint or 1/2 tsp per quart; or 5% vinegar (typical cooking vinegar) at the rate of 2 tbsp per pint or 4 tbsp per quart.
Prior to canning tomatoes you will also need to remove all the skins from the tomatoes as well. This is a simple process that doesn't take all that long. Get a medium sized stock pot boiling with water and submerge the tomatoes in it for about one minute, or until you see the skins split. I suggest using a medium sized pot and do them in batches, otherwise a large pot will take you forever while you are waiting for the water to boil. After you remove them from the pot, place them in a sink or bowl with cold water until they are cold enough to be handled and then remove the skins.
Ready to Start Canning Tomatoes:
At this point you are nearly ready to start canning tomatoes. One important step you need to be sure you complete is the sterilization of all of your jars and lids. The easiest way you can do this is to boil them for about 10 minutes or so, higher elevations should boil for a few minutes longer. Make sure you do not place room temperature jars directly into boiling water or you will crack them with the sudden temperature change.
The best way to do this is to place your jars and lids into a pot and fill it with slightly hot water, making sure the jars are filled and completely submerged. Then begin boiling the water. This will allow the jars to reach the proper temperature slowly rather than a sudden glass shattering change. Once all of your jars and lids are sterilized, you can start filling them, making sure you leave about one half inch of space between the tomatoes and the rim of the jar. Then screw on your lids and bands and follow the procedures for the type of canner you are using to seal them up.
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