My favorite way to can tomatoes is to turn them into sauce. The Ball Blue Book of Preserving has a great recipe that is easy to do in a large batch (45 pounds of tomatoes). Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving has the same recipe, scaled down for 10 pounds of tomatoes. The only difference in ingredients is that the first recipe calls for a little olive oil to saute the garlic and onions.
I prefer to use the 10 pound recipe, as my stockpots are only 5-6 quarts a piece. If I had bigger pots, I'd make the larger batch. I scaled down the olive oil from the larger recipe for the smaller recipe (as that recipe doesn't ask you to saute the garlic and onions...you simply add them to the mixture). After studying both recipes, what it comes down to is that the olive oil is optional.
Some people set aside a whole day for canning...picking, prep work, canning. I prefer to split this up into three days. The first day is for shopping and prep work, the second for picking and tomato prep work, and the third is for canning. This just makes the process more manageable for me, as I'm not rushing around. I really truly hate to rush when I'm cooking or canning.
If you are new to canning, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. With photographs, sketches, and basic recipes, it will walk you through every aspect of canning.
Before you begin, here is a list of what you'll need:
- Approved canning recipe. You can't simply take your favorite family recipe and use it for canning. USDA approved recipes (found through extension service websites & publications or through updated cookbooks, like the Ball books) are what you need. To avoid botulism or other food-borne illnesses, following the recipes precisely is important. If you use different proportions, add or delete ingredients, your recipe may not be safe to can. But unless you completely understand the science behind the recipes, stick to them as written.
- Water bath canner w/rack
- Jar lifter
- Canning funnel
- Magnetic lid lifter
- Canning/mason jars. Again, no substitutes. You can't use pickle or mayo jars. You can use used canning jars (Kerr & Ball are common brands) but check for nicks and cracks.
- Stock pots: Large and small
- Canning lids (the flat pieces): These cannot be re-used.
- Metal canning bands: These can be re-used, as long as they're in good condition (not rusted).
- Cutting board
- Large bowls
- Measuring spoons
- Plastic knife
- Food strainer/mill
(Ball Blue Book of Preserving and Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)
Food list (to make about 6 pints/3 quarts):
- 10 pounds of tomatoes
- 2 1/2 C finely chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- bottled lemon juice (you need bottled, not fresh, as the acid levels are consistent)
- 4 tsp olive oil
Grocery shopping. For each 30 pounds of tomatoes I plan on picking I buy 4 large onions and one head of garlic. I make sure I have on hand: dried oregano, bottled lemon juice, bay leaves, salt, freshly ground black pepper, hot pepper flakes, and sugar.
Prep work: I chop up all the onions ahead of time, placing them in a plastic container, and refrigerating until use. I also peel all the garlic (makes it easier to press the next day), and keep that refrigerated.
Picking. Many people go picking with 5 gallon handled buckets. Once filled with produce, these are way too heavy for me. So, I have a few large plastic bowls (24 cup capacity). When each one is piled high with tomatoes, it's about 9-10 pounds. Using the same containers, I'm able to estimate how many bowls full of tomatoes I'll need for certain recipes.
Prep. First I clean out the large side of my sink, and fill it with cold water. I dump the tomatoes in there to rinse them. Because I know that my tomatoes have not been sprayed, I'm at ease with rinsing them off. Once they are rinsed, I place a clean bowl on top of a scale. I slice the tomatoes in halves or quarters and add them to the bowl until it weighs 5 pounds. (Have a small bowl handy for the green stems...you don't want those!) Then I set that bowl aside and keep going with the rest of them, until I have a bunch of 5 pound bowls. (There are five pounds of tomatoes in the yellow bowl.)
Once I have at least 10 pounds of tomatoes chopped, I get out my large stock pots. Heat a 5-6 qt. stockpot on medium-high heat. Add 4 tsp. of olive oil, then crush 3 cloves of garlic into the pot. Add 2 1/2 C of chopped onions. Saute.
Next start adding the chopped tomatoes, making sure to leave about 2" at the top. Keep the heat high at first, allowing the tomatoes to boil and start reducing. Stir and crush the tomatoes frequently, as the tomatoes cook down. Keep adding tomatoes until all 10 pounds are in the pot. If 10 pounds is too much for your pot (and that is certainly the case for my 5-6 quart pots), then add the rest of the tomatoes to a second pot. Don't worry that the onions and garlic are in the other pot. In the end it will all be mixed together. (From the picture on the right, you can see I also used my large roasting pan-which is stove-top safe. My other large stockpot was being used for something else.)
Add to the pot/s: 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional) and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium, and boil, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and is reduced by half. Don't cover the pot/s. You want the steam to escape, which reduces the sauce.
While the tomatoes are cooking, I get out my food strainer parts. You can use a food mill or fine sieve to press the tomatoes through. The goal is to separate the good stuff (sauce) from the junk (seeds, core, skin). To speed up the process, I bought attachments for my KitchenAid mixer. To strain foods, you'll need the Food Grinder (which is also part of the Pasta Maker Attachment) and the Fruit and Vegetable Strainer Parts. (These items are also part of the Attachment Pack.) Also handy, but not necessary is the Tray Attachment, which allows you to add larger quantities into the strainer.
As soon as the tomatoes have been reduced by half, it's time to put them through the strainer. In front of my mixer, I place a hot pad, and then my stockpot full of tomatoes. I also bring along a soup ladle. I turn on the mixer (speed...2), and add the tomatoes, one scoop at a time. After each scoop, I use the wooden tool to push the tomatoes down into the feeder/strainer. The sauce comes out the bottom, into a large container which is placed below. I find that a rectangular container fits better than a large bowl. The gunk (seeds, core, skin) comes out a hole on the right side, and into a smaller bowl.
This stuff in the smaller bowl can be put through the strainer again, as it still usually has some good, thick sauce in it.
As soon as all the sauce has been strained, take the strainer apart until the strainer piece with tomato sauce is accessible. This is usually full of good thick strained tomatoes, so I make sure to scrape that off into the container of sauce.
At this point, it's time to prep more batches, or clean up. Once you have all your strained sauce, put it in the refrigerator until you are ready for canning. OR...you can go right on to canning.
Canning. This is where all your work pays off. I used to can on my stove top. The benefit to that is that it's faster, as everything is close by. The drawbacks are that 1) it's messy...my stove has a ton of dried on steam that turns brownish black and is a pain in the rear to clean, 2) the stovetop is crowded, and 3) it heats up the house. Instead, I get out our Camp Chef stove. Brian bought this for brewing, but I borrow it for canning.
I set it up next to a table, which I line with large rag towels. I also bring a jar lifter outside. I fill up the canner (about 2/3 full) with water, place the basket handles over the rim (so that it's ready to be filled), put the lid on, and start heating it up.
Inside, I set up my stove. One canning obstacle I've faced over the years is how to heat up my jars. The first batch is easy, as you can place them in the canner and allow them to heat up with the water. After that though, I'm always stuck. I've ran them through the dishwasher, but timing that is not always easy. And, it's OK for one load mixed with other dishes. After that, it seems wasteful to run a load just to heat up the jars! I've used the oven (which isn't a recommended practice) by placing jars full of water in a baking pan.
Now that the canner is outside, I have some stove top space, and have found my answer: heat them up in small waterbaths on the stove. First I line the pots with a dishcloth, then fill them 1/2 way with water. Fill the jars with water and then place in the pots (4 in the large pot, 3 in the small). Heating them this way keeps them clean and heats them with the water, preventing shock and breakage.
Jars & lids: You want to clean and sterilize your jars and lids before using them. Jars: dishwasher or hot, soapy water. Lids: Hot, soapy water.
On the other small burner, I place a 2 quart pot, and fill it with the canning lids. I keep this on a medium low heat, as they are not supposed to come to a boil. The last burner holds the pot of sauce, which needs to be re-heated before canning. (You must place a hot product in a hot jar).
Just to the right of the lids and sauce I lay out a towel on the counter. On the towel are two shallow spoon rest containers, a bowl of lemon juice, a tablespoon, a jar lifter, bags of rings (one for wide mouth, and one for regular), a magnetic lid wand, a canning funnel, a plastic knife, a soup ladle, and little bits of paper towel. Nearby is the jar of lemon juice in case my bowl needs a refill.
Once the water in the canner is at a full boil, the jars and sauce are hot, you are ready to start filling the jars. I take one jar at a time out of the pots (dumping the contained water in the sink) and place it on the towel next to my pot of sauce. I place the funnel on the jar and immediately fill with lemon juice. THIS PART IS IMPORTANT: If you are using a pint, you will need 1 TB of lemon juice. If you are using a quart, you will need 2 TB of lemon juice.
Next add the tomato sauce, until you have 1/2" of headspace left. Using a plastic (not metal...it can damage the jars) knife, poke it along the sides of the jar to remove any air bubbles. Re-fill a bit if necessary. Take a small piece of the paper towel, wipe the rim. Using the magnetic wand, get a lid out of the pot and place it on your jar. Hand-tighten a metal ring around the top, and it's ready for the canner.
I like to quickly prepare two jars at a time, and add them to the canner simultaneously. As the jars are added to the canning basket, it's important to keep it balanced, or the jars will topple over.
Keep preparing jars two at a time, and add them until the canner is full. Carefully lower the basket. When the canner is full, make sure you have a couple inches of water over the jars. If you don't, add more water. Bring the water to a full boil, replace the lid, and set your timer (35 minutes for pints; 40 minutes for quarts*). Remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes, and then remove your jars, placing them on a counter/table lined with a towel. Do not place on a wooden table or your table will end up looking like this:
Repeat until all the jars have been processed.
Leave the jars untouched for 24 hours. After that time, you can take off the band (some keep it on) clean the bottles, label the top, and place in your pantry.
* When canning you need to increase the boiling times for high altitude.
0-1000 ft. P 35 min.; Q 40 min.
1001-3000 ft. P 40 min.; Q 45 min.
3001-6000 ft. P 45 min.; Q 50 min.
over 6000 ft. P 50 min.; Q 55 min.