You know what’s the problem with canning? It’s such hard work that when the time comes to open a can and use it, you just don’t want to do it… You want to keep those precious cans forever, just let them stand there so you can stare at them all day.
But then you open the can and you cook with this awesome sauce that you made from fresh, summer tomatoes you harvested from your garden or that you got from a local farmer, and boy, it’s so good, especially if you happen to open it during the winter. It’s so much better than the canned tomato sauce you buy at the store, and just like after you birth a baby, the reward is so great that you forget how hard it was very quickly.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t compare a baby to a can of tomato sauce… But anyway, you get the point.
It all started with this beautiful box of tomatoes. Since we moved to a new house in the country this summer, I didn’t get to plant tomatoes early enough and plant enough plants to produce enough tomatoes for canning. I did get to plant a few tomato plants that a friend gave me and we are currently eating some fresh tomatoes from them, but it’s not in any way enough for canning.
So I was sniffing around at the farmer’s market to see which of the large farms had some too-ripe tomatoes they wanted to get rid of when I met a young farm boy by the farm’s truck behind the stand. He was sorting the tomatoes that came off the truck and I asked if they have some for canning. He offered to sell me this box for $10. I took it.
There was 26.5lb of tomatoes in the box so I paid a little less than 40 cents per pound if I calculated it right. Not bad.
I couldn’t wait to can them. When I got home I washed the tomatoes.
Then I removed the core of the tomatoes by inserting a sharp knife in the top of each tomato at an angle and cutting in a circular motion. I also cut a little X at the bottom of the tomato to help the skin come off easy.
While I worked on cleaning the tomatoes, I brought a big pot of water to a boil. To the boiling water, I added the tomatoes and I let them cook there for two minutes or so.
I do the cleaning, coring, and boiling in batches since not all of the tomatoes fit in the pot at the same time.
After two minutes or so, I took the tomatoes out of the pot with a big serving spoon (or you can use a slotted spoon. I kept the boiling water for the next batch of tomatoes) and placed them in a big bowl inside the sink. I then run cold water on them for a couple of minutes to cool them down so I could start working on taking the skins off without burning my fingers.
The skins should come off very easy. You can save those and dry them. If you have a food dehydrator it’s easy to dump them in there but you can also dry them in the oven. Some people eat them like chips and some grind the dry skins to make tomato powder which you then can add to soups or many other dishes as seasoning.
Since those tomatoes were pretty big, I quartered them.
I kept going in batches until all the tomatoes were in the pot.
Then I started cooking the tomatoes. This took a few hours (how long it takes depends on how thick you want your sauce).
At the beginning, I brought the tomatoes to a boil, then I lowered the heat to medium so the sauce was gently bubbling. You don’t have to constantly stand over it but you do have to remember to stir it once in a while.
After about an hour of cooking, when the tomatoes were soft I used my stick blender to mash the whole thing. You can go all the way or you can leave some chunks of tomatoes if you like it that way.
I don’t mind that my sauce has seeds in it, but if this is bothering you, you can run it through a food mill instead of using the stick blender.
It took almost three hours for the sauce to reach the thickness I wanted it to. You can choose to season it a little bit with salt and pepper, and maybe some garlic powder or oregano, but I decided to just leave it unseasoned so we can season it when we use it.
So now it’s time to start canning this sauce. I kept the sauce on low heat so it doesn’t cool down and started boiling water in a water bath stock pot to prepare the jars.
When the temperature of the water reached 180F I placed the canning rack in the pot and placed the jars in the water by using the jar lifter. Make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water.
I left them in the hot water for 10 minutes.
In a different, smaller pot, I placed my lids and bands. I brought the water to a boil and left it boiling for a few minutes then I turned off the heat but left the lids and bands in the water.
The bands can be reused, but make sure you use new lids every time you can to ensure a successful seal.
Tomatoes vary in their acidity levels. In order to can them safely for a long period, we need to add acid. This can either be citric acid or like I did here, you can use bottled lemon juice.
So now the jars are ready to go, the lids and bands are clean, the tomato sauce is hot and thick… It’s time to put this together.
I usually bring all the canning utensils to one spot on the counter. I set the lemon juice there with a tablespoon to measure, I also get a couple of napkins or paper towels, a soup ladle to handle the sauce, and of course, the pot of tomato sauce.
I grabbed one jar from the water bath using the jar lifter. I emptied it from the hot water and brought it to the counter next to the rest of the stuff. I usually place it on a wooden cutting board but you can use a towel as well.
Place the funnel on top of the jar and add the lemon juice.
I used quart jars so I added 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to the jar, then I filled the jar with the sauce making sure to leave 1/2” headspace.
You should add 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid to a quart jar if you use it instead of the bottled lemon juice.
If you use pint jars, add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice.
Next, I used the bubble remover to remove bubbles by moving it along the inside of the jar.
I cleaned the rim of the jar with a clean paper towel…
Lifted a lid from the hot water with the lid lifter…
And centered it on the jar.
It’s very important that you don’t touch the bottom of the lid in this process.
Then I grabbed a band from the pot with the lid lifter and closed the jar.
You don’t want to screw it on too tight, just finger-tight.
I usually place the filled jars on the counter next to the oven while filling the rest of the jars in the same way.
Now, the last step is to process the jars in the water bath. I place them in the stock pot and usually need to scoop some water out because the water level rises too much. You want the jars to be covered by an inch of water.
My water here is so hard, this is why it’s not clear in the picture. Your water is hopefully better than mine.
I covered the canner and brought the water to a rolling boil. You should process pint jars for 35 minutes and quart jars for 40 minutes (considering you live in altitude no greater than 1000 feet above sea level).
When the time is up, I turned off the heat, removed the cover, and allowed the jars to stand in the water for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, I used the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner and placed them on a kitchen towel. Then listen good… Within a couple of minutes, you should hear the magical “pop” sound that indicates the jars have sealed. Hallelujah!
Leave the jars undisturbed for 12 hours. Then remove bands, test seal, wipe with a wet cloth and store in a cool dark place for up to a year.
This box of tomatoes that I canned here yielded 7 glorious quart jars that all sealed successfully.
Was it a lot of work? You bet. I canned another box of tomatoes since this post and I will probably need to do one or two more before the farmers at the farmer’s market run out of summer tomatoes if I want to have a yearly supply of sauce.
Canning takes some learning. Safety is an important issue since you have to handle both the sauce and the canes while they are still hot. Everything is boiling all around the kitchen! If possible, try not to can when there are 17 kids running around, the newborn needs to nurse, the animals need to eat and the husband is nowhere to be found.
But if your household is anything like mine, there is no time during the day or night where all of the above are happening simultaneously. So screw it! I am canning those summer tomatoes if it kills me… Which it might do, but at least my husband will have some good food left in the house to feed the kids 😉