In this post, we will be canning tomato sauce! It’s such a great feeling to be able to preserve your own tomato harvest! But even if you get your tomatoes at the market, it’s still a great idea to can your own tomato sauce because we all know that the taste of fresh tomatoes during the growing season is a million times better than any tomato you’ll get during the winter.
You know what’s the problem with canning? It’s such hard work that when the time comes to open a jar and use it, you just don’t want to do it… You want to keep those precious full jars forever, just let them stand there so you can stare at them all day.
I’ve been canning for a long time and every year it’s the same thing. I harvest my plants or come across beautiful fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s market. I bring the bounty home and can’t wait to preserve it (after eating as much of it fresh as it’s possible, of course).
I spend hours in the kitchen and by the time the jars are done processing and I lay them on the counter to cool, all I can do, literally, is take a seat and just look at them. They are always so beautiful and they represent independence to me.
I recently got me an open shelving unit and placed it smack dab in the middle of the house. I store my canned goods and fermented vegetables on it. Who needs nicknacks when you have beautiful jars full of canned tomatoes, peaches, and homemade jam.
Canning Tomato Sauce…
Then, months later, when it’s freezing outside and grey, you open a jar 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!
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 to can it all.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t compare a baby to a can of tomato sauce… But anyway, you get the point.
This year’s batch of tomato sauce started with this box of tomatoes that I found at the farmers market for just a few dollars.
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 one of the stands. 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.
What Kind of Tomatoes Are Good for Canning?
Paste tomatoes have less water in them and therefore are better for canning tomato sauce simply because it takes less time to cook the sauce. They are thick and meaty.
Some of the famous paste tomato varieties are Amish Paste and Roma. If you grow your own tomatoes and planing on canning tomato sauce it will be a great idea to plant some paste varieties.
However, you can can any type of tomato and you can even make a mix of a few varieties (here is how to can stewed tomatoes, how to ferment tomatoes and how to can crushed tomatoes. I crushed a few different varieties together). The flavor will change obviously and the cooking time might change depending on the water content of your tomatoes but you can use this tutorial to can any variety of tomatoes.
If you grow your own tomatoes, make sure to pick them at the Green Mature Stage and let them ripen indoors. More on when to pick tomatoes in this post.
Preparing Your Tomatoes For Canning…
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 a seasoning.
A couple of notes here before we move on… I will admit that more than once I didn’t bother removing the tomato peel at all. I just threw the tomatoes in the pot and cooked them and mashed them with the stick blender like you’ll see me doing below.
The tiny pieces of eel didn’t bother me. It’s not ideal, but possible.
Another thing I’ve learned is that if you want to skip the hot-water-to-remove-the-skins step, you can simply throw your tomatoes in the freezer for a few days. When you thaw them, the skins will just come off easily.
Lastly, I’ve learned from one of the fabulous ladies that comment below that there is a very cool machine called the VICTORIO Deluxe Food Strainer that removes the seeds and the skin and makes a sauce of your tomatoes all at once. Then you just have to cook it however you want and can.
So there are a few options here and you can see… let’s move on…
Since those tomatoes were pretty big, I quartered them.
I kept going in batches until all the tomatoes were in the pot.
Cooking Your Tomato Sauce…
Next, 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 I can season it when I use it.
How to Can Tomato Sauce…
Now that the tomato sauce is ready, let’s go over the canning process. Canning tomato sauce is not complicated. Honestly, the prep work and the cooking is the hard part. The canning part is much easier.
Preparing Your Jars and Lids…
I kept the sauce on low heat so it doesn’t cool down and started boiling water in a water bath stockpot 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 my canning peach jam post, I also show you how you can prepare jars for canning in the oven which is actually my preferred way so make sure to check that post out too.
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.
Filling the Jars With Tomato Sauce…
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 as I did here, you can use bottled lemon juice.
The acidity of the bottled lemon juice or the citric acid will prevent the growth of C. Botulinum bacteria; the bacteria that causes Botulism. Some say that the lemon juice changes the taste of the tomato sauce, I personally don’t feel a change in taste so I use bottled lemon juice. But if you are concerned about the change in taste you can go ahead and use citric acid which does not affect the taste at all.
So now that 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.
I 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 or the rim of the jar 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.
Processing Your jars of Tomato Sauce…
Now, the last step is to process the jars in the water bath. I use the jar lifters to place them in the stockpot 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.
If you do live higher than 1000, make sure to read this information and change your processing time accordingly.
When the time was 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.
People often ask me why I remove the rings before I store my jars. The reason is that if anything funky is developing inside of the jar it’s usually developing on the top of the food at the 1/2” headspace we left. If I remove the rings, I am able to monitor better what is happening at the top of the jar.
If I see mold or anything else, I usually don’t throw away the whole thing, I open the jar, scoop the mold out and refrigerate the jar or use it right away. This is a personal choice, I feel safe doing this but you might not.
Another reason to remove the rings is that you can re-use them when you can something else. You always want to buy new lids to ensure that the rubber seal is in perfect condition, but you can certainly reuse the rings.
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. Canning takes some learning and a lot of kitchen time.
Safety is an important issue since you have to handle both the sauce and the jars while they’re still hot. Everything is boiling all around the kitchen!
But believe me, it’s all worth it! This process preserves both the nutrition and the flavor of all those delicious summer tomatoes and you can taste the difference when you use this sauce to make pizza sauce or pasta sauce later.
I hope you liked this tutorial! If you did, you might also like…
If you are looking for a seasoned tomato sauce for canning, check out this post from Rachel at Grow a Good Life.
Here is the handy printable…
- 26 lb Ripe tomatoes
- 14 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice
1. Wash and core the tomatoes.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes in batches and let them cook for two minutes.
3. With a large spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a bowl that is placed in the sink. Run cold water over the tomatoes for a couple of minutes to cool them.
4. Skin the tomatoes and quarter them. Place them in a large pot.
5. Cook the tomatoes. Bring the pot to a boil then lower the heat to medium. After about an hour, puree the tomatoes using a stick blender or a food mill.
6. When the sauce reaches your desired thickness (it took me a total of about 3 hours), lower the temperature to low just to keep the sauce from cooling.
7. Heat water in a water bath canner. When the temperature of the water reaches 180F, lower the canning rack into the pot and place the jars in the hot water. Process the jars for 10 minutes to sanitize them.
8. In a smaller pot, place the lids and bands and bring the water to a boil. Boil the lids and bands for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat off but leave the bands and lids in the water.
9. Grab a jar, empty it from water and add bottled lemon juice (one tablespoon to a pint jar, 2 tablespoons to a quart jar).
10. Fill the jar with tomato sauce leaving 1/2'' headspace.
11. Remove air bubbles.
12. Use a paper towel to clean jar rim of the jar.
13. Grab a lid from the hot water and center it on the jar.
14. Screw the band on finger-tight.
15. Repeat with all your jars.
16. Place filled jars back in the canner, on the rack, making sure the jars are covered by at least 1'' of water and do not touch each other. Cover the canner, bring water to a rolling boil and process pint jars for 35 minutes and quart jars for 40 minutes (if you live above 1000 feet in elevation you'll have to adjust processing time).
17. Turn off the heat, uncover the pot and let jars rest in the canner for 5 minutes.
18. Use the jar lifter to remove jars from the canner. Place them on a paper towel to seal and cool for 12 hours.
19. Wipe jars, remove bands, and store in a cool dark place for up to a year.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 7 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 308Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 92mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 20gSugar: 45gProtein: 15g