Canning Tomatoes

by Frugal Babe on September 2, 2010

Last weekend, my husband picked enough corn from our garden to fill our wheelbarrow.  He and our son sat on the back porch husking the ears while I blanched the cobs and then froze the kernels on trays.  We now have about 20 quarts of corn in our freezer.

That part was easy.  I wasn’t nervous about freezing corn.  But I was nervous about canning. 

I knew that we were going to have to can tomatoes.  We have 60 tomato plants, and there’s no way I was going to be able to fit all that sauce in the freezer.  Canning made sense, but I had an irrational fear of it.  What if I screwed it up?  What if I poisoned my family?  What if something exploded in the kitchen while I was toiling away?

Turns out, it was a pretty easy process once I got started.  Getting started is usually the hardest part of any new adventure, and this was no exception.

We ended up getting a pressure canner last weekend, because it gives me more options than a water bath canner would (and I can use it as a water bath if I ever choose to).  We had a whole bunch of jars that my mother in law gave us last month, and they all have rings so the only other thing I had to buy was some new lids (actually, a lot of the jars she gave me had never been used, and still had their lids with them.  But the lids were 30+ years old, and I wasn’t sure if the rubber seals would still be good) and a little set of canning gadgets (funnel, jar lifter, and a little gizmo for picking up the lids out of the hot water that they sit in before they go on the jars).

First, we harvested tomatoes.  We filled two huge saucepans, although you can’t even tell that we took anything, as the tomato plants are still a sea of tomatoes.  I washed them and dumped them straight into my VitaMix (love that thing), skins, seeds, and all.  The VitaMix liquefies everything I put in it, and made quick work of the tomatoes.  I ended up with about two gallons of fresh pink sauce.  I simmered the sauce down for a few hours until it had reduced to about a gallon, gotten nice and thick, and turned a beautiful bright red color.

Then it was time to can.  I had read the instructions that came with our canner about 700 times.  I also had a book I was referencing and a web browser with an embarrassing number of canning tabs open.  I double and triple checked everything.  And then I got started.  And it was one of the easiest things I’ve done in a long time.  I ended up with four quarts of organic tomato sauce that all sealed perfectly and are ready for the pantry. 

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Now that I did it once, I am excited to get the rest of the tomatoes harvested and canned.  I’m planning to make most of them into sauce as it takes up less room that way, and we go through a lot of tomato sauce around here.  I’m not adding anything extra to the sauce right now, but it will be easy to add whatever seasonings and veggies we want throughout the winter as we use each jar.

I have no idea how many jars of sauce we’ll end up with, but I imagine that we will not need to buy spaghetti sauce anytime soon.  And I am thrilled that I got past my fear of canning and learned something new. 

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  • http://www.shoni-walkwithme.blogspot.com Shondra Walker

    Great post! I just started canning as well! See my blog: http://www.shoni-walkwithme.blogspot.com

    I wish I had a place to garden!

  • http://www.grovesfamilyhappenings.blogspot.com/ Kelly

    Way cool! I too have always been nervous about canning. As a family (like my parents, sisters and grandparents) we canned a ton of pickles last year, but I have always been nervous to try it on my own! We don’t have a good enough yield from our garden this year, so any excess I have I will probably just freeze. I do have an abundance of peppers, so I was thinking of pickling and canning them.

  • Helena

    I too have an irrational fear of canning, but our freezer is full so I guess I’d better work through it. :) We actually have my husband’s grandmother’s old pressure canner, but it no longer has an instruction manual and I have no idea if it would still work properly–I think this contributes to my hesitance….

  • Meg

    YAY! Congrats!
    I planted 28 tomato plants, but have not harvested enough to can.
    I am interested to see how long your frozen and canned items last you through the Winter.
    I wanted to do the same thing, but nothing is really cooperating with me.
    Every time I pick green beans, there are enough to eat for a meal. They are gone before I can get to freezing them. How many corn stalks did you guys have?!? That’s impressive!
    Great job!

  • FrugalBabe

    Thanks Meg! I’m curious about that too. I imagine that the corn will last all winter, as 20 quarts is more than we would normally use in that time, and we still have more to harvest this weekend. We only froze about 5 or 6 quarts of green beans – we only planted bush beans, and ate most of them as they were ready. I think that we will end up with a lot of tomato sauce, judging from what’s still our there to harvest. I’m not sure exactly how many corn stalks we had, but we planted four beds of corn, each about three feet wide and 10 – 15 feet long. We probably had about 60% – 70% germination, but nearly every stalk has produced two perfect ears of corn.

  • Jen

    Those jars of sauce look great! Question, though — did you add any lemon juice to increase the acidity levels, or did you can to a higher temperature so that the lower acidity wasn’t an issue?

  • FrugalBabe

    Jen, I did both. I added 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid to each jar, and I also used a pressure canner with a 15 lb pressure regulator on it, which allows the temperature inside the canner to get up to 250 degrees. In general, I’ve read that tomatoes are acidic enough that neither of these steps is absolutely necessary, although the acidity of tomatoes varies greatly depending on how they were grown, how much sunlight they get, the condition of the vines, etc. Not wanting to take chances, I added acid and used a pressure canner.

  • http://www.pigsdontknow.blogspot.com What Pigs Don’t Know

    You have GOT to get some pictures up here of your garden. I (and I know others) would really enjoy seeing them.

    Helena – You can take the pressure canner to your local extension agency and they usually have some way of testing it to see if it is OK. – Carrie

  • Meg

    I am with “What Pigs Dont Know,” I’d love to see pictures of the garden. Yes, even though we are coming to an end of the season.

    I was outside last night picking tomatos and green beans and I was thinking about stealing your idea of putting the tomatos in the blender. Because I only have about 30 roma tomatos right now, I will put the liquified sauce in the freezer until I have enough to cook down and can (hopefully within the month.) This way, I get the best of both worlds! I dont see tomatos go unused AND I get to can.

    Thank you for the inspiration. I am really nervous about canning sauce myself – I’m a newbie at it!

  • http://www.gardencartcsa.com Trudy G.

    I started canning a few years ago with the advice of my mother who had canned for many a year. I was still nervous and consulted a ton but made it through. It was a great experience and one I have continued since. The best part of canning is opening a jar in the middle of winter and getting a taste of the freshness of summer!!

  • Kaytee

    I love canning and have been doing it for years (following in my mother’s footsteps). I wouldn’t worry too much about things exploding. My mother’s kitchen ceiling is dotted in several places as the result of a few mishaps. It wasn’t too bad, but it adds a nice decorative touch to the kitchen and still makes me smile when I see them. :)

  • http://www.littlehouseinthevalley.com Little House

    I don’t know if I’ll ever try canning, but your photo of the tomato sauce is beautiful! I love mason jars; I use them for drink classes and gift ideas. Maybe I need to figure out a way to can figs (it happens to be the only fruit tree in my yard.)

  • Meg

    I am borrowing a pressure canner from someone at work who wont use it because she has a glass top stove. Does anyone else use their pressure canner on a glass top stove?

    ~M

  • http://mollyonmoney.wordpress.com Molly On Money

    My tomatoes got a late start and so it’s going to be a few more weeks before I’m canning.
    The book I like that put my mind to ease about canning was ‘Put’em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling’ by Sherri Brooks Vinton. She had a interview on Edible Radio that was good too.

  • FrugalBabe

    Molly – funny you mention that… one of my friends just gave me that book last week!

  • Nathalie

    I’d also love to see some pics of your garden! I started late this year getting into the whole grow-your-own swing, so most of it gets eaten fresh, but I so want to try out canning next year. I am nervous about it as well though. I’ve made jams and chutneys before (filled really hot into sterilized hot jars…seemed to work but I read that canning is better), and they were always really nice, but I have never used the ‘canning’ method…I will have to look into that.
    It must be awsome to have all that home made tomato sauce!
    When the time comes, will you be canning/bottling pumpkin puree? I hope you will and that I can learn from you :-) I love to use pumpkin in baking and cooking but canned pumpkin is quite a rare find here in the UK and I usually have to fork out what eqates to about $6.20 for one jar (500g), …seems a bit steep.

  • FrugalBabe

    Nathalie,
    No, we didn’t grow any pumpkins this year. Maybe next year. I know I want to grow more squash in general, as all we had this year was zucchini, and my family has been eating shredded zucchini in just about everything except our oatmeal lately!
    Have fun with your garden!

  • Nathalie

    Thanks! I feel almost guilty for not having made the most of my large garden for years, even though I’ve really been into growing stuff and organic produce for years. Ah well, better late than never.
    Haha, I know what you mean regarding the zucchini :-) They sure are generous croppers!
    I don’t have any pumpkins either this year, but great pumpkin/squash plans for next year are already in place…in theory.

  • Cate

    Your tomato sauce is beautiful! I just started canning this year, too, and I’ve really enjoyed it. We don’t have a garden yet, but I canned lots of jam from farmers’ market fruit/fruit from my in-laws’ garden, and I made a couple batches of salsa. I’m looking forward to having a garden next year and being able to do more!

  • John Cooper

    My recommendation is to cook down the raw puree for 3-4 hours until the volume is reduced by about 2/3. It’ll save a lot of canning jars and space on your pantry shelf.

  • http://frugalbabe.com Frugal Babe

    John, I think each batch of sauce has been cooked a little longer than the one before. My last batch definitely reduced by at least 2/3. We like our tomato sauce nice and thick, and I agree about not taking up as many jars. I think I’ll do at least a few batches of just diced tomatoes, but for the most part, I’m going with the super thick sauce option.

  • John Cooper

    Re: Acidity

    The bureaucrats at the USDA is full of it. Last year I canned a bunch of yellow tomatoes which are supposed to be “low acid”. I checked them with my pH meter (Doesn’t everybody have one of those?) and the pH was 4.0 which is pretty close to the pH of vinegar (3.4). I haven’t died yet from eating them.

    But if it makes you sleep better at night, by all means add lemon juice.

  • John Cooper

    Try some catsup, too. It’s a real heart-breaker because you start with 3 gallons of juice and end up six hours later with a sink full of dirty dishes and only 2 pints of catsup. But it’s good! Making catsup gives one an appreciation of Heinz and Del Monte. (grin).

  • shields

    My grandfather used to make riddles or a question maze for each child, later grandchild. That would lead them all over the house and land. Each station along the way they found candy at it, he started with hiding their real gifts, but some of them could be damaged in the out of doors. I have lots of neices and newphews, and carry on the tradition, but for the parent’s sake, I throw in a few cheap items. Like dollar tree journals, gloves, stickers, and books.

    We also draw names because it is so many of us. We bring food organized pot luck style, everybody brings something, just make sure you talk to the parents about how much supervision the kids had making brownies, ha ha. NO one has had food poisoning yet.

    We would also do a holiday craft, turning light bulbs into ornaments, one year we tried growing cati in egg cartens, ect.

    My aunt uses the Christmas cards she gets as decorations, she hangs them arround door frames, windows, and on the walls. Everyone makes sure to give her nice cards every year, she calls it the card that keeps on giving.

    Using the wrapping paper from last year to cut out and tape to wall images, we did the nativitiy one year.

    But I used to make copies of the kids’ best picutures and bring out the old christmas cards I bought on the cheap the year before, after christmas, and cut the cards in half, paste picture on blank side, slap on the sticky clear plastic sheet on both sides, trim, stick whole in top and every kid would have a box that they kept them in. They could be strung up, turned into a mobile, or used as ornaments for when they leave the house with great stories to tell. We always make an extra for MoM and DaD.

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