Today’s episode is one that is near and dear to our hearts: Tomato Canning.  We always have a few dozen jars of home canned tomatoes in our pantry to use in everything from Chili to Lasagna.  Tomatoes are a staple in our house so it was important that we learned the right way to put them up… but being the kind of guys that have a lot of other things to do we also needed the process to be fast and easy.

Without further adieu here is a step by step tutorial for canning your own tomato sauce. Although there are many canning options available, for ease and no fail results start with water bath canning. These instructions are only good for tomatoes… for other fruits and veggies please consult the Ball Blue Book of Canning.

Supplies Checklist
Items on this list can be found in your local grocery or hardware store during spring and summer or online anytime.  They can also be found in our Amazon Affiliate Store.

  • Glass jars: Pint or quart size jars produced for canning purposes only. Don’t reuse mayo or jelly jars: they’re usually made of thinner glass and can easily break.
  • Rings and lids (flats): Either regular or wide mouth lids will work fine for tomato sauce/puree like we are making today. Make sure you purchase the right size to fit your jars.
  • Large Stock/Stew Pot or Big Ol’ Slow Cooker (We use 2 slow cookers… but we’re a little crazy)
  • Water bath canner or large stock pot:  A water bath canner is larger than most stock pots and has a rack on which the jars sit. Check your grandmother’s attic… I bet she has an extra one. If you don’t want to invest in a canner, any lidded stock pot will work as long as it can be filled with enough water to cover the jars, plus an additional 2 inches of water.
  • Funnel, non-metallic spatula, and jar lifter: All can be purchased in a single kit. Don’t attempt canning without these, in particular the jar lifter. It costs about $20 for a kit with everything in it. You can purchase a complete set online at amazon.com
  • Immersion Blender aka Stick Blender
  • Fresh, fully ripe tomatoes: You’ll need roughly 20 pounds of tomatoes for a canner load of 6 quarts, or 13 pounds for a canner load of 8 pints.
  • Clean kitchen towels
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Timer

Step 1: Get Your Tomatoes

We go to a local farmer’s market for the vast majority our tomatoes.  The fresher the better.  For sauce like we are making here I recommend Roma or Plum style tomatoes.  They are pulpy and not as seedy as slicing or cherry tomatoes… choice is your though.

Wash your produce and look for bad spots to cut out or cull from the canning process.

Step 2: Chop or Puree Your Fruit

Chop your tomatoes up in to chunks and add to a large stockpot or into a slow cooker and begin cooking on medium high… or if you are like us and want instant results put your chopped tomatoes in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Step 3: Heat Up to Soften

Add your chopped or puree add to the pots or the slow cookers and cook on low(ish) about 1-2 hours.  Stir occasionally to check for consistency.   They will start to really soften up and get all “mushy”

Step 4: Blend Well

Once everything has softened up use your Stick Blender to whir everything to a saucy consistency.  Hard-core canners will use a food mill to get out all the skin bits and seeds.  If you want to do that step now is the time.  We find the blender makes fast work of those bits though.

Step 5: Cook to Sauce

With the lids to your pots slightly askew to allow steam to escape, continue to cook your tomatoes, until the tomato puree is at the consistency you like (2-3 hours on the stove, overnight for the slow cookers).

Notice I’m not including any salt, spices, or herbs. Our feeling on this is that you can always add the flavors you want later. If you add oregano and thyme now, you are stuck with those flavors later.

Step 6: Clean and Heat Your Jars and Lids
When your sauce is  thick and ready it’s time to put it all in the jars.

Check your jars for cracks or nicks, and discard any that show signs of wear. Prepare jars, rings, and utensils by washing them in hot soapy water and rinsing them well, or if you are lazy like me, run them through a hot cycle in your dishwasher.

Fill the jars with water and place them on the rack of your water bath canner or on a towel in a stock pot. Placing the jars on a cotton dish towel in the bottom of the stock pot keeps the jars from cracking against the metal. Don’t use your best towels; these will be boiled with the jars.

Fill the canner or pot with water until the jars are submerged with at least 2 inches of water resting above the lids, and boil gently for 10 minutes. Leave the jars in the hot water, removing only as you need them.

Step 7: Fill ‘Em Up
Using the jar lifter, remove one jar from the canner, empty the water from the jar, and place the jar on a towel next to the hot tomatoes. Ladle in tomatoes sauce , filling the jar roughly halfway.

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP : Kick up the acidity by adding bottled lemon juice (1 Tbs. per pint or 2 Tbs. per quart) to ensure all food borne pathogens are destroyed. While other recipes may call for citric acid or vinegar, bottled lemon juice adds no discernable flavor and is readily available. Fresh lemon juice is not an acceptable alternative. The pH of natural lemon juice can vary from one fruit to the next. Bottled lemon juice will always give you the required result.

Fill the jar with more tomatoes to a ½ inch from the top. This is known as “headspace”. Most jar manufacturers have a glass ring on the outside of the jar just below the screw to indicate the ½ inch mark.

Step 8: Process, Check the Seal, then Store
Use a damp towel to clean the jar rim. Grab a lid and place it on the mouth of the jar. Screw on a ring, only as tight as your fingers will let you; too tight and you will not get a proper seal. Using the jar lifter, place the jar back in the canner. Continue until all jars are filled.

Making sure you have at least 2 inches of water above the jars, place a lid on the water bath and bring water to a full boil. Once at full boil, start your timer.  Processing Time will vary depending on altitude.  Consult your State Department of Health or Ball Blue Book of Canning for correct time.  For us at sea level, its 30 min for pint jars and 45 min for quarts.

When time is up, turn off the heat and wait 5 minutes. Using the jar lifter (aren’t you glad you bought it?) remove the jars from the canner, and place them on a towel away from any drafts. Wait 4 to 12 hours and check for proper seal. Follow the lid manufacturer’s guidelines: Lids should not flex up and down when the center is pressed. Lids of ringless jars should not budge when pulled up on by the fingertips.

If the seal did not take, you can try to process the jar again within 12 hours using a new jar and lid. Results, however, will be poor. A better choice is to refrigerate the jar of tomatoes and use them within two weeks. For the processed jars that sealed properly, store them in a dark spot like a pantry and use them within one year. Like that’s going to be hard!

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