How To Can Tomatoes (My Way)

pint jars of canned tomatoes

The clear liquid at the bottom of the jars is juice that separates because the tomatoes are basically raw when canned. Shaking the jars mixes it in (see jar on the upper left).

When it comes to canning tomatoes, I’m a total piker compared to some people I know, never mind our pioneer ancestors.  But I do manage to put away 15 to 20 pint jars by the time the season ends.

The tomatoes within are in two forms: whole with chunks in juice (basically raw when they go in the jar) and Intensely Delicious Roast Tomatoes. Having recently reminded you yet again about the roasted ones, I feel that version has been amply covered.

But I’ve never described my method for plain old canned tomatoes – probably because I wouldn’t make them if I didn’t have to. Between the roasted and the frozen, we have a better preserved tomato ready for any cooked tomato need … except one: stewed tomatoes, winter comfort lunch supreme, which must be made with home canned tomatoes.


There is no recipe for stewed tomatoes, all you do is cook a chopped onion in not much butter or olive oil until it’s starting to brown, add some peeled, roughly cut canned tomatoes with their attendant juices and heat.

Then you serve them in a soup bowl, with toasted bread on the side unless you belong to the saltine faction, in which case saltines.

The tomatoes have to be canned because freezing destroys all texture, and they have to be canned at home because the tomatoes must be really, really delicious – there being essentially nothing else going on in that bowl. Tomatoes chosen for commercial canning can be quite good, but delicious they are not.

Canned Tomatoes The Way I make Them

This is a slight variation on more usual recipes because the tomatoes I use are extremely juicy*

Cautionary Note: This method would not pass muster with the USDA, which insists on no uncertain terms that all tomato products processed in a boiling water canner must have added lemon juice, citric acid or other acidifier for safety reasons. The USDA cannot know what kind of tomatoes you’re using and thus must err on the side of caution. I can’t know either, but if the tomatoes you’re using are so low-acid they aren’t safe to can as is they probably don’t taste good enough to be worth the bother of canning.

Equipment: non-reactive soup pot or kettle; canning kettle with rack; jars and lids; jar lifter; canning funnel; large slotted spoon, tongs.

1. Allow about ten lbs. of tomatoes for each seven pint canner-load, double that for quarts. Choose ripe fruit that’s still on the firm side. Dip each tomato in boiling water for 10-15 seconds to loosen the skin, then line it up with the others on a couple of cookie sheets.

2. Set the tomatoes on the work surface. To the right (unless you’re a lefty) set out a bowl to hold debris and to the right (or left) of that a non-reactive pan big enough to hold all the tomatoes.

3. One by one, hold the tomatoes over the bowl, peel and core them, then drop them into the kettle. Cut very large ones in half, otherwise leave them whole – or whole except for the bad spot you cut out. Put the kettle over medium heat and cook, stirring gently, only until all the tomatoes are barely heated through. Set aside.

4. Rinse the jars, lids and rings. Assemble lids and rings and put them in a deep saucepan; put the jars on the rack in your canning kettle. Fill the kettle with water to come an inch above the jars, cover and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.

5. Pick up each jar with the jar-holder, empty it into the lid saucepan and set it on the work surface. (When the saucepan is full, empty remaining jars back into the kettle).

6. Put the funnel in the first jar. Using a slotted spoon, lift whole tomatoes and large pieces from the sea of juice and puree and use them to fill the jar to within ½ inch of the top. Press gently to be sure the jar is completely filled. Transfer funnel to the next jar.

7. Run a table knife around the inside of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles, then wipe the rim with paper towel. Using the tongs, fish out a lid-and-ring. Put it on the jar, tightening the ring firmly. Repeat with remaining jars. (There will be quite a bit of juice and puree left in the kettle, well on its way to being soup right away or canned with the next batch as a different product.)

8. Return the jars to the canning kettle, cover and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, set a timer for 40 minutes for pints, an hour for quarts. When it goes off, you’re done. Lift out the jars and set them on a towel to cool off. (The buttons on the top of the lids should go flat; if they still pop up and down the jars didn’t seal.)

* Tomatoes bred for processing, including heirloom plum varieties like Amish Paste, have more flesh in proportion to juice than fresh use types like Brandywines. As a result, processing tomatoes reduce faster when made into tomato sauce, and they hold their shapes (somewhat) better when canned. Also as a result, they taste a bit flat; a lot of tomato flavor is in the juicy part.

farm stand tomato sale sign

You have to can them yourself, but you don’t have to grow them yourself.

Gardeners’ Warning – in case you haven’t already noticed and dealt with it

We are having a horrible onslaught of hornworms in the Maine tomato patch. This is how we fight them. 

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1 Comment »

  • Leigh Williams Said,

    Leslie, which varieties of tomatoes suit you best for canning using this method?

    Hi Leigh, nice to hear from you!

    My favorite variety for canning is Cosmonaut Volkov, a comparatively early heirloom. It’s medium sized, very flavorful, and while juicy isn’t as wet as slicers like Brandywine and Prudens Purple.

    That said, most years I can whatever I’ve got a lot of that tastes good. Most important criterion is ripeness – you get the best results when the tomatoes are fully ripe but no more; the longer they sit around continuing to ripen, the more the juice separates from the flesh when you can them.

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