September 13, 2014

Preserving Summer - Home Canning, Whole Tomatoes and Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes seem to know when they should ripen - and it's never at a convenient time. I've been traveling for the past three weeks ( a couple trips to both New Mexico and California for work and pleasure) but I've been home every weekend for a day or two to do laundry, re-pack and to 'put-up tomatoes, which this year, have decided to not only ripen when I am at my most busy, they have also decided to become a bit of a bumper crop (which I have no idea why, as we have had a very cold and wet summer). Really though, I am not complaining - as come this winter, we will have lots of heirloom tomatoes canned whole, crushed, sauce, salsa and stewed. Since again this weekend I am just catching up on posts, emails and yes…..tomato canning, here are some pictures from last weekend's bounty.
Click for more:

Even though we in New England have enjoyed a cooler than average summer, the tomato crop is enormous, with perfect tomatoes in every color imaginable being brought into the kitchen every day.

I am trying to pick as many as I can before I leave again, so that I can both make lots of sauce for pasta throughout the winter, I want to pick even the remaining green tomatoes for piccalilli. Late blight had finishing off most of the plants, which allows me to get a late crop of Kale planted into the same beds.

 Most of the tomatoes will be canned whole, a family favorite since I was a kid. The rest are being processed into tomato sauce. My sauce is nothing fancy, (unless you consider 14 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes fancy! Well, OK….I guess a little fancy.) Most importantly, everything in my sauce comes from our garden -except the olive oil.

I have no idea why some many of the tomatoes in our garden this year are perfect, but again - not complaining! I try to organize tomatoes by size, reserving the most uniform ones for whole tomatoes, and others for sauce.

I start by processing the whole tomato - skin and all, even the seeds in a Vitamix blender - Julia may frown, but it's just a lot easier, and we don't mind a few seeds). I use lots of garlic, basil, bay leaf and parsley from the garden, with a touch of celery leaf for flavor. A few red peppers perhaps, and one or two hot chili's.

Every herb in my sauce comes from the garden.

The sauce is them reduced down for a couple of hours until thick, and then added to clean canning jars.

 When canning sauce, citric acid or lemon juice needs to be added to each jar to keep the acidity level high. I use 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid rather than bottled lemon juice, as I prefer the flavor to lemon juice in tomato product. Citric Acid had no flavor.

 Tomatoes intended for canning whole, or in quarters are first skinned by placing into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, and then into an ice bath. I cut an X in the bottom of each tomato before placing in the hot water bath. It makes the skin easier to peel off. I don't peel the skin on the tomatoes that go into the sauce, as the Vitamix blender takes care of that for me.

Whole tomatoes are placed into clean jars with 1 tsp of salt, the citric acid and then filled with boiling water until 1/2 inch from the top. Sauce is simply added to clean jars with citric acid (1/2 tsp), lidded and all are processed in a hot water bath method for 45 minutes. I still can't handle pressure cookers like my mom could, so if something can't be processed in a hot water bath, I don't bother.

Once removed from the hot water bath, the jars cool on a dry kitchen towel on a wood board, away from drafts, and the cold granite counter. As you can see, I tried to keep some yellow and orange heirloom tomatoes separate because they are so beautiful canned in separate colors. Others are just mixed up varieties. Come January when the snow is falling, and any idea of the summer garden remains months away from reality, we really won't care what color they are, when we pour their cool, salty contents into bowls to accompany hearty winter dinners. Sunshine in a jar.


  1. Interesting about the citric acid for canning tomatoes. I've read this several places lately, but we've been canning tomatoes for years and have never used it, and we're still alive. We also use a steam canner, which some frown upon. But it's much easier than the water bath.

  2. We never used to add lemon juice or citric acid, particularly while growing up in the 1960's, although I remember my mother adding lemon juice in later years as she tended to stay up-to-date with current research-based recommendations. Your method of steam canning might be better that standard hot water methods, as higher temperatures are used ( 240º with higher pressure). It's generally accepted that tomatoes alone, particularly if raised in the eastern part of the country and not in the west where the soils carry a higher count of Type A Clostridium botulinum. I tend to trust more current recommendations that if properly sealed and processed will not support the growth of Clostridium botulinum iif one follows the newer method of adding a small bit of acid, either in the form of lemon juice or citric acid - so I do so with all of our home processed tomato products as a precautionary measure.

  3. so if you know how many qts/pts you will be filling with sauce, is there a reason for NOT adding the citric acid to the pot before filling the jars?


Oh yes, do leave me a comment!