Have you wondered about canning, but then been overwhelmed by all the stuff it seems to require and crazy little details you are worried you might get wrong? I feel you. Please allow me to show you how to can tomatoes, without a canner, in the simplest way possible. So maybe you have a garden full of these babies…

Or maybe not. Either way, I would like you to give canning some fresh tomatoes a try this year. Because it’s easy and so very rewarding, but mostly because everyone knows that out-of-season tomatoes (while still full of healthy lycopene and therefore worthwhile to eat) are bland, sad, oddly-textured shadows of their ripe summer selves. Industrial tomatoes in general have almost no similarity to a fresh tomato in texture, flavor, and even appearance. Look at these guys from my backyard – they’re soft and lumpy, with lots of funny crags and edges and places I cut off because a worm was in there. My husband even asked me “what’s wrong with them?” Dude, this is what a real tomato looks like!

A tomato like this doesn’t make it to the store, simply because we don’t buy it – we choose an unblemished veggie every time (myself included, it’s just habit), so we end up with a tomato that has made it through a cross country truck ride without a bruise – that’s a hard tomato! It may surprise you to know that tomato was usually picked while still green, then artifically ripened with ethylene gas. Eew! Oh geez, I could go on, I’ll stop, I just find it so interesting. Anyway, I totally buy these tomatoes too, but this year let’s try something new. If you don’t have a plant, you can still go to the farmers market or co-op or organic food store and gather some fresh summer tomatoes and put them away for a rainy or snowy day. Let’s can them so we are fortified for winter deliciousness.

Canning tomatoes is a wonderful first canning project as it is simple and it doesn’t require a pressure canner or even a water bath canner. Let me show you how to can tomatoes without a canner…


First, pick!

I canned roma tomatoes (they are the best for canning) and this variety which is some kind of beefsteak I can’t recall. They are HUGE, averaging 9″ in diameter. Yum.

Also get lemon juice. Fresh squeezed is always great, but the bottled variety works too. You don’t need any other ingredients.

You’ll need mason jars and lids. I had pint and liter jars.

And some sparkly nail polish.

Wait no, you don’t need that. But it was Scarlet’s reward for not breaking anything at the narrow-aisled, over-packed fragile-zone that is my local kitchen supply shop that also conveniently sells nail polish.

Now get out your big big stock pot (or canner if you have one). Two stockpots are even better if you have them. And a little pot. Start some water boiling in them as soon as you get ‘em out.

And you’ll need jar lifters. There’s really no other safe way to lift the jars without burning yourself.

Some mason jars have lids that separate from the rings, some just have regular old lids. Put the lid (no need to add the ring) in boiling water for 3-5 minutes to sterilize. Leave them in the pot with the lid on until you’re ready to use them.

Theoretically you don’t need to sterilize the jars, because they will sterilize during the canning process, but I do it anyway. You can boil them (put them in the water while it’s cold, then boil so they don’t break) or you can just run them through the dishwasher with no soap. Leave them in there until you need them and time it so they are still warm when you add the tomatoes to them.

So I am going to can them whole for two reasons. One, this allows me to use them for whatever I want to make this winter – I can just dice or crush when I open the jar. 2 – it’s easier to can them whole. The pectin in the tomatoes does chemical stuff to their texture once you start messing with them. I don’t have a chemistry degree to explain it well, but suffice it to say this recipe is only for whole tomatoes – if you want to crush or finely dice them before canning, it would have to be handled a little differently to ensure the texture is right. So I’ll show you how to can whole tomatoes, starting with my romas.

Peeling tomatoes is a breeze. Boil your pot of water and next to it place a big bowl with cold water and ice. Wash your tomatoes, just to get dirt off, don’t go nuts with it cause you’re going to peel them anyway.

Remove the stem. On the bottom, score the tomatoes with an X.

For my super giant tomatoes, I actually used an apple corer, this made it easy!

Boil for a minute (the larger ones took slighty longer, two minutes max)

Remove with a slotted spoon to the ice bath for a few seconds. See how the skins are starting to fall off?

They are split for you.

So just gently wipe/tug them off.

Easy as pie.

Get your giant pot/s boiling again with clean water ASAP.

Place the tomatoes in your warm jars up to 1/2 an inch below the rim.

Give them a squish with a spoon to compact.

Big tomatoes I quartered to fit. Before smoosh:

After smoosh:

Add more tomatoes to within 1/2″ of the top.

Now add lemon juice. They need the extra acidity to keep. For the pints add a tablespoon, for the liters/quarts add 2 tablespoons.

Run your spoon around the edge to loosen up any bubbles and bring them to the surface. If you need to, add boiled water to fill the jars within 1/2″ of the rim.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel to remove any tomato, juice, or anything else on there. Anything left on the rim could spoil your tomatoes. Place the lid on top, and screw the rings in place.

Or just wipe and screw the lid on if you have plain lids.

Ready for canning!

You’ll notice the seal on the lid is up, you can push it up and down with your finger. Now we need to process the jars so they are safe to store for up to a year. When we are done, the lid will suck in and we will know they sealed correctly. Then when you go to eat them later, if the seal is popped – toss those babies. It’s a sign bacteria are growing in there and releasing gasses.

We don’t want the jars rattling against each other in our pot and we want some water to get under the jars while they process. You can add a rack if you have one, or use a canner which has an insert for this purpose, but I use a kitchen towel and it works great. You don’t need to put it in until after the water, I just wanted to show you…

So place your still-warm jars in the heating water. Submerge the jars entirely with water 2-3″ above the lids and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, remove the lid of the pot and start your timer for 85 minutes. 85 minutes is processing time between 0-1000 ft altitude. If you are at a higher altitude you will need to increase processing time, see these USDA guidelines for canning tomatoes for processing time at different altitudes. If you hear any jars rattling against each other, add a kitchen towel in between. Check periodically to see that the water level is still above the tops of the jars and add water if necessary.

Remove the jars after 85 minutes (or your increased processing time if you are at higher altitudes) using your jar lifter. Place them somewhere no one will bump or touch them and let them sit to cool, overnight is good. You may hear hissing when you take them out of the water – that’s totally fine. The jars’ seals will still be up at this point, they will suck in as the jars cool.

The next morning, check your jars. Are the seals down? Any leaks? If not, you’re all clear. If you still hear hissing, have jars with the lids still up, or see any leaks, stick them in the refrigerator and use them within a couple of days. Do not try to can them again. If you want to be extra sure your jars are sealed, you can remove the ring from the jar and hold the jar by the lid and it should stay on. You can even reuse the rings and store the jars without rings.

Lady! You just canned your own tomatoes! How good do you feel?

I had planned to give these all away as gifts, but now I feel strangely hoard-y about them. Like I don’t even want to use them. I want the be sure I have them on hand for thanksgiving and christmas. But I should make some cute labels and bring them as hostess gifts, how lovely would that be?

Think you might give canning tomatoes without a canner a shot?

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