Originally published November 22, 2013
The first time I canned tomatoes I was about 9 months pregnant. I got tomatoes ridiculously cheap at an Amish produce auction when we lived in the Midwest. I was eager to make quarts and quarts of spaghetti sauce because we use it all the time.
I ran the tomatoes through my strainer-saucer-juicer (which becomes my best friend at applesauce time) and put all that tomato smush and juice in a huge pot on the stove. I waited and waited. Many hours later it was thick enough to count as sauce and I filled up a whole two quarts.
It was the biggest waste of time and energy! I stuck to diced tomatoes after that.
That is, until I talked to my mother-in-law. She had probably called for a baby update, but I gave her a tomato update instead. I was worried that I wouldn’t get the 100+ pounds of tomatoes processed before the baby came. I was surprised and thrilled when she told me that I could freeze the tomatoes and puree them later. Really? I had never read anything about that before.
She explained to me how she cans tomato puree and then makes the sauce later. The processing time for tomatoes (time in the canner) is the same no matter what shape your tomatoes are in (whole, halves, diced, sauced, etc), so why not puree them now and make them into sauce later? I love my mother-in-law’s spaghetti sauce and I love time-savers (which this definitely is), so I was all ears.
For those who aren’t experienced canners, don’t worry! I will go through all the steps. You can totally do this!
1– Gather, Wash and Core Tomatoes
This step is pretty self-explanatory. Be sure to take out any bad spots or thick white areas around the core. Even if some of the tomatoes are getting wrinkly skin they will work fine. If you are going to freeze them, I recommend quartering them to make thawing and pureeing easier. Depending on your blender or food processor, you might want to quarter them anyway.
(1.5– Freeze Tomatoes)
This step is not necessary, but it helps to consolidate your canning efforts. I like to make one big canning mess in my kitchen and then clean it all up, as opposed to doing lots of small batches. Since I have room in my freezer I have this luxury. I freeze my tomatoes in gallon-sized freezer bags.
Let your tomatoes thaw overnight or at least for a couple hours before pureeing them.
2– Puree Tomatoes
One of the benefits of pureeing, as opposed to using whole, diced, or halved tomatoes, is that you don’t have to remove the skin! Ahh, life just became so much simpler.
I used to use my food processor. I have also used an ordinary blender. Now I exclusively use my Blendtec blender (I love that thing– it will even grind wheat!) Puree the tomatoes completely. This goes pretty quickly for fresh tomatoes, and takes more time for frozen tomatoes. In fact, if your tomatoes are still icy, you will get what looks like a pink tomato sherbet (since they will get lots of air mixed in from blending for that long).
The first image is frozen tomato puree and the second is fresh tomato puree.
3– Heat Tomato Puree
I always hot pack my tomato puree (hot liquid into hot jars). Just heat the tomatoes to boiling. Be careful that they don’t boil over!
4– Prepare Jars and Flat Lids
Jars should be cleaned in hot, soapy water, or in your dishwasher. Turn warm (not cold) jars upside down in an inch or two of boiling water. This step is to sterilize the jar and get it hot. I love that I can use the bottom of my steam canner to heat my jars. I used to just use a regular pan (see first picture), but the steamer holds seven jars at once (second picture)!
Put 7 flat lids in the boiling water as well. Heating them sterilizes them and helps to soften the rubber seal.
5– Fill Jars
Start by adding either bottled lemon juice (2 Tablespoons per quart, 1 Tablespoon per pint) or citric acid (1/2 teaspoon per quart or 1/4 teaspoon per pint). We use citric acid for homemade dishwasher soap, so I always have it on hand. The need for this varies depending on the acidity of your tomato variety and when they are harvested, but you definitely want to be better safe than sorry!
Using a canning funnel (err… mine was in the dishwasher when I did this batch) and a regular soup ladle, fill each jar, leaving about 1/2″ head space. If you used frozen tomatoes for your puree, you will notice there will be foam on top. Do your best to spoon off the foam. There is nothing wrong with foam and it will become normal liquid after canning it, but when all the bubbles from the foam disappear, the sealed jar will not be completely full.
6– Clean rims, put on flat lids and rings
The top rim of the jar needs to be clean and free from chips or cracks to get a good seal. Use a wet cloth to clean the rim. Using the handy magnetic lid lifter that comes in every canning tool kit (or with skilled hands you can use a fork), grab a flat lid out of the water and place it on a jar. Screw a band on tight, not overly tight, just tight.
In a water bath canner or steam canner, process tomatoes for 45 minutes. My personal preference is the steam canner since it takes less water and is much less cumbersome to use, plus it works great for step sterilizing and heating the jars (step #4).
In a steam canner, you start timing once the steam coming out the hole is at least the length of a quart jar. You can turn the heat down (so it doesn’t steam like crazy) as long as you still have a steady stream of steam. When the time is up, turn the stove off. Remove the lid by lifting it away from you so you don’t get a face full of steam.
It’s normal for the puree to separate into liquid and pulp, so don’t fret.
8– Cool Jars, Remove Rings, Wash Jars
Using the jar lifter from your canning tools (or just a hot pad), move your jars to the counter. I usually set them on a towel. Let them cool overnight in a non-drafty area.
About 24 hours later, remove the rings, check the seal and wash the jars. To check the seal, pull up lightly on the flat lid with your finger. If it pulls off easily, the jar did not seal adequately. Stick the jar in the fridge and use it in the next week or so.
All the jars that sealed well can be stored for years in your pantry or any other relatively cool and dark location. Label them with the year and contents so that you can keep your food storage rotated.
Now you’re ready to make simple, quick and delicious spaghetti sauce using a jar of your own tomato puree.
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