The Idiot's Guide to Canning Tomatoes

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m turning into a prepper. Or a domestic goddess. Or a hippie.

Or all three.

Yeah, let’s go with all three. Why not.

Back in January I set goals for myself for the year. (Let’s just say…I’m somewhat behind on some of them.) One of those goals was to grow a garden.

I did just that.

Jimmie helped me – actually he did a lot of the work – and back in April we laid out a pretty good sized garden. We used raised beds, sort of. A few years ago he’d built me two garden boxes, four blocks each. They sit flat on the ground, but keep the garden contained. I wanted a third one, so he made me a third one, but made the blocks bigger and only did three of them. Basically, they look like this.

Garden BoxesWe bought the plants from Lowe’s because we got such a late start, and because I don’t have the patience to grow things from seed in the house. (I’m working on that for next year though.) The only things I started from seeds were radishes and some herbs. We bought too much….and then we crammed it all into too little space. Such is life. We ended up leaving the last two boxes empty, thinking we’d plant something else. We never did, so we should have just used the boxes to space some of the things out…we’ll know for next year!

2014 Garden LayoutJimmie made me a little trellis for the cucumbers and squash to grow up. It worked really, really well – the cucumbers took off and climbed right along the fence.

Actually, everything took off. Our garden grew really, really well. We had a ton of rain this summer, so that helped, but we also had great soil. We ended up mixing some Miracle Grow soil in with the existing dirt, and the plants loved it. I know, I know…chemicals. Next year I’ll try the homemade versions.

GardenWe had a few bugs, but for the most part everything was ok. Unfortunately, I let several of the plants “bolt” – go to seed, so they weren’t really harvestable at that point. We lost a lot of lettuce, broccoli, radishes, and all the spinach. Oops.

The cucumbers did what cucumbers apparently do, and spread out all over the yard. Our zucchini grew huge. The squash didn’t do so well, again, due to cramming too much in too little of a space. I ended up taking a lot of the zucchini and cucumbers to work to give away, but it was also really nice to have cucumbers whenever I wanted them. For FREE. (Because seriously, they’re kind of expensive, aren’t they???)

Cucumber

Zucchini

Garden HarvestAnd then there were the tomatoes. Ooooh, the tomatoes. Jimmie doesn’t like tomatoes, so this was all me. I wanted Romas, because I wanted to make sauce and also because they’re small enough that I can cut them up for a salad without wasting a whole lot.

I also wanted yellow cherry tomatoes, because I like those better than regular ones, and because they’re expensive in the store. If I’d only known how well those stupid things would grow. They literally took over my garden. I ate as many as I could – which turned out to not be very many – gave away a bunch, and now I’m letting them rot in the garden. There’s just not much you can do with cherry tomatoes besides roast them and freeze them, or make jam out of them. I don’t have a separate freezer (ON MY LIST), and the thought of tomato jam makes my stomach turn, so…..Needless to say, next year we won’t be planning cherry tomatoes. Remind me of that. Seriously.

The Romas, on the other hand, have plenty of uses. And then I had the brilliant idea to try my hand at canning. Yes. Canning.

In true Casey style, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I got on Pinterest. I emailed Jimmie’s mom, who kindly loaned me a giant pot, six quart jars, a funnel, and her Ball canning book. I was set.

It took me way longer than it should have, and I made a horrible mess, but hot damn I did it.

Casey Canning

Having fun canning!!

In case you’re thinking of trying your hand at canning, borrow stuff. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is confusing. Ignore Pinterest. Information overload there. Just read the book. Or read this post. I’m going to try to keep it simple for you. (Keep in mind – I’m really not an expert at this, so you’ll probably still want to read the book…..)

The Idiot’s Guide to Canning Tomatoes

Before you do ANYTHING, clear off your counter. Just trust me.

This is not the ideal setup.  You need SPACE!!!

This is not the ideal setup. You need SPACE!!!

Then, wash all your jars and lids and bands in hot soapy water. Then put the jars in the pot, and fill the pot with water. Don’t put the lids and bands in yet. (The bands are the things you’re going to think are the lids. Lids are flat, bands are the little rings.)

HERE’S A HINT: I spent forever trying to figure out the answer to this…YES, you need to fill the jars with water when you put them in the pot. Otherwise they’ll just bob all over the place. (I know, that should be self-explanatory, but it wasn’t.)

Now put the pot on the stove, with the lid on. Turn the heat on. Bring the water to a boil. Let the jars boil for 15 minutes or so. Then turn the heat off, and drop the bands and lids in the pot. Leave the lid on the pot, and just let everything sit there while you prep your tomatoes.

Canning Pots

The pot in the front is for jars. The pot in the back is for tomatoes.

First thing you have to do is gather and wash your tomatoes. With me so far?

Next, cut shallow little x’s in the bottoms of your tomatoes. Then cut off the stem end. You don’t have to core them or anything.

Prepped TomatoesSo far, so good. Now you’re going to blanch them. What????

This isn’t hard. Drop them in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes. Take them out when the skin starts to get wrinkly. It’s pretty obvious. Immediately dunk the tomatoes into cold water. You can let them sit for a minute if they’re too hot to handle, but then slide the skins off. They come off pretty easily, and it’s not anywhere near as disgusting as it sounds.

Tomatoes 2I did all my tomatoes while the jars were sitting in the hot water. The important thing is, you don’t want to put cold items into hot jars…so once you’ve de-skinned the tomatoes, take them out of the cold water. They’ll keep their heat well enough.

When you’re ready, use tongs to grab a jar (and the matching lid and band) out of your pot. Or take them all out at once. Whichever’s easier. Pour the water out of the jars, but don’t pour the water out of the pot. You want to use the same water you used to boil the jars, because it’s already warm. Warm water + warm jar = less likely to crack the jar.

Then, start putting tomatoes in the jars. Shove them all down in there. Use a wooden spoon to smush everything down, making sure you don’t have any air bubbles. Fill the jars until there’s about half an inch of space from the top (I didn’t fill mine enough). Wipe off the rim, put on the lid, screw on the band. Don’t death tighten it.

Now you’re ready to process the jars. Stick the jars in the pot, and fill the pot up until the jars are completely covered. (My pot wasn’t quite tall enough to cover the tops, but it turned out just fine. Just made a huge mess with all the water boiling over on my stove.)

Bring the water to a boil, and let it boil for about 40 minutes (for quart jars).

After 40 minutes, take the jars out (use the tongs!!) and just leave them on the stove. Now comes the best part.

Canning TomatoesLet the jars cool. Sooner or later, you’ll hear a fantastic little popping noise. That’s the jar sealing. Its super exciting.

I’ve been told it can take up to 12 hours for a jar to seal. Mine did within an hour, all of them. If yours don’t, I believe you can repeat the “processing” process.

So there you go. Nicely canned tomatoes. Exciting, no? You’re going to feel so proud of yourself…there’s just something about making your own food that feels really awesome. Empowering. You’ll feel like Super Woman. And you’ll have tomatoes.

Can’t beat that, CAN you? (I couldn’t resist!!)

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