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Tomato Canning Hints

Pretty, pretty tomatoes

Tomato season is coming to its end. In my garden a few orange-ish red tomatoes hang from their scraggly vines, but at the farmer’s market it is another story. On Sunday nearly every stall had crates of tomatoes priced to sell at $2.00 a pound.

I know that it’s a different situation out on the East Coast, where blight swept up the seaboard, leaving hardly any tomato plants in its wake. But here in Seattle, a record hot summer and a dry, warm fall resulted in bumper crops of tomatoes just waiting to be canned.


So, I called up the Shannon and Jason of The Lazy Locavores for some tomato canning hints. These guys know tomatoes. They have 60 plants growing in pots on the patio of their townhouse and have roughly 150 more plants in 5 different sites around Seattle. They can at least 80 quarts of tomatoes every year (plus “lots and lots of salsa”), share food with their gardening clients, and donate produce to the food bank.


I was lucky enough to attend a tomato canning class taught by Shannon and Jason at the home of Canning Across America’s founder Kim O’Donnel in August.  The class was so much fun—everyone pitched in to skin, core, and crush (i.e. smoosh tomatoes with your hands!) tomatoes. We canned whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and made salsa. It was such a good time.  And so easy! Seriously, anyone can do this.


Since I don’t have a memory for details, Shannon kindly sent me their list of top 5 tomato canning tips and agreed to share their directions for canning crushed tomatoes. For detailed instructions on canning whole and halved tomatoes and tomato sauce, or to schedule a canning class of your own, please check out The Lazy Locavore website and tell them I sent you!

Top 5 Tomato Canning Hints

1. Can crushed or chopped tomatoes instead of whole ones. Whole tomatoes look pretty in the jar but you can pack almost twice as much if you “mush” them up a bit. Remember, if you are going to cook them in sauces or stews, they are going to end up that way anyway.

2. Put up quarts of tomatoes. It’s very rare to see a recipe that calls for a pint of tomatoes.

3. Forget about canning spaghetti sauce. Instead of making 5 quarts of spaghetti sauce, why not have 5 quarts of tomato sauce that you can use for spaghetti or chili or any other dish.  Add the herbs, spices, and salt later.

4. Put up a few more jars than you think you need. You don’t want to run out early if something happens to the seal on one or two jars.

5. Use a crock pot or slow cooker to start batches of sauce.  Just toss the tomatoes into a slow cooker, turn it on, and go away. Come back hours later and you are almost ready to process the sauce.  If you like your sauce smooth, run the pulpy goodness through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds, or take the lazy way out and use a hand blender to pulverize the entire batch.

Crushed or Chopped Tomatoes

Equipment Needed:

Bottled Lemon Juice

Salt – Optional

Jars, rings, and lids

Water Bath Canner and assorted saucepans/bowls

Tomatoes* –  Approximate Yields:
21 pounds crushed for canner load of 6 quarts.
13 pounds crushed for canner load of 8 pints.

* You can use whatever type of tomato you like here.  Look for large round tomatoes with deep color and firm flesh.  We prefer to use Roma style (paste) tomatoes for making chopped tomatoes because the thick flesh remains tight after processing.

1. Prepare Jars and Lids

Place the jar lids in a small sauce pan filled with water.  Bring to a light boil then turn down to low heat for about 10 minutes before using. The idea is to keep them hot, not cook them. Leave in hot water and remove as needed. For preparing jars, wash them in hot soapy water and rinse well, or if you are lazy like the Locavores run through a hot cycle in your dishwasher. Place jars in a rack in your water bath canner, and boil gently for 10 minutes. Leave in hot water and emove a few jars at a time as you need them.

2. Skin Tomatoes

To remove skins, wash tomatoes and dip in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until the skins begin to split. Then dip in cold water, slips off the skins, core ,and remove any blemished or discolored parts.

3. Heat and Pack Tomatoes

Chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces or crush them with your hands or a potato masher.  Place is a saucepan. Heat to a boil and cook gently for 5 minutes. For quart jars: add 2 tablespoons lemon juice to each canning jar (along with 1/2 teaspoon salt if desired). Pack hot jars with hot prepared tomatoes leaving  ½-inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim and screw threads. Place lid and screw ring until finger tight.

4. Process in water bath

45 minutes for quarts. 40 minutes for pints. (Times given are for sea level to 1000 ft elevation.  If you live at elevations over 1000ft please check your state Department of Health or Extension Office for correct processing time)

5. Turn off heat and wait 5 minutes

6. Remove jars

7. Wait 2 hours – check for seal

If seal did not take you can try to process again with a new jar and lid, but results will be poor.  The better choice is to refrigerate and use within 2 weeks or process for tomato sauce.  (yummmmm sauce!)

8. Label contents and date then store in cool, dark location.

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12 Responses to “Tomato Canning Hints”

  1. 1
    Grace Says:

    Hi Willi!

    What do you do with the cherry tomatoes? I put up 4 pints (wah, only 4?) of the big tomatoes, but have BUCKETS of cherry tomatoes to be harvested. Do I really have to PEEL every one of them?

    P.S. What happened with my corn this year? They grew well, and we got one serving that was as sweet as could be, but just two weeks later they were starchier than paste. Does this make any sense to you? (And they were so beautiful! Pics if you want them.)

  2. 2
    Willi Says:

    Hi, Grace!

    I like to make sauce with cherry tomatoes, but I don’t think it freezes super well. It’s better fresh. They cook down, so you need lots of them. Here’s a link to a recipe with the basic technique. Sometimes we add capers, or roasted red pepper, or spinach, or shallots, or whatever is on hand!

    As for your corn, I suspect that the later maturing ears were pollinated with a different variety. When sweet corn crosses with some other varieties of sweet corn or with pop corn, it turns the kernels starchy.

    It’s hard to prevent cross pollination of varieties if you have neighbors growing corn, but if you think it was caused by growing 2 varieties in your own yard, then you can avoid it by planting an early and a mid season variety as they’ll set pollen at different times.

  3. 3
    marguerite Says:

    I kmow these guys… they really do need to leave “lazy” out of their name! Did you know they knit also?

  4. 4
    gardenmentor Says:

    Curious why the lemon juice needs to be bottled. Anyone know why bottled instead of fresh.

    Yay #Canvolution!

  5. 5
    Willi Says:

    Marguerite–I agree! They are totally busy bees.

    Gardenmentor–Jason told me they use bottled lemon juice because it has a consistent pH.

  6. 6
    Tammy Says:

    I love this post! One of the things on my “to do” list for the winter is to learn everything I can (pun possibly intended) about canning. Thanks again.

  7. 7
    Chris Says:

    Ok, so what do you do when you have 50 green tomatoes. I purchased a Moskovich at Tilth sale this year and WOW, did it produce! I just harvested over 50 greenies today, will they ripen in my window sill?

  8. 8
    Grace Says:

    Chris -

    I make green-tomato and sausage pie. Make a pie crust. Cook some sausage (completely) with onion and garlic and favorite spices. Add sliced tomatoes and cook down a bit. throw it into the pie shell and bake 30 min at 400 or so until the crust is done.

  9. 9
    Willi Says:

    Grace–That pie sounds fantastic!

    Chris–I often try and ripen my tomatoes. Wrap them individually in newspaper and place them in a warm room in your house (I usually line them up on the floor in my office). Check on them every couple of days and toss out any rotten ones. If you have any that are bruised, use those up in green tomato recipes. The new issue of Organic Gardening starts hitting newsstands this week (it has a beautiful winter squash on the cover) and it has a great green tomato refrigerator pickle recipe developed for the magazine by Renee Erickson from Boat Street Cafe here in Seattle. So be sure to check it out!

  10. 10
    Deann Czapski Says:

    The rest of the reasons I agree with. I fall into the “too complete” area a lot – or at least think I do!

  11. 11
    Eustolia Wilczak Says:

    One of the greatest tomato gardening tips I learned that really has produced the biggest distinction when planting them, is that it is actually important to plant tomatoes deep. The deeper you can plant them the far better. Your goal is to establish a powerful root program using the stem of the plant as a type of rod and roots growing not only from the bottom of the stem but off the sides. The stronger the root program, the less most likely they will fall all over the location as the plant grows larger.

  12. 12
    Katy Says:

    Can you share your recipe for spaghetti sauce that you make from your canned tomato sauce?

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