When you have a bumper crop of juicy, ripe tomatoes, you want to know how to preserve them so that you can enjoy them all year round and stop them from going to waste. Even better, you won’t have to settle for store-bought tomatoes that have absolutely no taste because they’ve been picked too early, put into cold storage, and then artificially ripened.
The good news is that you can actually can tomatoes without investing heavily in pressure or water bath canner. That’s because tomatoes are high in acidity, making their preservation much easier.
Here’s the complete guide to canning tomatoes without a canner.
1. Gather Your Ingredients
The only ingredients you’re going to need are ripe, freshly picked tomatoes and lemon juice. If you don’t have tomatoes growing in your garden, you can always head to your local farmer’s market and pick up a box. More often than not, these will be grown by local market gardeners and picked at the right time.
You can use absolutely any variety of tomatoes for canning. The results will be equally as good, no matter what type of tomatoes you have on hand.
As far as the lemon juice goes, it’s best to use fresh. But if you don’t have any fresh lemons handy, you can use bottled lemon juice as well.
2. Gather The Equipment
For the equipment, the first thing you’ll have to gather is some mason jars with lids. Next, you’ll want to grab the largest stock pot that you have. If you have two of these, get them both out.
You’ll also need a handy jar lifter. If you don’t have one of these, it’s a good idea to buy one before you get started because there’s no other safe way to lift the jars into and out of the boiling water without burning yourself.
You’ll also need a medium-sized saucepan with a lid to sterilize the lids of the mason jars.
3. Sterilize The Mason Jars And The Lids
Put some water into the medium-sized saucepan and place it on the stove to boil. Once the water is boiling, drop in all the mason jar lids and boil them for around 3 to 5 minutes.
Turn the heat off and put the lid on the saucepan. Your mason jar lids can stay in the water until you’re ready to use them.
While it’s not necessary to sterilize the jars themselves, it is a good idea to do so. You can do this in one of two ways:
- Put the jars in a big pot of cold water and bring the water to a boil. Placing the empty jars into cold rather than boiling water means that there’s no chance of them breaking.
- Or, place the jars in your dishwasher and run them through a cycle without adding detergent or a dishwasher tablet.
Once the jars are sterilized, you can either leave them in the water or the dishwasher until you’re ready to use them. You want the jars to still be a little warm as you fill them with the tomatoes.
4. Prepare Your Tomatoes
For this method, we’re going to be canning whole tomatoes because it’s far easier. It also means that you can then use the canned tomatoes in any way that you want. Don’t be tempted to crush or dice your tomatoes, as you may end up with a completely different texture.
However, you do want to peel your tomatoes before canning them. Here’s how to do this:
- Boil enough water in your large stock pot to cover the tomatoes once you put them into it.
- Place a large bowl filled with ice and cold water right near the boiling pot.
- Remove the stem from the tomatoes and give them a light wash.
- With a sharp paring knife, score an X into the bottom of each tomato.
- Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for around 1 to 2 minutes.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the boiled tomatoes from the water and place them into the ice bath. As you do this, you’ll notice that the skins start to separate from the flesh.
- Gently take the skins off each tomato.
5. Get Your Water Boiling Again
Tip out the water in your large stock pot and give it a rinse. Fill it with fresh water and place it back onto the stove to boil the water.
6. Fill Your Mason Jars With Tomatoes
Now it’s time to fill the still-warm mason jars with tomatoes. Fill them as best as you can but remember to leave a half-inch gap just below the rim.
You can use a spoon to gently squish down the tomatoes so that they’re packed nicely and tight. If the tomatoes are really large, you can either cut them in half or into quarters before you pack them into the jars.
Add some lemon juice to the jars in the following quantities:
- For pint jars, add one tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar.
- For quart jars, add two tablespoons of lemon juice to each jar.
Using the handle of a metal spoon, run this around the inside edge of each jar to remove any bubbles of air. If you find that you have more than half an inch of space at the top of the jar, you can fill this with boiling water.
With a clean tea towel or piece of paper towel, wipe the rim of each jar to remove any tomato juice.
Place the lids tightly on the jars and screw on the rings. Or, just screw on the lids if you have that type of lid.
7. Process The Jars Of Tomatoes For Safe Storage
You’ll notice that the air seal on top of the lids is up and flexible to the touch. What we now want to do is remove any remaining air from the jars so that they’re sealed nice and tight and safe for storage.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Make sure that your stock pot is half filled with water and is on the stove and ready to start boiling.
- If you have a rack for the base of your stock pot, you can put this in. Otherwise, place a tea towel in the base of the pot with the water in it. This will stop the jars from rattling against each other and will allow some of the boiling water to get under the jars.
- Using the jar lifter, place the jars with the tomatoes into the pot in a single layer. Make sure that they’re covered with 2 to 3 inches of water. They need to be completely submerged.
- Once the water in the pot reaches boiling point, remove the lid of the pot.
- Boil the jars for around 85 minutes. You might need to add additional boiling water to the pot during this time to ensure that the jars are continuously covered.
8. Set The Jars Aside To Cool
After the allotted time, lift the jars out of the water and set them aside to cool overnight. Don’t worry if you hear some hissing when you take the jars out of the water, as this is quite normal.
You’ll notice that the air seals on the lids will still be up, but these will go down as the jars cool.
Check your jars the following morning. If the air seals are down and there are no leaks, your jars are safe to store in the pantry for up to one year.
Any jars that don’t have the seals down or are leaking should be placed into the refrigerator and consumed within two days. Never attempt to can them the second time.