Some days I wake up and the virtual world looks flat and spiritless, and I get the urge to do something that breaks into the physical space. In other words, I get the urge to do something real. Something that involves manual labor. And I have to say, cooking often satisfies.
The tomatoes are at their peak in New England, so now is the time to can for the winter. Yesterday Alex and I canned 1,000 fresh tomatoes—about 160 pounds. I’m still not ready to commit to the 100 Mile Diet, but this is a step in the right direction.
“You’ve got way too much time on your hands,” said my landlord as I was cleaning up the kitchen afterwards. And he’s right. But what I also have is a thousand canned local tomatoes, and that’s pretty sweet.
To pull this off, you will need:
- 1,000 ripe tomatoes
- 2 very large stock pots (20 and 35 quarts)
- a small pan for heating jar lids
- steamer baskets, jar lid rings, or another mechanism for raising the jars 1/2” from the bottom of the pot
- 6 12-packs of widemouth quart jars (average 3 lbs tomatoes per quart jar)
- a jar lifter
- a large hand-held sieve or strainer
- 2 Tbp bottled lemon juice per quart, for acidification
- some kind of plunging device for packing the tomatoes down
- cooling racks for hot jars
- paring knives
- two people
- one very long day
Here’s 1,000 raw tomatoes, which we bought from Red Fire Farm:
Hmm, make that 999.
So, to make canned whole tomatoes in their juice, first you have to skin the tomatoes. Start by scoring a small X in the bottom of every tomato and removing any bad bruises or moldy bits. We decided not to core the tomatoes, but you can if it pleases you. While you’re scoring, bring a few gallons of water to boil in both stock pots—one for skinning, and one for sanitizing jars. For the lids, heat but do not boil water in the small pan.
Dump the tomatoes into the skinning pot in batches for a couple minutes, until the skins split. Usually this takes only 30-60 seconds, but with such a large quantity of tomatoes, it takes 3-4 minutes because the water cools down so much. Pull them out with the strainer, dump them into the sink, spraying cold water on them as you go. Bring the water back to a full boil before you skin the next batch.
When the sink is full, start pulling the skins off. It should be easy, with your fingers. Remove any stems and put them into another pot or bowl or whatever you can find. A spotless bathtub might be prudent at this point. Meanwhile, sanitize your jars and lid rings in the other stock pot, boiling them for 5 minutes, and sanitize the lids in the small pan, in the not-quite-boiling water. Don’t boil the lids, as it might weaken the seal.
As the sanitized jars come out of the water, add 2 Tbsp lemon juice and your skinned tomatoes to fill. Push the contents down and keep adding more tomatoes until the liquid from the tomatoes rises to 1/2 inch from the top.
Clean the jar rims with a damp towel, place the lids on squarely, and tighten down the lid rings with your fingertips, until they are “fingertip tight.” We made the mistake of tightening a few too much, and they bulged because the air could not escape while cooking.
Once they’re sealed, stash all the jars for the moment. Finish skinning and canning all the tomatoes. You will be impressed by the number of jars. Dump out your tomato skinning water, or use it to make a tomato bisque.
The final step is to boil all the filled jars in batches for 50 minutes each. The USDA says the water must be at a full rolling boil for the entire 50 minutes, so give yourself an hour and a half for each batch to account for the cooling of the water when you add the jars.
After 50 minutes of boiling, remove the jars to cooling racks. They may hiss slightly as they come out of the water. That’s OK. Let them stand 12-24 hours until they’re room temperature. Then remove the lid rings, test the seal by pressing the top (it should not give), picking the jar up by its lid (it should not open), and turning the jar upside down (it should not leak). Clean the jars and store them without their lid rings.
Here they are, all canned up. We had another 5 that didn’t seal properly.
- Home Canning Tomatoes for the fail-safe USDA method.
- Or the slightly shadier Minnesota Methods that we used.
- The Canning Pantry — online store for lid lifters, canning funnels, and other supplies