Bulk Tomatoes and Me (and You)

I spent the second weekend in June arm-deep in tomatoes, getting more lycopene externally than most people probably need, standing for six hour stretches, and forgetting to eat. All for you, dear reader, so I could bring you this post.

OK, not really all for you, because I’m not sharing my spoils with you lot, who just read and lurk and don’t even comment. Sniff. It’s OK. I have my jars of tomatoes to keep me company. After all, I did make my husband carry home 40 pounds of tomatoes to start with. (Technically I only made him carry them to the car from the farmers’ market, although that gives me an idea for an IronMan competition…)

This being my third year of canning tomatoes, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned – and maybe not learned – as I’ve worked my way through many, many pounds of tomatoes. It’s tomato season after all, and one of the best things you can do with them right now is save them for winter, when life is cold and drab and needs a happy reminder of summer.

Tips for Tomato Sanity

  • Don’t make ketchup on a weeknight.
  • Realize that your spouse/roommate/random dudes will probably think you’re crazy. Take this moment to remind them of the six boxes of random computer equipment in the garage, and that unlike 16-foot ethernet cables, tomatoes are edible.
  • Plan, plan, plan.
  • Enlist help. Seriously. If you like to retain all control of a cooking project, at least get others to do the dishes, take out the trash, or occupy your children. (My son did “help” me by handing me tomatoes as I needed them for cutting.)
  • Know where your first aid kit is.
  • Choose your recipes in advance. Preferably, in advance of when you get your tomatoes, so you know exactly how many to order. Also, so you know what other ingredients you need so you don’t need to go to the store three times in your tomato-thon.
  • Resist the urge to tinker with your chosen recipes. When canning you can’t just decide to throw random stuff in to “see how it will taste.” I’m sure some of you out there are saying “But my mother/grandmother/crazy old neighbor Gertie down the street always did it like that!” That’s cool. Mother/Grandmother/crazy Gertie probably also had been canning for 20 years, put up more jars than you ever will in your life, and knew to throw stuff away when it was bad. Use common sense.
  • If you think raw meat feels gross, steer clear of dealing with whole peeled tomatoes, because 15 pounds of that is way grosser.
  • Wear oven mitts when taking the lid off the boiling water bath canner. (c.f. previous, first aid kit)
  • For the love of all that is holy, set up your prep station at a place you can sit down. Coring and slicing tomatoes takes far longer than you think it does.
  • In fact, everything will take longer than you think it does, even if you’ve made it before. Clear your schedule.
  • Remember to eat! Somehow cooking all day makes you forget to ingest anything.
  • Label your jars as soon as they’ve cooled. Until they’ve cooled, make sure to keep them segregated so you don’t confuse your products. It’s generally easy to keep track of tomato recipes, but if you make multiple versions of salsa or pasta sauce, your great-grandmother who thinks bell peppers are spicy will be happy you gave her the mild salsa.
  • Turn on some tunes! Music makes the task go faster. Stick your iPhone in an empty jar for an instant speaker.

Remember my tips and you’re halfway to successful canning!

So, what did I do with 40 pounds of tomatoes?

5 quarts whole peeled tomatoes, 3 half-pints ketchup, 2 pints plus 1 half-pint Rotel-style tomatoes (that’s tomatoes with jalapeños), 2 pints plus 4 half-pints salsa, 6 half-pints tomato jam, 5 12-ounce jars “bruschetta in a jar”, and 5 pints marinara sauce.

I used three cookbooks: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (whole tomatoes, Simple “House Salsa”, Bruschetta in a Jar), The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving (Blender Ketchup), and Food in Jars (Rotel-style, Marinara Sauce, Tomato Jam). I like the first two for more traditional recipes, and Food in Jars, which is also for small batches, for fun stuff that often matches what I’m thinking of creating. I like using small-batch recipes, even if I have loads of produce, because then I can be more creative and make a variety of recipes, instead of being stuck with 62 jars of bland, watery pasta sauce.

To get enough tomatoes to make things like pasta sauce (you’ll need 10 pounds or more, depending on the recipe), visit your local farmers’ market and get chatting with the farmers there. Chances are they will give you a discount for buying a bushel or two of tomatoes, especially if you’re willing to get “seconds” – tomatoes that aren’t quite as beautiful but still make for delicious sauce.

Have you canned tomatoes before? What are you making this season?

Comments

  1. says

    Picking up my 40lb stash up today! Not gonna make anything other than crushed and oven roasted ones, though. I shall reserve my small batches of tomato jam and barbecue sauce for next weekend. Wish me luck! ;)

    [Reply]

  2. Linda says

    What no recipes or instructions on how to with the marinara or ketchup or jam. That would be great info

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Linda All the recipes I used were from the books I listed above, so I did not post them here. I highly recommend buying at least one of those books if you’re going to be canning. They are very much worth the money!

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  3. Jan K says

    Hi, I just found your site through King Arthur..love, love them. I also adore Marissa over at Food in Jars, I will be making her Tomato jam again this year (used my extra cherry tomatoes so easy, by the time I got to them I was really sick of peeling and cutting tomatoes, so her no peel no chop recipe was wonderful. I will never buy ketchup again. I also make rotel (I might have to make two batches. My batch this last year everyone except my husband and myself said they were way to spicy). Will make whole tomatoes and salsa, some regular and some peach, and much more. we planted tons of tomatoes. Your bruchetta in a jar sound interesting, where did you get that recipe, I may have to try it also.

    [Reply]

  4. Jan K says

    Hi, I just found your site through King Arthur..love, love them. I also adore Marissa over at Food in Jars, I will be making her Tomato jam again this year (used my extra cherry tomatoes so easy, by the time I got to them I was really sick of peeling and cutting tomatoes, so her no peel no chop recipe was wonderful. I will never buy ketchup again. I also make rotel (I might have to make two batches. My batch this last year everyone except my husband and myself said they were way to spicy). Will make whole tomatoes and salsa, some regular and some peach, and much more. we planted tons of tomatoes. Your bruchetta in a jar sound interesting, where did you get that recipe, I may have to try it also.

    [Reply]

  5. says

    I love your post! Thanks for a great blog. I’m one of those who lurk, but this just poked me enough to inspire me to comment!

    I have all the books and I am completely jealous that you are in the throes of TOMATO season!!! Here in Pennsylvania we have about a month and a half before they even start to become ripe!

    Your tips are wonderful and I simply had to find a dry Mason jar and try the iPhone trick! You are right! It works great!

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  6. robynski says

    Ok I hear ya, commenting.

    I, for some reason want to slice tomatoes in good half inch thick slices this year and can them. Then I can pull them from the jar and do different things with them in winter. I have delusions of grandeur that they’ll taste great with just a bit of fresh basil and some home made mozzarella.

    This is great encouragement. I’m taking this post outside and reading it to my plants in hopes that they’ll yield a great bounty.

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Robynski Hee :) Slices is a great idea! I’ve never done that.

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  7. Katie Dickson says

    This is the first time I have read your blog. Loved it. I got my 28 tomato plants in late this year. I live in CA so with a makeshift green house we should be having fresh tomatoes until December unless we have crazy weather. I am looking forward to canning tomatoes for the first time this year. I will take your advice to heart for sure.

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  8. says

    Thanks for all the tips. I just started canning this year and am sooo looking forward to trying my hand at some tomatoes. I have 2 of the 3 books you listed. I’d love to know which recipe came from which book. It seems there’s a salsa and marinara recipe in every book and I am having the hardest time deciding which one to try this year. Love the idea of rotel style tomatoes and bruschetta in a jar. And I definitely want to try a tomato jam this year. So far my strawberry vanilla jam, blueberry jam, apple mint jelly and peach butter all came out perfect. My sweet cherry jam didn’t set, but I know why. I’m going to recook it in smaller batches. (my pan wasn’t big enough to reach the right temp without foaming over). I’m completely hooked on canning now. My grandma is giving me her pressure canner, so I’ll be giving that a try later this year too.

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Dawnmarie I updated the post to include which recipe came from which book. I’ve tried multiple marinara sauces over the years and have not found a recipe that is “perfect” for me, so I’m hoping the one I tried this year does the trick. Likewise with salsa – it’s hard to find the right one! I do have a pressure canner but I’m kind of afraid to use it – but once I figure it out I’ll be able to make stuff exactly how I like it to taste, which is exciting. Happy canning!

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  9. Sarah says

    You are probably the perfect person to ask about this – have you come across any good tomato canning recipes that do not require lemon juice? I’m allergic to all citrus fruits (and bell peppers, so no salsa for me :(…)and so far, canning tomatoes is something I’ve not even bothered trying, though I’ve wanted to for a long time. I know vinegar can be used as the acid, but no one seems to use it since lemon juice is so readily available.

    I figured you might have come across something in your canning adventures. Also, I am so jealous of your mountain of tomatoes!

    [Reply]

    Megan Reply:

    @Sarah I have not, but I asked Marisa of Food in Jars, and she pointed me to this resource: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09341.html/. Also, a pressure canner might be the answer for you, as you don’t need the extra acid. I hope that helps!

    [Reply]

  10. Brighid says

    Just found your website! Tomatoes aren’t ready here but will in about 3-4 weeks. I’ll be saving your post.

    Here, we’re still arm deep in greens. I’ve been making quarts of green sauce inspired by pesto and freezing it.

    [Reply]

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