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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?