How I Canned My Garden Tomatoes

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This year I’ve done some experimenting with canning and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it truly is! There’s also something strangely satisifying about learning a time-honored tradition like canning, isn’t there?

My aptly-named “Early Girl” tomato plant has been putting out lots of ripe toms for me in the last couple weeks. I must say, this has been my best year for tomatoes, and I regret not having purchased more of these plants! This one was just $2.50 back in May.

This morning, I picked an entire bowlful. And mind you, I’ll no doubt have this same amount to harvest in the next couple days! 

Truth be told, I’ve never canned tomatoes. (Remember, I’m still a total newbie over here!) I had this idea that canning tomatoes was really only worthwhile if you had tons and tons. Maybe this is the case for saucing them, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the above bowl produced 5 quart-sized jars!

Now I’m not going to pretend I’m some pro, and I’d feel infinitely better if you used this post as some general instruction and inspiration, but then referred to a tried-and-true guide such as the one in this Ball Canning Book (Amazon) for everything you’ll need to know to get started. While canning is easy and shouldn’t intimidate you, there are definitely some food safety things you’ll want to be mindful of.

I like to start my canning projects with a clean kitchen (and maybe a nice candle burning and a cup of coffee).

It’s also very helpful to read through the entire recipe start to finish, and then maybe again once more just for good measure. Make sure you not only have all the equipment and ingredients ready, but the time. Once you get going, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to take a break from the process. I’m finding especially with a new recipe, like today’s, that a good chunk of uninterrupted hours is important!

I had roughly 12 pounds of tomatoes to work with today and I decided to can them chopped into quarters since I was dealing with all sorts of shapes and sizes. I washed them, and then prepared a big pot of boiling water.

After about 30-60 seconds, the skin will start to crack. It’s very noticeable when this happens! I didn’t have a wire container to drop my tomatoes into, but I just used a colander to scoop them out of the boiling water as soon as I saw the skins cracking. Then you place them in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

 The skins were very easy to peel off at this point, which was a pleasant surprise. I always think things are going to be harder than they usually are!

Here’s a nekked tomato:

Next, I removed the green parts and chopped mine into quarters (or thereabouts). Into a cleaned, hot, quart-sized jar the pieces would go…

Once my jar was full, I’d add two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of salt.

Using a funnel, I added in ladels of boiling water on top to pack the tomatoes in.

I ran a plastic spatula around the inside of the jar to remove bubbles. I kept adding the boiling water until I was at 1/2″ headspace.

After wiping the rim of any food, I added a cleaned and hot lid and screwed on a rim! 

According to my cookbook, it’s best to work on ONE jar at a time. This way you can keep everything hot and manageable. While I was filling on one jar, my others were simmering on the stove in my water bath canner in hot water. When I would finish one jar, back into the canner it would go. You want to do your best to keep everything hot from start to finish.

Here are all my tomatoes ready to go! I made sure that the entire jars were submerged in the water, and brought the temperature up to boiling. Once it’s at boiling, the processing begins! My recipe said to boil quart-sized jars for 45 minutes, but I added on another 5 minutes beyond that just for good measure.

Isn’t it amazing that one 5-minute picking of tomatoes off of ONE plant would produce 5 quarts of canned tomatoes? I was certainly stunned by this! I hope that this is encouraging information to those of you that maybe think it’s not worth it to grow anything because you don’t have much of a yard or any yard. A tomato of the size I’ve got could easily have been grown on a deck container.

This is also something to consider as many of you have expressed concerns with BPA liners. My tomato plant cost $2.50 and was grown without pesticides. I cared for it all summer long and I know I’ll feel a lot of pride and joy serving these to my family.

OH! One more tip…

See these dissolvable labels from Ball? One word: AWESOME. They truly DO dissolve in hot water like nothing else! If you’re interested, a 2-pack of 60-ct boxes will run you about $10 on Amazon. I definitely recommend them!

All in a day’s work! Now…what to do about these boxes in my entryway..

Stay tuned!

Want to read some related posts? Check these out…

  • What to Do with Green Tomatoes
  • Canning Applesauce (my first canning experience!)
  • Pretty Eats in a Jar
  • Making Your Own Blackberry Vodka
  • Saving on Canning Supplies
  • September Gardening Update
 Any tips for canning tomatoes (or hey, canning in general)? If you’ve been on the fence about canning, what’s holding you back? 

14 thoughts on “How I Canned My Garden Tomatoes”

  1. Canned garden tomatoes is one of our pantry staples. If you ever decide to turn those tomatoes to sauce before you jar them, check out a Victorio tomato strainer/sauce maker. We put the tomatoes through this at least three times before they go in the jars.

  2. I’ve found, for me at least, I need to approach my canning/preserving as a labor of love and not an expectation of saving much. As an example, we have several apple trees in our neighborhood with elderly owners who are more than happy to share with families. So we went over and in the course of about an hour, got a huge 20 gallon tub of apples. Free! Then, we spent about ten hours total processing those apples into 11 quarts of applesauce. (there were mechanical difficulties involved as well as a running out of time and needing to start again another day). I would say my time is worth $15 an hour. So, these 11 quarts, after subtracting the $4 (being generous for organic). I could have paid for them at the store, cost me $11 each. Yes, I learned a lot. Yes it was fun. But did it save me money? Well, if my time is worth more than money in my pocket, and I could have been doing more important things, then no. So, I look at this as a learning experience, and will probably just enjoy eating the fresh local apples when I can. My other difficulty is that we don’t have a good place to store fresh apples- we live in a small apartment with no colder spaces, and our garage was just too hot to keep them when they were picked. I really wish we had a) a freezer and b) the money to pay the extra electircity.

    • Nell, I would absolutely positively agree with you that canning isn’t always the most frugal endeavor. But it is one of those activities that I think goes hand in hand with living simply and maximizing the efforts from your garden! I also think of it as a hobby, a skill – so my primary goal here isn’t necessary to save the most money possible. I do think it aligns with one of my goals in household management which is to keep a stockpile of food. I’m so very glad I decided to give this a go this year and only wish I’d been brave enough to try it all sooner.

      I will be canning some apples and pears this week too – I’m still deciding on the recipes. I did applesauce back in the spring and loved how it turned out! I do hope to also dehydrate some for snacks as well as store some out in the extra fridge in our garage in hopes they’ll keep for at least a little while! 😉 How lovely to have gotten that many apples from your neighborhood for free – that’s completely resourceful and wonderful when you have neighbors willing to share like that!!

  3. Our family loves stewed tomatoes. We had 15 plants and did 35 quarts stewed tomatoes plus salsa and eating and other stuff. I do the same processing as you, but I don’t add water. The tomatoes have enough juice that if you keep pushing down the tomatoes and adding until the 1/2 inch headspace they will be In their own juice. It doesn’t really matter that they are smushed

    • I totally saw the instructions for that in the cookbook but to be honest, I was getting a little confused between that and the adding water – the hot pack and the raw pack! This was the recipe I ended up doing because I ended up feeling most comfortable with it. I hope to get more proficient at this as I go!

      I am thinking of making some salsa verde with the green toms – goodness knows I have a lot of those, too! 😉

  4. One tip my grandma gave me on tomatoes was to use a cheesecloth when dipping the tomatoes in the boiling water to skin them. If you wrap them in the cheesecloth and “swish” them a bit, they’re easy to transfer into the cold water! It works that way when you’re blanching peaches to skin them, too…

  5. Great job, they look delicious! We had over 100lbs of tomatoes and made and canned ketchup, spagetti sauce and bbq sauce. It was fun, but a ton of work. We are thinking of doing vanilla pears soon 🙂

  6. I am truly inspired. However this is my first time canning. I have tons of tomatoes from my garden. Your instructions seem fairly simple. How long are tomatoes good inside a jar? Is there an expiration date?
    Nervous Canner Jennifer Darling

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