If I Can, You Can Can.

Nary a week goes by when I'm not distracted by yet another challenge. And, in case you haven't noticed, in the summer months my particular bent is toward food - growing, harvesting, cooking, storing, eating. You get the picture.

So, in keeping with summer tradition, I tried something brand new (to me): canning.

Interestingly, when I mentioned to one of my social media acquaintances that I was going to try canning, the response I got was, "I'm not crazy about food kept in cans." Which made me laugh because I'm just homey enough to have an innate knowledge that "canning" means "putting stuff up in Mason jars" - even though I didn't have a clue what the process actually entailed.

What prompted this Little House on the Prairie activity was not Cassandra (heh, heh) but was a trip to my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm for one of the annual U-Pick Tomato events. As part of my share, I got to pick 10 lbs of tomatoes for free and as many additional pounds as I could carry for $1.50 a pound. So, yeah... I came home with 25 lbs of tomatoes along with basil, garlic, and a bunch of tomatillos (which I don't know what to do with). Fortunately, I split the tomatoes with someone. :)

Not really sure what to do with tomatillos other than salsa verde...

Even after splitting I was left with nearly 15 lbs of roma and heritage sauce tomatoes to process. Here's how it went down:

That's a lot of tomatoes!

First, I borrowed my friend's canning equipment (except for the Mason jars, which I always keep around the house). This is a critical step because, if it had turned out that I hated canning, at least I wouldn't have purchased the equipment.

Suzanne's giant canning pot dwarfing my soup pot.

Next, I looked up a good, step-by-step video instruction on YouTube. I ended up following the efficient and no-nonsense Ball Canning's video called, simply, "Canning Tomatoes With Ball Canning". It's like they made the video just for me!

The most crucial step was setting up the various tools needed to do the process. It's sort of an assembly-line thing so it's good to have everything lined up and ready to go. Also, because the canning pot is SO HUGE, you really have to start the water well in advance in order to bring it up to boil. So, I had a small pot of hot water (not boiling) to soak the jar lids in, a soup pot of slow boiling water to immerse the tomatoes in and a bowl of ice water to immediately stop any cooking of said, immersed tomatoes, a cutting board and knife, warmed up Mason (Ball/Kerr) jars and bands, lemon juice, "canning" salt (I just used kosher salt), and, of course, last but by no means least, the giant pot of boiling canning water.

And then we begin:

#1: drop tomatoes into simmering water for 30 seconds
#2: plunge hot tomatoes into ice bath to stop any cooking & break the skin

#3: peel the tomatoes (skin should slide off) and prepare to cut
At this point, you can cut the tomatoes into whatever shape you want to store. I used TONS of diced tomatoes so I did most of mind that way. However, I also put up a few that were just quartered and one 1/2 pint of whole tomatoes (two small, whole tomatoes actually) just for fun.

Put some lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon per quart jar) and some salt into each jar. I only used a pinch of salt based on the size of the jar - a bigger pinch for a quart, a smaller pinch for a pint. I don't like to add too much sodium to anything.

Once the jars are packed, ladle some of the boiling "tomato immersion" water into the jars until there's only a half inch of space to the top of the jar. Then, slide the handle of your ladle or a spatula down inside the jar along the glass. Push the tool in toward the center of the contents to release any trapped air in the jar - working your way around the jar a few times. It's important to note that you can also simply "tap" the bottom of the jar on the counter to remove air but you run the risk of splashing the boiling water and/or cracking your jar(s).

Finally, take a lid from the hot water bath (you forgot about these, didn't you?) and place on the filled jar. Finger-tighten a band on the jar to hold the lid in place. Now, place your jars into the immersion rack.

Ready to take a bath!

In the canning pot
Make sure there are about two inches of water above the tallest jar in your pot. Bring back up to a slow, steady boil with the lid on and "cook" for the correct time for your jar size. In my case, because I did three different jar sizes, I had to remove the half-pints at 30 minutes, the pints at 40 minutes, and the quarts at 45 minutes.

Once the time is up, carefully (I cannot stress this enough) take the boiling-hot jar out of the water and place on a towel in a place where the jar can remain undisturbed for at least 12 hours. There's actually a tool for removing the jars from the water. I would highly recommend buying one of these. Once the jars are cooled for 12-24 hours, the lid should be tight and unable to be removed by hand when the band is taken off. Also, the lid should be, sort of, indented and not be able to be "popped" when you push on it.

My first cans!

I actually used some of my diced tomatoes in a crock-pot ribs recipe the other night - so they only stayed in the jar for a few days before they got eaten. What I can't understand is why they don't cook to mush with all the boiling water, but they don't. They were awesome.

The process was surprisingly easy. It's just a little time consuming (mostly the cutting the tomatoes part) and a little messy. Were I to do it over, I certainly wouldn't pick 8pm on a weeknight to start. LOL But, overall, it was a fun process and one that I'm sure I'll do again. And, you know what? If I can can, you can too!

- Alex


  1. Andrew and I use tomatillos to make Green Chili with Pork.

  2. This takes me back to watching my grandmother and mom can veggies from the garden when I was a kid! I'd love to give it a try myself!
    Can't help you with what to do with tomatillos...sorry.

    1. Angela - no one in my family canned so this was an entirely new experience - but I really enjoyed it. It was, surprisingly, easy. A friend suggested coating the tomatillos in Panko and frying them. Anything fried sounds good to me so I may give that a try. :)

  3. That does sound fun ;) I've never done canning, but I like making preserves, so some of those tomatoes would have been made into chutney at my house ;)

    1. Wait now....tomato chutney? I need to see a recipe for this on your blog soon. My husband would go ape! This is Cassandra by the way...

    2. Nat - To give you some context, Cassandra's toddlers both love Indian food. They usually eat it about once a week. Not normal, American kid-fare but it's probably better for them anyway. :)