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Basic Canning: Tomato Sauce (a pictorial)

Canning intimidates a lot of people, I know.  But canning is in my blood.  I grew up watching my mom can produce from her garden- salsa, tomatoes, and green beans, as well as in-season (rock bottom priced) produce from the store, like peaches and pears, and both of my Grandmothers canned as well.

The best things to can are fruits and tomatoes.  I only can jams, jellies, and various tomato products.  This is because canning does result in nutrient loss, and there are too many other superior ways to "put up" the produce I grow.  Many can be lacto-fermented to extend their lives (up to a year, as in pickles, sauerkraut, and sour beets).  Most other vegetables can be blanched and frozen for maximum nutrient and enzyme preservation.  Some even take well to drying.  I do jam (and jelly, but less of it) because, well, jam is fun.  It makes a great gift- give a jar as a hostess gift dressed up with a pretty tag, or give a basket of a few jellies with some baked goods as a Christmas gift.  So far as the jelly we use, I make several lower sugar ones for the kids to mix into their yogurt and spread on toast, and my husband plows through most of the high sugar ones I don't give away (hello crab apple...). 

Tomatoes also can well for two reasons- first of all, they maintain more nutrients than other vegetables when exposed to heat.  The nutrient lycopene, for example, is actually more bio-available when tomatoes are heated. 

So I'm here to walk you through basic canning, using tomato sauce as an example.  Tomato sauce is one of the simplest and most rewarding tomato products to can, as just about anyone can think of many uses for it (chili this winter... mmmmm).

Tomato Sauce: Water Bath Canning
Makes about 8 pints

Any time you can, the very first thing you want to do is get your equipment and supplies together.  For this recipe you will need:
Wide mouthed canning funnel, magnetic lid lifter, and jar lifter.

  • 1 large, deep pot- the large enameled aluminum ones they sell at big box stores work.  You could use any large pot you already have, as long as it is at least two inches deeper than your jars are tall.
  • 1 heavy bottomed large pan (for blanching the tomatoes and cooking the tomato sauce in)- at least 6 quart.
  • large bowl for cold water
  • 9 or 10 pint jars, washed in hot soapy water and dried.  I know the recipe says about 8 pints, but I always prepare a jar or two extra so I'm prepared if the recipe ends up larger than expected.
  • appropriate rings and lids for your jars (make sure you have the right size- regular or wide mouth)
  • A large glass bowl for the lids
  • a tea kettle or small pot
  • EITHER a food mill or a potato ricer OR a masher of some sort, like a potato masher
  • Jar lifter
  • wide mouth funnel
  • ladel, slotted spoon, tablespoon
  • magnetic jar lifter (not 100% necessary, but super helpful)
Once you have gathered your supplies, place your jars into the largest pot and fill with cold water to the rims of the jars, or just below.  Place this pot over high heat.  Fill the kettle or small pan with water and place over high heat- when this comes to a boil reduce the heat/open your kettle, but keep it boiling until needed.
Always boil your jars and start a kettle of water first.

Place the rings and lids into the large glass bowl.
Canning lids ready to be sterilized and warmed for use.
Now you can finally get down to the actual recipe... for this you will need:
  • 10 lbs tomatoes
  • 8 T. of lemon juice, or one per pint
To prepare your tomatoes, fill the heavy bottomed pot half way with water and place over high heat.  Fill a second container with the coldest water you can, ice is helpful but not necessary.   When the water in the pot is boiling place about 1/3 of your tomatoes in and let them boil for about a minute or until the skin starts to crack.  Immediately move them to the cold water.

IF YOU DON'T HAVE A FOOD MILL OR SIMILAR DEVICE, follow the procedure demonstrated HERE to peel and seed your tomatoes (except the blanching... you've already done that part!).  I have to add that I NEVER score the tomato or de-stem before I blanch, but you can do as you like.  Once you have your tomatoes peeled and seeded, dice them, place them in the heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, and mash the tomatoes with a potato masher until they are the consistancy you desire for your sauce.  However, if you plan to do a lot of tomatoes or you plan to do this many times, I strongly suggest you get a food mill- they are reasonably priced and are worth their weight in tomatoes:)  They can also be used to process cooked apples into applesauce, process soups... and many other things depending on the type you choose.

IF YOU DO HAVE A FOOD MILL, simply place the blanched tomatoes in your contraption and process- for larger tomatoes I either break them apart with my hands or cut them into smaller pieces.  The screen will separate the seeds and skin from the flesh and puree the flesh into sauce for you. 
My tomato mill.
It is worth noting that I re-process my pulp (the waste product that goes into the glass measure you see) at least once more, and I always get a lot more tomato flesh the second time through.

Place the sauce in your heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.

Simmering tomato sauce.
Place the pureed tomatoes into your pan over medium heat.  Heat gently, stirring frequently, until sauce begins to simmer.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

By this time your jars should be boiling.  Turn off the heat under your tomato sauce and remove the jars from the boiling water, placing them on a towel very near the pot of tomato sauce.  When you lift the jar, you will need to VERY CAREFULLY dump the water back into the pot.  And remember these:

Pour some of the hot water from the tea kettle over the lids to sterilize them and warm them for use.

Using the wide mouthed funnel, ladel sauce into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of head space (the space between the rim of the jar and the sauce).
Filling jars with tomato sauce.
Once all the jars are filled add 1 T. of bottled lemon juice to each pint (if you choose to can quarts, make sure you add 2 T. of lemon juice).  It is important to use bottled because the acidity is consistent, and that 5% acidity is important to the safety of your final product.

PLEASE NOTE:  My son is NOT helping me can in this picture.  Canning is too involved and it is one of the few things I don't let my kids help with- to much potential for them to distract me and make me mess something up, or for them to get splattered with some boiling substance (I accidentally got my own arm with boiling jelly once... ouch!).  I didn't have anyone to take a picture of me doing these next two steps, so I staged Oliver doing them:)
Adding lemon juice to each jar of tomato sauce.
After adding the lemon juice take a damp, clean cloth and wipe the rim of each jar- this is important because little tomato bits or shrapnel that you may have spilled on the rims can prevent a good seal.
Yes, it's staged, but I love how carefully he did this!
Now you're ready to lid- using your magnetic lid lifter, pull the lids out of the hot water and place on each jar.  Screw the rims on until only fingertip tight- this is a hard thing to explain, but you want to tighten them until you just barely feel resistance when using your fingertips (not your whole hand).  There has to be enough room between the lid and the jar for the air to escape, and if you tighten too tight this will not happen.
Tighten rims only fingertip tight!
Place the lidded jars into the hot water in your canning pot and replace the lid.  When you place the jars into the hot water, bubbles should escape out from under the lid.  The jars should be covered by at least one inch of water- if there is too much water, you may need to carefully dip some out so that your pot doesn't boil over.
See the bubbles?
STARTING FROM THE TIME IT STARTS BOILING AGAIN process pints of tomato sauce for 35 minutes (quarts for 40 minutes... for any other substance, find a reputable recipe for the appropriate amount of processing time).
Process pints for 35 minutes.
While you're waiting for your pot to start boiling it may be a good time to do some dishes...
The least fun part of canning...
Once your timer beeps turn off your burner and carefully remove jars from the hot water.  Do not tip or shake the jars to get the water off the lids.
Carefully lift the jars straight up and out of the water.
Place the hot jars on a towel (far from the reach of little fingers!).  At this point you can use a towel to wipe the water off the lids if you want and tighten the rims a little.  In the next few minutes you should hear the lids pop.  Allow the jars to stand here undisturbed for 24 hours (I've never been able to figure out why 24 hours, as they're cool long before then, but it's what all canning instructions say, and I don't want to question this part of the process!).
After 24 hours you can remove the rims and check the lid for a good seal- first push down on the center of the lid- it shouldn't move and should be a little pulled down into the jar; then push up on the edge of the lid to make sure it's tight.  Label the jars with their substance and date (I usually just put month and year, but you can put the day's date if you desire) and store in a cool, dark place.  Canned tomatoes will keep for at least a year- I've never kept them around longer than that because we use them up too fast!

I know, it sounds like a lot, but I did all of this in about an hour.  There are a few super important things to remember, like preparing your jars and other supplies first, remembering the lemon juice, wiping the rim, and not overtightening the lids... which is why I felt the need to do this in pictures.  Because these are things I have forgotten in the past, and having a visual is a helpful way to remember these things! 

And lastly, here are a few things you may encounter and what to do about them:
  • White residue outside the jar/on this lid.  THIS IS FINE!  It's just hard water deposit.
  • Seperation of the solids and liquids.  THIS IS ALSO FINE.  When I removed that sauce that you see above from the water bath, it was terribly separated.  But it un-separated (???) as it cooled.  And even if a little separation remains this doesn't affect the end product, it simply means you either under or over cooked the pectin in the tomatoes.
  • Lids didn't seal- if you have a jar or two that doesn't seal, either use the contents of the jar within two weeks or reprocess with a new lid, making sure that 1) you don't over tighten the lid, 2) your jar rim is clean, and 3) you have appropriate headspace.
  • REALLY SUPER BAD STUFF: if you ever see/smell/hear/sense any of the following on a canned item THROW IT AWAY- white residue on the inside, mold on the inside, a funny or "off" smell when opened, a bulging lid, bubbling, or basically anything weird, gross, off, or wrong.  THROW IT AWAY IMMEDIATELY.  In all my years of consuming home canned goods and canning myself I have never had to throw away an unopened jar of anything, though.
Happy canning!


webbsway said...

What beautiful pictures I wish I had those beautiful jars of yours on my counter top. I thought I was going to accomplish that this year but now that they have turned red-the vines have keeled over dead and the cucumbers too.

Congrats on all of your hard work.

Canning Jar Lids said...

I love having canned tomatoes on hand to use in soups and stuff during the winter. Perfection!

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