Canning Tomatoes: Spend Time, Save Money

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Pennywise Platter is tomorrow! Hope you have tips and recipes to share!

Yesterday, I jumped into a canning project for tomatoes. I was very glad to find that one of our local farms, Thompson Farms (who is not certified organic, but doesn’t use any pesticides or fungicides) had lugs of tomatoes for only .49 cents a pound! Last time I had canned tomatoes, their lugs were about .69 cents a pound.  For about 12 dollars I had 24 pounds worth of tomatoes, which made me 9 quarts of tomatoes. (I had been hoping to buy more, but they had run a little low.)

Once we took out the cost of of buying the jars (which I will continue to reuse), each quart of tomatoes I canned (which, by the way is larger than most large cans in the store), was only about $1.75.  That includes the un-reusable lids, lemon juice and tomatoes. And I was paying up to $3.75 for 16 ounces of organic tomatoes, compared to only $1.75 for 32 ounces! Even if you counted in the cost of the reusable jars, I would still be saving quite a bit of money. I could get a little cheaper organic tinned tomatoes, but not only do I not like that “tinny” taste of tomatoes in cans, but there are more toxins from the plastic linning.  When I do have to buy tomatoes, I usually get a brand in glass jars, and it’s a great product.

I would definitely recommend making at least 50 pounds of tomatoes at once, as by the time everything is boiling, you might as well make a lot. As it is, I will do another round soon.

But I do have to say this, canning is so much harder than lacto-fermenting foods. I have been getting a little behind in my lacto-fermenting with the usual excuses of lack of time and lack of energy. But one thing that canning has done for me is made me appreciate how easy lacto-fermenting really is. I was thinking of making my lacto-fermenting salsa as a chore (what a joke!). It’s a piece of cake compared to canning! As I was getting a little grumpy waiting for my huge pot to boil, and worrying whether I had done everything right so that something gross didn’t grow in my jars and kill us all, I decided that a man must have been the one to invent the canning jar. And from what I remember, I think I was right too.

But for all of my complaining, I do think it’s worth a little work for a lot of savings, especially for us this year.

ng_cannedtomatoes

And perhaps you would too! For one days hard work, you could have a years worth of canned tomatoes at a large savings. You might want to consider whether a day’s work is worth some local, organic, homecanned tomatoes -espesially if you find organic canned tomatoes in the store beyond your price range.

I will also be freezing some tomatoes, a super simple idea which I’ve read on several different blogs. I was originally hoping to can a raw blended tomato sauce that Lindsay talked about last year (it would have been so very easy to do), but I decided sadly that I didn’t like the taste as much after trying a small batch. It might have improved once I cooked with it, but I didn’t want to risk it. I also read that it was no longer an “approved” method” by the FDA to use with tomatoes, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not. But I will be trying the freezing method! So easy. If  you don’t want to can, this could be your ticket to preserving your local harvest.

For those who are curious, I like to make canned chopped or crushed tomatoes. They have the best flavor in the world! There really is nothing like home canned tomatoes. I may also try to make my own tomato sauce which has a few extra steps in it.

For some safety guidelines and some directions on canning tomatoes go here.

What about you? Do you like to can? Have any tips or experiences to share?

This post is part of Food Roots.

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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Comments

  1. says

    Hey Kimi –
    Do you take the time to peel your tomatoes before canning? I didn’t this year, but I’m a little leery of the tough peels I KNOW are in my jars now ;) Maybe a few months on the shelf will soften them up…

  2. says

    Thanks, Kimi for this post. Canning is an area I have not delved into and I know I should! Your photo of the canned tomatoes is great and I’m encouraged to try this in the near future. As soon as I can find organic or pesticide free tomatoes cheap enough. LOL!

    Thanks for all you do!

  3. says

    Our farm has heirlooms for .60/lb u-pick and .80/lb already picked. We are thinking of taking the long weekend and canning Sunday and Monday. I think it would take 50-100 quarts of tomatoes to feed us for a year, which is quite lofty considering our canner only holds 6 quarts at a time. I’d also love to know whether you peel them or not :).

    I definitely agree that lacto-fermenting is much easier than canning!

  4. says

    I dabbled with canning last year and am considering this year my experiment year. We did not put in a large garden, so I am just canning what I can find for free or as close to free as I can find. Then I will tally it and mark when I use up my store of said item. I am hoping that over the winter and into spring, I will be able to better plan what I need to plant for our personal canning use (making the canned goods virtually free…just lids and elbow grease.)

    So far this year I have canned: green beans (though not with the FDA apporved method), tomatoes, tomatoe juice, vegetable juice, beets and onions, pepper jelly (used Pomona’s Universal Pectin), and zucchini relish. I still plan on canning applesauce, apple jelly, grape jelly, and peaches and/or pears if I can find them.

    I have not done well at keeping up on my blog, but have posted some bits. Another update should be posted today or tomorrow.

  5. KimiHarris says

    Meg and Shannon,

    I did indeed peel my tomatoes. I considered not to, because I know what some brands of chopped tomatoes do have their peels left on them. But decided to do it anyway. To put it in perspective, I decided to do the peeling and cutting all at the beginning, it took me just about an hour to peel and cut up the whole 24 pounds, so it wasn’t too bad. :-) But it certainly would have been faster without it!

    I know that I definitely need to do more to last us the year too, Shannon, which can be a little daunting. But when I remember that it’s just a little hard work and remember how good all of those homecanned tomatoes taste, it doesn’t seem so bad after all!

    Jocelyn,
    If I had to buy organic tomatoes at the grocery store, it wouldn’t have been worth the work because of the price, so trying to find a cheaper place to buy it from will definitely help. You can also see if you can order a lug through your grocery store. They will usually give large discounts.

    Deanne,

    Wow! You’ve been busy! Good for you. :-) I am sure your family will be blessed.

  6. says

    Nice post about canning tomatoes. I do have to say that canning is my absolute least-favorite method of preserving. It’s a ton of work, and I’m always vaguely disappointed with the outcome. Last year I canned peaches, green chillies, pineapple, and applesauce. I really don’t like how the food gets the daylights cooked out of it, and how the taste is therefore altered (especially the peaches). Freezing is my favorite method of preserving because it’s so easy, and there’s no heat/nutrient loss involved. My main problem is lack of freezer space. Last year I threw whole tomatoes into the freezer (no blanching or anything), and have cooked with them throughout the year; it’s worked just fine. Interesting that the FDA doesn’t think that freezing tomatoes is an “approved method” anymore. Personally, I would completely ignore that “advice”! :-)
    If my tomatoes get out of hand this year, though, I think I will try canning them.

  7. Jessie says

    How much is a “lug” of tomatoes?

    I googled this & found several places online where people posted the question, but no answers.

  8. says

    It sounds like there is pretty good agreement that canning is a whole lot of work. I posted this afternoon (in preparation for Pennywise Platter of course) about freezing versus canning. I’m basically with Lindsey. I provide some research on nutrient loss in canning as well as a round-up on our freezing and drying techniques.

    Freezing versus canning at the Rebuild Blog.

  9. Michelle says

    Hello! I’ve just recently joined the email list for this website, and am very excited to receive some delicious and innovative recipes.
    My whole family will spend an entire day canning tomatos…and it takes the ENTIRE day. We grow our own organic tomatos, and have about 80 plants, and with each plant prouducing a couple pounds of tomatos every week, we have more tomatos then we know what to do with. I personally like using our canned tomatos to puree and make into a pasta sauce. My dad makes a great one with mushrooms, ground pork (from our own free-range pigs), basil, garlic, pepper, and a little salt. It’s absolutely delicious (especially over shredded squash and zucchini).
    However, I was wondering if anyone has a good recipe for some tomato soup? I haven’t ever had good homemade tomato soup, and will never eat one of the sodium-loaded Campell’s again!!!

  10. says

    On peeling tomatoes before canning, I met a guy famous for his canned Italian sauce who recommended keeping the skin on until the sauce is cooked, then straining it at then end. He used a massive strainer but in our kitchens we could probably use a stainless steel colander. He noted that the skin adds flavor to the sauce and the whole process is easier.

    On the “lug,” it’s one of those boxes! LOL. Maybe someone can take a measurement but they are standard boxes for produce and I’m guessing might hold 3-4 gallons.

  11. KimiHarris says

    Lindsey,

    The FDA just doesn’t recommend raw packing tomatoes to can. Not freezing. :-)

    Jessie,

    I am not sure if there is an universal amount for lug or not, but it was 25 pounds for me. (Actually they did a 24 pound lug for me, as they were a little short).

    Amanda,

    I look forward to reading your post! And thanks for the tip about the skins, as I was going to do it that way for my tomato sauce. So it’s good to know that’s a good method. :-)

    Michelle,

    Homemade tomato soup is SO good. And it’s simple to make, a little onion and garlic, chicken broth, and tomatoes. To make it creamy add some cream at the end (but add in some baking soda to neutralize the acid of the tomatoes when you add the tomatoes so that the cream doesn’t curdle).

  12. says

    Great! I just started canning (so far with just chicken broth and chili) and I love it. Do you leave the tomato peels on or blanch them off? I always feel bad tossing them when making tomato sauce, I feel they must be very beneficial and nutritious. If you don’t use them, do you end up throwing them our/composting them?

    Thanks! Love your site!

  13. says

    Hi Kimi – It’s canning season alright! I just made a batch of plum applesauce today, yummy!

    Every year but this one our garden is overflowing with loads of tomatoes. I will make up big, I mean big, batches of pasta sauce with my girls and pour it into large jars and freeze. I had planned on canning tomatoes this year but we barely have any, only a few tomatoes for salads.

    Anyways, how do I participate in the pennywise platter? Thanks! -Ali :)

    • lynnpaulus says

      Ali,
      How do you freeze in jars? Mine always brake. I have tried and am frustrated to no end! We don’t like using plastic so I can them but I would rather freeze my food.

  14. Jen says

    I was able to purchase extra heirloom tomatoes from my CSA farm two weeks ago for $1 per pound. Not as good a price as yours, Kimi, but the colors are so beautiful and they taste amazing! I bought 40 pounds.

    I peeled and chopped them all, then portioned and froze them in ziplock bags. I worked over a colander sitting in a bowl, and when I was done I had 3 quarts of juice too! I strained it and froze it as well. This worked well for me, but next year I’d like to try canning.

  15. Lanise says

    Did you add a bit of lemon juice or other acid when you canned your tomatoes? That is what makes it safe to use the water bath as opposed to a pressure canner. Also, if you have any concerns about the safety of your tomatoes just boil them for 10 minutes and that will kill whatever badthings might be in them.

  16. says

    They look so pretty! Canning makes me feel really accomplished, which is kind of silly I guess. I like that I can store it anywhere and not worry about taking up too much room in my fridge with lactofermenting. On freezing tomatoes, one year I coarsely chopped them, added olive oil, basil, and lots of fresh garlic, cooked briefly and then froze. We used it as bruchetta (sp?) and I really liked it.

    • KimiHarris says

      Jen,

      Herilooms are probably worth a little extra money. :-)

      Lanise,

      Yes, I followed all of the safety recommendations. :-)

      Cara,

      It’s true, canning really does make one feel like you’ve accomplished something. There is something so satisfying about seeing all of those filled jars ready for the year to come.

  17. Heidi M. says

    As a possible alternative to canning or freezing tomato paste, The Settlement cook book (mostly available for free viewing online) has some interesting instructions for dehydrating it instead:

    “Use thoroughly ripe, sound tomatoes. Wash carefully and cut into thick slices. Sprinkle well with salt, about 1 cup to a bushel. Allow tomatoes to drain several hours, then boil until very soft. Cool and rub through a fine sieve. Place pulp in kettle and boil slowly over a protected flame, until thick, so it will not run, stirring often to prevent burning. Use a bread board or similar hard wood and spread the paste on it, scoring the mass a number of times to hasten the drying process. Place in the bright sun on a clear day or in slightly warm oven and work over the mass frequently to aid the drying. When dry, so it will roll, put in pans and allow it to stand for about four days. Then cut and roll in small portions egg shape. Dip these balls in oil, using olive oil or any other good salad oil. Place them in a stone jar and cover with heavy paper or cloth dipped in oil and salt. Will keep indefinitely.

    This paste is used in soups, sauces, with macaroni, etc. When ready to use, dissolve a small amount in boiling water. ” – The Settlement cook book, page 594-595

    I don’t know quite what to think about the “will keep indefinitely” part, but I find the prospect of tomato sauce without cannning or freezing an interesting one.

  18. says

    Oh yes, it’s canning time! I’m letting as many as possible of my garden heirloom tomatoes ripen over the weekend, and then will go and pick up a good 50 lbs or more from my favorite market as well, and hopefully get to canning mid next week. It really is a lot of work (I anticipate the 60-70 lbs I will be canning will take me at least 1 full day, maybe a bit more, since I’ve got 3 kids under 5, including a newborn).

    Last year, I canned diced tomatoes with the peels on. It was just so much easier than peeling them first. There was the odd meal I made where I wished we didn’t have the little peel pieces (unblended lentil/veggie soups, for instance) but generally they didn’t bother any of us too much. This year, I am still deciding whether to keep them or not.

    I also made some sauce, and I kept the peels on while cooking, then strained them out after. It worked pretty well. It was a bit of a nitpicky and messy job, I thought, and some of them still got through the straining, but it did get most of them out which was nice with sauce and I think it was easier than peeling them would have been.

    With canning I prefer to keep it super safe and still with only approved methods. I just get nervous about stuff like that. But despite all the extra work of doing it and trying to do it really carefully, it is so worth it! I didn’t have to buy barely a single can of tomatoes last year, and the ones I did myself tasted amazing and it felt so good to know exactly what my family was getting in them (no BPA soup or pasta for us!).

  19. Heather says

    I am late seeing this since I have had problems getting your email updates, but here’s a little plug/request – I would love to see a list of your favorite resources (books/websites/etc) for canning instructions/recipes/techniques/etc. -Seeing (reading through) your step by step process on this tomato project would be so great too.

  20. Brenda says

    I thought I’d share some info I recently found on citric acid. Canning tomatoes either calls for adding lemon juice or citric acid. I recently found this article on citric acid:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/msg/msgfree.html
    It talks about how citric acid usually contains MSG, so I think it’s important to can tomatoes with lemon juice instead! If you’re going to all that work, you don’t want MSG in there!!

  21. says

    I love home canned goods. I usually do some tomato sauce, some diced tomatoes and some fire roasted tomatoes as well. I always use organic lemon juice in my tomatoes, but since I grow heirlooms I don’t really worry about it all the time.

    Michelle, I have a tomato soup recipe I LOVE: http://chiotsrun.com/2009/08/22/canning-tomato-soup/

    I don’t always follow the “approved” methods of canning and for the times the USDA suggests. It’s often over-kill and it overcooks the food. I come from a long line of canners so I’m comfortable with my choice. I also don’t think that an organization that thinks that GMO’s are “safe for human consumption” is all that concerned about our health anyways.

  22. Sarah says

    I recently found out that the lids of canning jars have BPA in them, I was pretty upset. Since heat seems to set BPA off I’m freezing tomato sauce this year. I’m going to put a piece of wax paper between the sauce and the lid. Does anyone have any other tips for canning or preserving and avoiding BPA?

    • KimiHarris says

      Sarah,

      From reading other discussions about it last year, I remember that there was one brand that was supposed to be BPA free. I didn’t have time this year to look up which brand that was, but that is an option.

      Does anyone happen to know what brand that was?

  23. says

    I buy bulk canning lids from a little amish place around here and they don’t have any coating on them. I would look at bulk food places or talk to a few older women who can and see if they buy their lids in bulk.

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