Tomato

This Grandma-Approved Tomato Recipe Has Our Community in a Tizzy

Stop what you’re doing and can some tomatoes.

August  6, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

Stop what you’re doing and eat a tomato immediately. Unless, of course, you are already in the middle of eating a tomato, in which case well done; and while I have you, I hope, in between your tomato sandwiches and BLTs and no-cook sauces, you saved a few of those summer jewels to can for later. Tomatoes are at their peak right now, and you can squirrel away some of that late summer flavor for the dark days of winter with just a little time and know-how.

Canned tomatoes are certainly a staple in my home kitchen—everything from quick pastas to Sunday afternoon braises benefit from the juicy-sweet addition. Of course, most supermarket shelves are lined with multiple brands of whole-peeled, crushed, and fire-roasted canned tomatoes, but have you ever made your own? Considering that it’s tomato season literally right at this very moment, it’s high time you considered doing some canning. The Food52 community certainly has.

“Every year since he can remember, my father has canned fruits, vegetables, and jams,” writes Kelsey Banfield, a food blogger and community member. “He learned his techniques from his mother (my grandmother), who typed up her time-tested instructions for how to can tomatoes and other seasonal produce, and made an entire booklet for him when he moved out of the house.” Lucky for us, Banfield’s dad shared his mother’s recipe for canned tomatoes with her, and she shared it with Food52.

How to Make Canned Tomatoes

Below is a truncated explanation of the recipe. Find the full recipe for Grandma's Canned Tomatoes here.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Thank you! I've been a farmer all my life, I've canned literally thousands and thousands of jars of tomatoes, and the instructions to this are woefully inadequate to insure you're not poisoning yourself and the people you love. I use vinegar instead of lemon juice, because i think it doesn't interfere with the tomato flavor and the acid content is stable. Acid content is important. You don't put just tomatoes and a little acid in the jar, either, you need tomato juice to fill in all the gaps and remove the air. You have to not fill the jars too full, but also not too empty, as both as bad in different ways. And for the love of all that is holy, sterilize everything! Wash every jar, lid, ring, utensil, pan, countertop and your stove with hot, soapy water, give everything a rinse in a bleach water bath, then drop everything in a pot of hot, scalding water to wait for use. Be careful putting in tomatoes and juice, make sure your jars are wiped free of any juice or debris from filling them with a hot soapy cloth. screw the lids on tight. All jars should be put into a full-roll water bath that is deep enough to allow for 2 inches of water above the top of the jars. I routinely canned quart jars of tomatoes, but I had a giant waterbath canner that allowed for the room needed to cover the 2 inches above the jars and remain at a rolling boil without drowning my kitchen in boiling water. When you open home-canned tomatoes, inspect them before using, if the tomatoes are not under juice, that's a problem. If they are not sealed properly, that's a problem. If you see mold or flecks of black on the tomatoes, jar or lid, throw the contents away and sterilize EVERYTHING! Canning is chemistry, and as such can either be good chemistry or bad chemistry. It needs to be done in a sterilized environment with the utmost caution. Your suggestion of the ball book is a great one, they'll talk you through all the particulars of basic canning safety. There's an excellent book called "Putting Food By" that also does an excellent job of more detailed instructions for all kinds of canning, freezing and other methods of preserving your harvest, as well as some dandy recipes to can. By all means can tomatoes and other lovely produce, just do it correctly and BE SAFE!”
— hillbillyoracle
Comment

Canning yourself certainly takes a bit more effort than a trip to the grocery store, but it’s well worth the journey. The ingredients list is small: just ripe tomatoes, Kosher salt, bottled lemon juice (skip fresh here to maintain the acidity level—this is paramount when it comes to making fresh produce into a shelf-stable product.) You’ll also need sterilized quart jars with lids and rims.

To start, quickly blanch tomatoes to make for easy peeling. You’ll use about three pounds of fresh tomatoes for each quart of canned; this recipe calls for enough to make four quarts of canned tomatoes, which is definitely the minimal amount we’d recommend making at once. After all, winter is coming, and with it, pale, watery tomatoes. Imagine how bummed you’d be to find you only preserved enough of summer’s finest for one or two jars—just take a canning day and make a bunch, for the sake of your future self.

Banfield orders tomatoes in bulk from a local farm; if you can’t do that, head to the nearest farmers market, like Food52 Software Engineer Jeremy Beker, who recommends asking for 'seconds' or 'canning tomatoes' which, as Beker says, "just means ones that aren’t quite as pretty."

Cram peeled, cored tomatoes into the jars along with the salt and lemon juice. That’s it! Tightly seal the jars and prep them for a swim: Submerge the jars in a stockpot of boiling water for 45 minutes, then let them cool. Check the seal, label with the date, and they’ll be good to hang out until next summer’s tomatoes pop up. What a dang delight!

“Learning how to can tomatoes has been essential for my home cooking skills because I use them all winter long—they're great for making sauces, soups and spreads,” writes Banfield in the recipe headnote. Just imagine how happy you (or someone you gift a jar to!) will be come December.

If you have a preferred canning method that differs from this one, we welcome you to use it! First-time canners, here are a few recourses you may find helpful if you're at all nervous:


What to do with those canned tomatoes

Have you canned tomatoes before? Is this the year you'll finally try? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ruth
    Ruth
  • Beth Richardson
    Beth Richardson
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • Panfusine
    Panfusine
  • newportlogan
    newportlogan
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

20 Comments

Ruth August 19, 2021
Another vote for the Ball Book, an inexpensive paperback with meticulous directions. I've been following them for many years, and I've never had a problem. But there are many steps that I'd add to this bare-bones recipe: Sterilize! Make sure the tomatoes are free from blemish (cut any suspect parts off when you take out the stems). I usually quarter them. Use a proper utensil to get the air out of the filled jar. Wipe down the top of the jar so it's clean of stray juice and the lid will seal properly. There's no reason not to use a stove top water canning stockpot; I heat the water during the lengthy filling process. And more....

On the other hand, I never peel the tomatoes. It's just not worth it. I boil them down into a concentrate.

I usually buy a couple of 25-lb boxes of plum tomatoes at the farmer's market and just spend a weekend doing it. Any leftover sauce can be frozen, but since I don't have a separate freezer, I do try to can as much as possible. I'll sometimes oven-dry a few and store them in a jar with olive oil and rosemary.

Anyway, I hope you'll consider revising this article to include more basic information.
 
2tattered August 19, 2021
You only need to sterilize canning jars for recipes that have 10 minute or less water bath processing. For canning tomatoes, just make sure the jars are clean and the rims are solid.
 
Beth R. August 19, 2021
Thanks for bringing Canning to the forefront, but also thank you to the comments that pointed out all of the safe canning rules. As a master food preserver, I know how serious it is to get the chemistry right. Here’s a website that everybody should be aware of. It has all of the current safety practices, USDA/FDA tested, and recipes for everything: https://nchfp.uga.edu/
 
jms3 August 19, 2021
Lifelong canner. This is one of the best websites for up-to-date canning practices
 
Smaug August 16, 2021
For sauces, freezing works much better- just wash (and dry), cut in half and throw them into baggies.
 
Cheryl A. August 19, 2021
I did not have any success with freezing. Back to canning for me.
 
Smaug August 19, 2021
What happened when you froze them? I've always found it extremely simple, one reason I prefer it, as I tend to be kind of buried in produce that needs to be dealt with by ate summer.
 
Panfusine August 15, 2021
The peels left over from blanching the tomatoes have a lot of flavor, I dry them at 180 F in the oven and use them for making flavored salts or adding them to my home made spice blends.
 
newportlogan August 12, 2021
This is not a good post Food 52. Several errors, in waterbathing tomatoes. Please retract or offer safer directions.
 
KentuckyGirlYall August 8, 2021
Food52 what’s the deal!? Normally I love you and your great content but you completely missed the mark here. Please listen to the previous comments and add the proper instructions. I come from a long line of food preservationists and I do a ton of canning each year. This recipe is - at best - incomplete and - at worst - unsafe. I urge everyone reading this to take a look at the previous comments especially that of jennyfromtheblock and hillbillyoracle. Canning is food science; Food52 please do the right thing here and point your readers in the right direction or better yet, ask a canning expert to weigh in before you make a post like this.
 
Teri August 8, 2021
Hi Food52 friends: The recipe correctly calls for bottled lemon juice but this top article doesn't. That's a scary omission -- somebody might just start stuffing tomatoes and lemon juice in jars! Perhaps a reminder to follow the actual recipe proportions to ward off any possibilities of getting the science (and safety) of canning wrong?
 
Corinne August 8, 2021
My husband and I have been canning tomatoes for forty plus years. We took the process over from my mother-in-law and it is truly a family tradition. We used to do as many as 10 bushels a season winding up with 13 jars per bushel.
Unfortunately, it has become so cost prohibitive as well as difficult to find enough of the right Roma tomatoes to work with.
 
Jennyfromtheblock August 8, 2021
I applaud your mention of canning - I’m a huge fan of making summers harvest last all year. But you omitted some really important things that are potential safety issues: the amount of tomatoes and lemon juice, that only bottled lemon juice should be used, and that only pint or half pint jars are appropriate for most water bath canners. Canning is a scientific process and done incorrectly can lead to blood contaminated with botulism. Not to mention that the USDA does not consider ‘older’ canning recipes to be safe.

If you want to ensure you are canning safely, I think you should point people to the proper resources like the Ball Blue Book as well as local extension offices. Safety first, y’all!
 
hillbillyoracle August 8, 2021
Thank you! I've been a farmer all my life, I've canned literally thousands and thousands of jars of tomatoes, and the instructions to this are woefully inadequate to insure you're not poisoning yourself and the people you love.

I use vinegar instead of lemon juice, because i think it doesn't interfere with the tomato flavor and the acid content is stable. Acid content is important. You don't put just tomatoes and a little acid in the jar, either, you need tomato juice to fill in all the gaps and remove the air. You have to not fill the jars too full, but also not too empty, as both as bad in different ways.

And for the love of all that is holy, sterilize everything! Wash every jar, lid, ring, utensil, pan, countertop and your stove with hot, soapy water, give everything a rinse in a bleach water bath, then drop everything in a pot of hot, scalding water to wait for use. Be careful putting in tomatoes and juice, make sure your jars are wiped free of any juice or debris from filling them with a hot soapy cloth. screw the lids on tight. All jars should be put into a full-roll water bath that is deep enough to allow for 2 inches of water above the top of the jars. I routinely canned quart jars of tomatoes, but I had a giant waterbath canner that allowed for the room needed to cover the 2 inches above the jars and remain at a rolling boil without drowning my kitchen in boiling water.

When you open home-canned tomatoes, inspect them before using, if the tomatoes are not under juice, that's a problem. If they are not sealed properly, that's a problem. If you see mold or flecks of black on the tomatoes, jar or lid, throw the contents away and sterilize EVERYTHING!

Canning is chemistry, and as such can either be good chemistry or bad chemistry. It needs to be done in a sterilized environment with the utmost caution. Your suggestion of the ball book is a great one, they'll talk you through all the particulars of basic canning safety. There's an excellent book called "Putting Food By" that also does an excellent job of more detailed instructions for all kinds of canning, freezing and other methods of preserving your harvest, as well as some dandy recipes to can.

By all means can tomatoes and other lovely produce, just do it correctly and BE SAFE!
 
qktiles August 9, 2021
Thanks for the detailed reply; I've been canning for around thirty years and am always dismayed when I see potentially dangerous advice floating around out there. Pro tip for you and other veteran canners: for years I used my stovetop for my water bath canning with all the attendant mess, steam, lengthy heating times, &tc. Then I realized I had a turkey frying burner that sat unused most of the year; set it up on a covered side porch and violà--a game changer. Works perfectly, works in a fraction of the time for initial heating of the water, keeps the extra heat and humidity out of the kitchen. Mind: blown. And you can often find those burners inexpensively in the want ads, once people realize how expensive it is to fry a turkey once a year or so!
 
hillbillyoracle August 9, 2021
That is excellent information! I'll look for one of those in the ads and see if I can pick one up cheap.

Another trick I can pass along is about waterbath canners. It can be hard to find one that is tall enough to have the requisite space for two inches of water over the top of the jars, you almost always have to order them from someplace that specializes in that kind of equipment. But if you have a pressure cooker with a jiggler on top and not a gauge on that accommodates quart jars, these usually have ample space for that extra water and can easily be altered to do the job. The trick is to take out the rubber gasket that seal that makes the vacuum when pressure canning, close it in a locking fashion like you would if pressure canning, and don't put the jiggler on top. This closure more than enough to provide the pressure for waterbath canning. As always, use care when removing the lid to make sure you don't get spewed with scalding water, but in all other respects it acts in the same fashion as a waterbath canner with those changes. These are also an item that can be found in reuse shops and in ads, not everyone wants a giant pot that weighs as much as a small child if they don't use it all the time. I often used both canners at the same time when in the heat of canning season to waterbath many quarts of tomatoes at the same time and cut my time standing in the kitchen down to something more manageable. I don't can as much as I once did, I don't have a giant family to feed all year round, but I still use both canners for their individual uses.

But remember folks, you need two full inches of water OVER the top of your jars for waterbath canning. No cheating!
 
Susanna August 19, 2021
This, and the replies, are quite useful, and they explain why I’ve never attempted canning. It just doesn’t seem worth the risks! I do make jams and cooked tomato sauces that I store in the freezer to use all winter long. I wonder how canned (blanched?) tomatoes would do in the freezer, not in terms of risk, but in terms of taste.
 
2tattered August 19, 2021
Some of the advice here is overkill. I’ve been canning tomatoes for 40 years. One inch of water over the tops of the jars is sufficient. I’ve used quarts forever with no problem. I use pints now because there’s only two of us.
You do not need to sterilize the jars - just make sure they are clean, and run your fingertip along the rim to be sure there are no chips. If you are canning something that only processes in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes (bread & butter pickles, for example) then you do need to sterilize the jars. Just put them in the boiling water bath and let them simmer until you’re ready to fill them.
I find tomato purée to be most useful in my pantry. Cut up cored tomatoes and boil until soft. Put through a food mill back into the pot. Simmer until reduced - I usually reduce by half over several hours. Put 1/4 tsp citric acid powder in each pint jar, and add 1/2 tsp salt to each jar (optional). Ladle in hot purée to 1/2” from the top. Put on lids and bands, finger tight, and put in boiling water bath for 40 minutes. Turn heat off, uncover, and let sit five minutes. Remove with the jar lifter onto a kitchen towel on the counter. You should hear some satisfying pings as the lids seal. The next day, check the lids for a good seal, label and store. This is the best way to use up a boatload of tomatoes..
Last year I also made V8 juice and canned it. Quite delicious. I’ve got a hundred pounds of tomatoes waiting for my attention right now😱😱😱
 
2tattered August 19, 2021
FYI - I use powdered citric acid instead of bottled lemon juice because it doesn’t change the flavor of the tomatoes as much.
 
AnitaW August 19, 2021
When I have freezer space, I wash my ripe tomatoes and remove the core and place them in heavy freezer bags.
In the winter I’ll remove as many of the rock hard tomatoes needed for a recipe, allow to defrost on a plate for about 15 min, then run them under tap water which works the same as the boiling water blanching when they are raw! The skins peel off easily and with a bit more defrosting the tomatoes can be chopped up and used! And I daresay taste every bit as good as a San marzano!