Grandma's Canned Tomatoes

April 29, 2021
22 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Lauren Ringer.
  • Prep time 5 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 4 quarts
Author Notes

Every year since he can remember, my father has canned fruits, vegetables, and jams. 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.

I've been helping Dad with canning since I was little, and we still always set aside a few August days to preserve the bounty of summer. 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.

The rule of thumb is to order three pounds of tomatoes for each quart of canned tomatoes you want to make. We usually pre-order ours from a local farm, and find that one large bushel yields about 16 to 18 quarts. Meaty tomato varieties work best for canning. We've used several different kinds, and the farmers we work with give us great recommendations on which ones to can that year.

Each quart of tomatoes will need a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice. Coarse kosher sat works best for canning, and using bottled lemon juice is the safest way to ensure a consistent level of acidity that will keep the jars shelf-stable. Canning can be a little labor-intensive and requires some practice and specialized equipment, like a wire jar rack for the water bath, but the result is well worth it.

Helpful tools for this recipe:
- 6-Piece Canning Tool Set
- Hestan Probond Forged Stainless Steel Stockpot
- Kilner Vintage Preserving Jars, Set of 12

Kelsey Banfield

Test Kitchen Notes

The best way to preserve peak-season tomatoes? Can them! The process requires a little bit of effort and planning, but altogether is quite simple—and once you taste a homemade batch, you’ll be hard-pressed to want to go back to the store-bought variety. Make a big batch towards the end of summer for a bright tomatoey burst all year round—especially during the chilly winter months when freshness can feel hard to come by.

Marisa McClellan for The Kitchn recommends paste tomatoes, which “are quite dry, very meaty and have fewer seeds than your standard slicer." Some of these varieties include Roma, San Marzano, Big Mama, and Jersey Giant.

Once your tomatoes are all canned, the fun part begins: all the recipes you’ll put them towards. Homemade tomato sauce, creamy tomato soup, tomatoey braised chicken thighs, the possibilities are endless. —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Grandma's Canned Tomatoes
  • 12 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 4 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
  • 4 sterilized quart jars with lids and rims
  1. Cut an X into the bottom of each tomato, which will make peeling easier. Boil a large stockpot or lobster pot of water and add all tomatoes, working in batches if necessary. When their skins begin to retract after a minute or so, remove the tomatoes from the water and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking and loosen the skins.
  2. Peel the tomato skins off, and cut out the stems. Press the peeled and cored tomatoes firmly into the sterilized jars until there is only 1/2-inch remaining at the top.
  3. Once the jars are filled, add a teaspoon of Kosher salt and a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each quart. Place the lids and rims on the jars, and tighten.
  4. Prepare a large boiling water bath in a stockpot or lobster pot, making sure the water is deep enough to completely cover the jars. Once the water has come to a boil, arrange the jars on a wire jar rack, and lower into water. Allow the jars to process in the water bath for 45 minutes.
  5. When the processing is complete, carefully remove the rack and place on a heatproof surface. Cover the jars with a clean dishtowel, and allow them to cool at room temperature for a few hours.
  6. Test the seals to ensure proper processing, label the jars with the date, and store in a cool, dark place (like a pantry) to enjoy for up to a year.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Smaug
  • Lorraine
  • Joleen L. Saltz Whelchel
    Joleen L. Saltz Whelchel
  • Droplet
  • Kelsey Banfield
    Kelsey Banfield
Home cook, food blogger, cookbook author, wine lover, avid traveler, and mother of two young children. Check out my books: The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food into Family Life (2012), and The Family Calendar Cookbook: From Birthdays to Bake Sales, Good Food to Carry You Through the Year (2015), Running Press.

39 Reviews

Smaug April 19, 2023
Freezing is easier and produces a better result than canning; just wash them, cut in half and bag them in convenient quantities; I sometimes throw in some basil, since it's often unavailable when I use the tomatoes. Of course you need the freezer space. Canning is the long time curse of the farmer's wife- who wants to spend the hottest days of the year in the kitchen boiling big cauldrons of water, sugar etc.? Consistent acidity shouldn't be a problem if you source your lemons consistently (like growing them), but using powdered citric acid would seem more to the point; it's cheap and easy to find, consistent, and you avoid adding extraneous flavors.
judy July 27, 2022
I have read through the commentary, there recipe and the comments. I am a lifelong canner, and this recipe and elsewhere in the commentary has a number of errors. As one reviewer said, use the Ball Canning guide or the USDA website for guidelines. I always did boiling water bath canning, not pressure cooker. Canned tomatoes are amazing, but only if done safely. Enjoy the produce of summer, but properly prepare the veggies, equipment and follow the recommended process from USDA or BALL.
james July 24, 2022
Modern tomatoes are not as acidic as those of our grandmothers. That is why you should add bottle lemon juice (guaranteed 5% acidity) and not fresh lemon juice where the acidity content can vary widely.

I add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per pint but never add salt. I understand the safety effects of sugar (not used here) and acid but don't see what salt would do in a canned tomato product. Hopefully a Home Economist can explain that one.

I use the Kitchen Aid Fruit Strainer attachment to quickly peel and deseed pounds of tomatoes. I realize that I am losing some flavor by discarding the pulp that surrounds the seeds. In the past I would simply boil down the raw tomatoes and push them through a 12" tamis to deskin and deseed - that took a lot of time.

Originally, I did peel the tomatoes individually and then deseed but that was the most time-consuming method. If using ripe (not store bought or farmers' market bought) tomatoes then you should only submerge in a boiling water bath for 10 seconds, that is plenty of time to loosen the skins. Store bought and farmers' market tomatoes are a special variety that withstands handling without bruising or tearing, I would use at least a minute in the boiling water bath for them as the recipe indicates.

I also put the tomato mass in a pot and simmer off some of the water to create a thicker sauce before canning. Once I have my 3 cases of pints canned, I will continue to reduce the tomato mass to create a near paste like sauce that I can in 1/2 cup jars.

However you do it and whatever you tomato source, it is well worth the effort as you will have a brighter tomato sauce and know exactly what is in it.
ScottyG September 9, 2021
I used this recipe and canned 4 quart jars of Roma tomatoes from my garden. I am really concerned now though as i am now reading from all sources out there that you MUST use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per quart jar for food safety, beware as this recipe only calls for 1. I now am likely going to discard all 4 jars which is just a terrible waste of time and gardening. I would ask the author to verify current recommendations. BEWARE.
maria V. September 9, 2021
I have been canning tomatoes for years. We never used lemon juice and we were and are fine.
Hooskerdo October 3, 2021
I just finished 7 pints with this recipe and wonder if I should toss it all. I can't understand how someone purporting to know what there doing can directly contradict what the science says and since 9/9/21 not make any response to the concerns you raised. Can someone convince me that this recipe is safe!!!
Hooskerdo October 3, 2021
do you pressure can?
Mary L. July 24, 2022
Hooskerdo, chances are good that your quart of tomatoes canned with only 1T of lemon juice will be OK. The prudent thing to do at this point is cook those tomatoes in a long-simmered sauce or braze. Doing so will ensure that any toxins that survived the water-bath process will be driven off. I have been canning tomatoes for years, and on occasion forget to add the lemon juice, especially at the first batch. I just mark those jars for a long-cook time. FYI, tomatoes are right on the edge of being acid enough for USDA-approved hot-water bath canning, thus the addition of lemon juice. If you're serious about canning tomatoes invest in a pressure canner. It's faster, safer, and you get to avoid the issues of dealing with a bringing giant pot of water to boil and keep it boiling for the appropriate length of time.
Anne Y. September 1, 2021
A few useful details: 1) be sure rims are clean, no drips from putting tomatoes in the jars, before putting on lids and bands; 2) Bands should be just hand tightened before the jar goes into the water bath; 3) If the jar has sealed properly, it will be concave/sunken after cooling. I've stopped canning and now cook the tomatoes down, skins and all, sometimes pureeing, sometimes not. Then freeze. No salt, lemon juice, sugar or seasonings. The tomatoes are always very sweet.
Deleted A. August 31, 2021
Instead of hot water canning, you can also vacuum seal your tomatoes after removing the skin in vacuum bags, and lay them flat in the freezer to freeze. They will keep like this for much longer than one year. I have done this many times, usually chopping the tomatoes in my food processor before freezing to ensure a nice flat package. You can also go a bit further and cook the tomatoes down to a sauce before vacuum sealing and freezing. No canning equipment required, no risk of opening a jar 9 months later only to discover it did not seal properly or that one that did appear to seal properly has been contaminated nonetheless. This also gives you the flexibility of sealing them in package sizes that are more convenient for you. As a single guy, I freeze them in various sizes that are appropriate to use for just a meal or two or just enough to make a batch of pizza sauce.
2tattered August 31, 2021
I have a FoodSaver, but how do I vacuum seal tomatoes that have so much moisture, or sauce?
carol S. August 31, 2021
I’ve just made a simple tomato bails sauce with the bounty of my garden, then put it in 24 oz plastic containers. They go into the freezer. I leave a bit of space up top. So far, I’ve not poisoned anyone!
Deleted A. August 31, 2021
I cut the bags according to the size I need and then fill them about halfway to capacity, maybe a bit more. Once you have done a few, you will know how your particular machine reacts to the amount you put in each bag, and you will be able to adjust the amount you put in each accordingly to ensure you do not overload and have liquid coming out the top, making for a bad seal. Foodsaver also sell bags with a liquid block integrated into them which prevents any liquid from reaching the sealing area, but I have never found the need to spend the extra money on those.

Once sealed, I lay them flat and smooth the contents out to fill the bag. Then I lay the bags on a small quarter size sheet pan and put them in the freezer to freeze, once solid, remove from the sheet pan and lay another on it. Freezing them flat like that makes them take much less space in the freezer and makes it very easy to attach a label with the contents, the amount and date.

I do this on a regular basis with spaghetti sauce, chili, pizza sauce, and any other cooked dishes with sauce, such as cabbage rolls or stew, as well as when I run a batch of tomatoes at the end of the summer.
Deleted A. August 31, 2021
That should be just fine for a few months, but longer than that, and you risk freezer burn which, while it will not affect the safety of the sauce, can change the flavour or texture once you thaw it out. When I freeze a sauce in containers, I will place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the sauce, directly in contact with it, removing as much air as possible before placing the top on the container. Use a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the rim of the container, and trim the extra away after you place the cover on. I have had excellent results with preventing any frost or freezer burn that way and have kept containers longer than 6 months without any detrimental effects.
2tattered August 31, 2021
Thank you - I’ll give it a try.
Earlene August 20, 2021
This works. B consider buying an electric canner from the Ball Company on line. We put ours out on the porch so the kitchen is cooler and I don’t need to worry about watching the rolling boil. Also important, add five minutes to processing per 1000 feet above sea level.
maria V. August 19, 2021
We’ve been canning tomatoes for generations in my family. We either do whole and/or purée. We do not add lemon, salt, nor sugar to them in the jars. We also boil the jars with the water straight away, we do not put them in after the water boils. Slight differences but the outcome is amazing when your looking for a taste of summer in the dead of winter!
[email protected] August 14, 2021
Raw packed tomatoes need to be processed for 85 minutes.
susi September 7, 2020
great recipe, one thing to mention, as I've never before peeled a tomato. Boil for thirty seconds to one minute. I made soup with my first batch!
Martha P. August 22, 2020
Not happy that there is not a printer icon, I don’t want to print 12 pages either🤷‍♀️I like. the process!!
Myo Q. April 5, 2021
Hi! The. printer icon is right under the image of the canned tomatoes.
Kim July 25, 2020
can you add a garlic pod in canned tomatoes? I am new to canning and just curious.
susi September 7, 2020
more common to add basil leaves
Nancy August 20, 2021
I’ve added garlic and or jalapeños or basil
Lorraine August 24, 2018
I have been making these tomatoes for the last couple of years. They are consistently excellent. I like to add a Tbs of Herbs de Provence and a sprig of fresh basil for interest. Thanks. Grandma certainly knew how to can!
Joleen L. July 16, 2018
You don't add any liquid in the jars? All the other recipes I have add water or a water brine after you fill the jars. Did that step get left out, or do I process these jars with just the tomatoes and the lemon and salt?
Gyee September 14, 2019
I know this message is over a year ago, but it should be addressed for people using this recipe. You don't need to add any additional water, you pretty much pack the jars with as many tomatoes as you can, so the juices will flow. In fact we often remove juice to get more tomatoes in.

Also, another tip is to remove the seed from your tomatoes. After we peel, we run our fingers through each cavity to get out about 80% of the seeds. The reason, this is what becomes bitter, and when removed your canned tomatoes tend to be sweeter.
Heavenly65 May 19, 2020
Are Roma tomatoes better since they have no seeds
Droplet May 22, 2011
Hi Kelsey,we also can tomatoes every August and we also add about 1/2 tsp sugar per quart jar. It doesn't really affect the taste since I still need to add some when making pasta sauce to mellow the acidity, but my dad insists that it is an extra way to ensure preservation since sugar, too, is a preserver.
jpriddy August 31, 2021
I laughed when I saw the kicker comment about "just three ingredients" because you'd never actually need more than one for canned tomatoes: tomatoes. I assumed the recipe added lemon and salt. Lemon is sometimes added to ensure enough acidity to preserve the fruit. If you want sweeter, add when you use the canned fruit.

I have canned since childhood (68 now)—tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomatoes and other veg, not to mention peaches, pears, etc. Dozens of jams and chutneys and marmalade, cordial and so forth. Simple is best.
Kelsey B. August 24, 2009
Thanks for the comments. We've always used fresh lemon juice but I am sure RealLemon is a great idea and would work beautifully! Thanks for the tip!
MrsWheelbarrow August 23, 2009
Hi Kelsey, I can a lot of tomatoes, too, and from what I understand, the USDA now recommends using RealLemon (or something like it) juice instead of fresh lemon juice, in order to assure the acidity is sufficient for safety. Just my two cents! Cheers, Cathy
Gyee September 14, 2019
This is absolutely correct, they are finding that due to fresh lemons not being consistent in acidity, it's best for bottled lemon juice, which is more constant.
Emmett D. October 1, 2019
And the bottled lemon juice requirement has doubled to 2 tablespoons per quart for the same reason - the large variation in acidity of modern tomato varieties.
jpriddy August 31, 2021
Yes, the modern tomatoes are often too bland and sweet. (hint: do not add sugar.) Know your tomatoes.
2tattered August 31, 2021
I use powdered citric acid - 1/4 tsp per pint.
April August 31, 2021
Ijpriddy, You are right about those sweet tomatoes. I only grow the old timey ones with lots of acid and would never dream of adding lemon juice. Tomatoes and salt only. I also freeze them if I get too busy, and they are awesome, especially in February.
2tattered August 31, 2021
And the jars should be hot when they are lowered into the hot water in the canner.
2tattered August 31, 2021
Because the jars process for longer than 10 minutes they do not need to be sterilized before filling them, but they do need to be HOT. I keep them in the simmering water in the canner, and take them out one at a time to fill them, then put them right back in.