Grandma's Canned Tomatoes

August 19, 2009
10 Ratings
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 instructions and made an entire canning booklet for him (pictured above) when he moved out. I've been helping Dad with his canning since I was little and to this day we always set aside a few August days to preserve the bounty of summer. Our canned tomatoes are one of my favorites because I use them all winter long. They are great for making sauces, soups and spreads. Canning can be a little labor intensive, but the result is well worth it. —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 again. 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.

All you’ll need is: 3 pounds of tomatoes for each quart you want to make (this recipe calls for 12 pounds tomatoes total); kosher salt; lemon juice (fellow F52ers have also usedRealLemon); and sterilized canning jars and lids (making sure these are squeaky-clean is key). Marisa McClellan for The Kitchn recommends looking for 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, Jersey Giant, and more. If you’re sourcing your tomatoes directly from a farm, you can always ask the farmer for their recommendation—they might just delight you with a lesser-known varietal.

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

  • Prep time 5 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 4 quarts
  • 12 pounds tomatoes*
  • 4 teaspoons Kosher salt (1 t. per quart)
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice (1 T. per quart)
  • 4 Sterilized quart jars with lids and rims
In This Recipe
  1. To peel tomatoes, place all tomatoes in boiling water. When skins begin to retract remove them from the water and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking and loosen the skins. Peel the tomato skins off and cut out the stem. Press peeled and cored tomato firmly into prepared jar. Fill each jar until there is only 1/2 inch air remaining at the top.
  2. Once jars are prepared add 1 t. Kosher salt per quart, and 1 T. lemon juice per quart. Place lids and rims on jars and tighten.
  3. Prepare a large boiling water bath in a stockpot or lobster pot. Make sure water is deep enough that it will completely cover the jars. Once water has come to a boil arrange jars on a wire jar rack and lower into water. Allow quarts to process in the water bath for 45 minutes.
  4. When processing is complete, remove the rack of jars and place on a heatproof surface. Cover jars with a dishtowel and allow them to sit for a few hours at room temperature to cool.
  5. *Note: the rule of thumb is to order 3lb tomatoes for each quart you want to make. We usually pre-order our tomatoes from a local farm and find that one large bushel will yield about 16-18 quarts. You want to use a meaty tomato variety, they work best. We've used several different ones and always find that the farmers we work with can give us great recommendations as to which ones to use that year.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lorraine
  • Joleen L. Saltz Whelchel
    Joleen L. Saltz Whelchel
  • Droplet
  • Kelsey Banfield
    Kelsey Banfield
  • MrsWheelbarrow
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.

    13 Reviews

    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!!
    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
    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.
    Author Comment
    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.