I did some research online about various tomato-based recipes such as salsa and spaghetti sauce, but in the end I decided to stick with the basics: tomato sauce and whole (skinned) tomatoes. This way, I can add spices or other ingredients at the time of cooking, which makes the canned tomatoes and sauce more versatile. Also, the addition of different ingredients can change the canning process, because the acidity of the food changes. So while I'm able to can tomatoes with a water bath canner, I'd have to be careful about adding peppers, onions and spices for a salsa, because if the acidity changes too much then I'd need to use a pressure canner.
The resource I used the most was the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. This online guide covers everything a beginning canner needs to know for putting up fruits, veggies, meats, pickled products, jams and jellies. There is a whole chapter devoted to tomatoes and tomato products, including some salsa and spaghetti recipes that are acceptable for water bath canning, but I still decided to stick with basic tomatoes for my first attempt.
|This is a little over half of the tomatoes I started with.|
First, all the tomatoes had to be washed. I used a small amount of dish detergent in water when washing them, to remove any pesticides. I then rinsed them especially well to remove any residue from the detergent.
Next, the tomatoes were placed in a pot of almost-boiling water for about a minute, until the skins began to split.
We then took them out of the hot water and put them immediately into cold tap water. This makes the tomatoes easy to peel.
At the same time, we had another pot on the stove with boiling water in it. Once the tomatoes were ready, we would place a canning jar in the boiling water to heat for a few minutes, then remove it, add two tablespoons of lemon juice (for added acidity), and then fill the jar with tomatoes, leaving a quarter-inch of headspace as the guide directed.
The lids and rings were also soaking in warm (not boiling) water, to warm up the seals on the lids which helps them seal better. Once a jar was filled, we used a bubble remover to release any trapped air, then wiped off the rim and threads of the jar, placed the lid squarely on top, and then finger-tightened the ring over the lid.
The whole tomatoes were handled similarly, just omitting the blender step, and leaving a half-inch of headspace as directed by the guide.
|This is similar to what we used.|
|Tomato sauce cooling.|
Once all the jars were finished, it was difficult to tell the difference between the whole tomatoes and the tomato sauce by just looking at them. So after they cooled down, I dated them and wrote on the lids what the contents were. Then before storing them, I removed the rings so I would have them for the next canning session.
Overall it was a good experience. I'm glad my mom was there to help me, because she's done it before. I got a little stressy a couple of times, but mostly I enjoyed the process. It took us most of the day to put up 12 quarts and 9 pints, but almost 4 hours was spent waiting for stuff to process in the canner. Maybe someone with more experience could do it more quickly, but I'm still proud of us.