One of the first things I canned by myself was tomatoes. And I can vividly remember my mom canning tomatoes and tomato juice when I was little.
I buy at least a half a bushel every year to put up, either canning them in halves, as salsa or soup. We love tomatoes, and this helps spread summer crops throughout the year. This year, I lucked out. My in-laws bought a bushel and shared with me. If you want to see me get giddy, give me some produce to put up!
The last couple years, I have canned tomatoes in my beautiful yet functional Weck jars. Not only are they pretty to look at, they’re very practical too. The common two-piece ring and lids mostly by Ball and Kerr are just about fool proof. But those lids are lined with BPA. (Although both Ball and Kerr recently began offering bpa-free lids.)
At first, I was a little apprehensive about canning with Weck jars because i was used to the process using Ball lids. But after doing it for the last two years, I’m comfortable with it now. The more I understand about canning and the why and how it works, the more confident I am in the process.
This post is by no means a substitute to a reputable source for canning such as the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or the Ball Blue Book. I just wanted to show you some pictures of the process, not a comprehensive set of instructions. I consult both of those sources regularly, and you should too. It is imperative to follow canning instructions to a T and not deviate from the recipe or recommended times for processing.
Canning tomatoes is usually a time consuming process because you have to peel them. This year, I set up a little assembly line and got everything in place, which made it go much more quickly. The easiest way to peel tomatoes is to cut an “x” in the bottom of the tomato and drop them into a pot of boiling water for half a minute or so, then put them into an ice bath. The skin will crack and in most cases, slip right off. I save the skins and cores in a gallon-size freezer bag with other vegetable scraps like carrot peelings, onion cores, and celery leaves to make vegetable stock. Once I get a full bag, I make a batch of stock.
You should also wash your jars in hot, soapy water, and closely inspect them for cracks or chips. A chipped rim will not seal properly and a cracked jar can burst in the canner, making a huge mess.
Fill the jars and make sure there are no air bubbles in them. Safe canning depends on the air to liquid ratio in the jar, and air bubbles can affect this. Since tomatoes are right on the border of low-acid food, you must add some acid to each jar if you want to can them in a hot water bath. Most people add a little bit of lemon juice, but you can also use citric acid, which I happen to have leftover from a failed cheesemaking run. I added 1/4 tsp of citric acid to each jar. I had to add only a little bit of boiling water to each jar to bring the liquid in each jar up to the proper level of headspace.
Put the jars carefully in the canner. It’s a little more tricky with the Weck jars than with regular two-piece Ball lids because of the clips on the Weck jars. Make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch and a half or two inches of water. Start the timer for the recommended process time AFTER the canner has begun a rolling boil again. It is important to try and match the temperature of what you’re canning to the temperature of the water to make sure the contents of the jar reach the proper temperature to kill any nasties. For example, if you are going to cold pack your jars, you want to place the jars in cold water in the canner and bring the whole shebang up to a boil at the same time. If you are putting hot ingredients in the jars, you want to place them in hot water in the canner, so that the water and the contents reach a boil at the same time.
Aren’t these beautiful? It’s normal for some of the liquid to seep out in the canning process, but it shouldn’t be too significant. Once you remove them from the canner, you should sit them some place they can cool completely over 24 hours or so. Sometimes this is really hard for me since I don’t have a lot of counterspace. I’ll usually let them cool on the counter for an hour or so and then move them to the dining room table to finish cooling.
When I first began using these Weck jars, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to tell if they sealed since you don’t have the “ping” you get when Ball two-piece lids seal. The “tongue” of the Weck rubber seals should be pointing down if the jars sealed properly.
And you can very carefully pick up each jar by the lid to see if it comes lose. Weck jars work the same way Ball lids do, by creating a vacuum that holds the lid on the jar to create an air-tight seal. I realize this was dumb to do over my GLASS TOP dining room table. I could have very easily been replacing a plate of glass when a quart of tomatoes went through it.
I used to only can pints of tomatoes, since many recipes call for a 14-ounce can of tomatoes. But I started canning some quarts too, which are nice for a pot of chili or soup that would take a couple cans of tomatoes.
The half bushel that my mother-in-law sent me yielded six quarts and nine pints, and handful leftover. I might have enough left to make a batch of salsa. At any rate, I have enough tomatoes put up to last me until next summer.
Canning is super easy once you get the hang of it. I took a class offered by the WVU Extension service a few years back, but my best teacher was my mom, who learned to can from her mom.
The easiest thing to can is probably pickles, so if you want to jump into canning, I would start with that. I cannot stress enough to follow the directions from a reputable source. This ensures you get the jars to the proper temperature and the contents contain enough acid to kill any bacteria that could make people sick. If you follow the directions, there’s nothing to be scared of. Once you get comfortable canning, the possibilities are practically endless. And you’ll always have something to do with it in case someone gifts you a pile of produce.