How to Can Tomatoes (Without A Canner)


Have you wondered about canning, but then been overwhelmed by all the stuff it seems to require and crazy little details you are worried you might get wrong? I feel you. Please allow me to show you how to can tomatoes, without a canner, in the simplest way possible. So maybe you have a garden full of these babies…

Or maybe not. Either way, I would like you to give canning some fresh tomatoes a try this year. Because it’s easy and so very rewarding, but mostly because everyone knows that out-of-season tomatoes (while still full of healthy lycopene and therefore worthwhile to eat) are bland, sad, oddly-textured shadows of their ripe summer selves. Industrial tomatoes in general have almost no similarity to a fresh tomato in texture, flavor, and even appearance. Look at these guys from my backyard – they’re soft and lumpy, with lots of funny crags and edges and places I cut off because a worm was in there. My husband even asked me “what’s wrong with them?” Dude, this is what a real tomato looks like!

A tomato like this doesn’t make it to the store, simply because we don’t buy it – we choose an unblemished veggie every time (myself included, it’s just habit), so we end up with a tomato that has made it through a cross country truck ride without a bruise – that’s a hard tomato! It may surprise you to know that tomato was usually picked while still green, then artifically ripened with ethylene gas. Eew! Oh geez, I could go on, I’ll stop, I just find it so interesting. Anyway, I totally buy these tomatoes too, but this year let’s try something new. If you don’t have a plant, you can still go to the farmers market or co-op or organic food store and gather some fresh summer tomatoes and put them away for a rainy or snowy day. Let’s can them so we are fortified for winter deliciousness.

Canning tomatoes is a wonderful first canning project as it is simple and it doesn’t require a pressure canner or even a water bath canner. Let me show you how to can tomatoes without a canner after the jump. If you’re looking for something to make right now with your fresh tomatoes, check this out: How to Make Tomato Soup from Fresh Tomatoes. So easy, so yummy.


First, pick!

I canned roma tomatoes (they are the best for canning) and this variety which is some kind of beefsteak I can’t recall. They are HUGE, averaging 9″ in diameter. Yum.

Also get lemon juice. Fresh squeezed is always great, but the bottled variety works too. You don’t need any other ingredients.

You’ll need mason jars and lids. I had pint and liter jars.

And some sparkly nail polish.

Wait no, you don’t need that. But it was Scarlet’s reward for not breaking anything at the narrow-aisled, over-packed fragile-zone that is my local kitchen supply shop that also conveniently sells nail polish.

Now get out your big big stock pot (or canner if you have one). Two stockpots are even better if you have them. And a little pot. Start some water boiling in them as soon as you get ’em out.

And you’ll need jar lifters. There’s really no other safe way to lift the jars without burning yourself.

Some mason jars have lids that separate from the rings, some just have regular old lids. Put the lid (no need to add the ring) in boiling water for 3-5 minutes to sterilize. Leave them in the pot with the lid on until you’re ready to use them.

Theoretically you don’t need to sterilize the jars, because they will sterilize during the canning process, but I do it anyway. You can boil them (put them in the water while it’s cold, then boil so they don’t break) or you can just run them through the dishwasher with no soap. Leave them in there until you need them and time it so they are still warm when you add the tomatoes to them.

So I am going to can them whole for two reasons. One, this allows me to use them for whatever I want to make this winter – I can just dice or crush when I open the jar. 2 – it’s easier to can them whole. The pectin in the tomatoes does chemical stuff to their texture once you start messing with them. I don’t have a chemistry degree to explain it well, but suffice it to say this recipe is only for whole tomatoes – if you want to crush or finely dice them before canning, it would have to be handled a little differently to ensure the texture is right. So I’ll show you how to can whole tomatoes, starting with my romas.

Peeling tomatoes is a breeze. Boil your pot of water and next to it place a big bowl with cold water and ice. Wash your tomatoes, just to get dirt off, don’t go nuts with it cause you’re going to peel them anyway.

Remove the stem. On the bottom, score the tomatoes with an X.

For my super giant tomatoes, I actually used an apple corer, this made it easy!

Boil for a minute (the larger ones took slighty longer, two minutes max)

Remove with a slotted spoon to the ice bath for a few seconds. See how the skins are starting to fall off?

They are split for you.

So just gently wipe/tug them off.

Easy as pie.

Get your giant pot/s boiling again with clean water ASAP.

Place the tomatoes in your warm jars up to 1/2 an inch below the rim.

Give them a squish with a spoon to compact.

Big tomatoes I quartered to fit. Before smoosh:

After smoosh:

Add more tomatoes to within 1/2″ of the top.

Now add lemon juice. They need the extra acidity to keep. For the pints add a tablespoon, for the liters/quarts add 2 tablespoons.

Run your spoon around the edge to loosen up any bubbles and bring them to the surface. If you need to, add boiled water to fill the jars within 1/2″ of the rim.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel to remove any tomato, juice, or anything else on there. Anything left on the rim could spoil your tomatoes. Place the lid on top, and screw the rings in place.

Or just wipe and screw the lid on if you have plain lids.

Ready for canning!

You’ll notice the seal on the lid is up, you can push it up and down with your finger. Now we need to process the jars so they are safe to store for up to a year. When we are done, the lid will suck in and we will know they sealed correctly. Then when you go to eat them later, if the seal is popped – toss those babies. It’s a sign bacteria are growing in there and releasing gasses.

We don’t want the jars rattling against each other in our pot and we want some water to get under the jars while they process. You can add a rack if you have one, or use a canner which has an insert for this purpose, but I use a kitchen towel and it works great. You don’t need to put it in until after the water, I just wanted to show you…

So place your still-warm jars in the heating water. Submerge the jars entirely with water 2-3″ above the lids and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, remove the lid of the pot and start your timer for 85 minutes. 85 minutes is processing time between 0-1000 ft altitude. If you are at a higher altitude you will need to increase processing time, see these USDA guidelines for canning tomatoes for processing time at different altitudes. If you hear any jars rattling against each other, add a kitchen towel in between. Check periodically to see that the water level is still above the tops of the jars and add water if necessary.

Remove the jars after 85 minutes (or your increased processing time if you are at higher altitudes) using your jar lifter. Place them somewhere no one will bump or touch them and let them sit to cool, overnight is good. You may hear hissing when you take them out of the water – that’s totally fine. The jars’ seals will still be up at this point, they will suck in as the jars cool.

The next morning, check your jars. Are the seals down? Any leaks? If not, you’re all clear. If you still hear hissing, have jars with the lids still up, or see any leaks, stick them in the refrigerator and use them within a couple of days. Do not try to can them again. If you want to be extra sure your jars are sealed, you can remove the ring from the jar and hold the jar by the lid and it should stay on. You can even reuse the rings and store the jars without rings.

Lady! You just canned your own tomatoes! How good do you feel?

I had planned to give these all away as gifts, but now I feel strangely hoard-y about them. Like I don’t even want to use them. I want the be sure I have them on hand for thanksgiving and christmas. But I should make some cute labels and bring them as hostess gifts, how lovely would that be?

Think you might give canning tomatoes without a canner a shot?

If you’re looking for something to make right now with your fresh tomatoes, check this out: How to Make Tomato Soup from Fresh Tomatoes. So easy, so yummy.

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170 Comments

Kenneth

Thanks so much for sharing your method. My wife took a tomato slice, put dirt in a pie pan, set the tomato on it and covered it with more dirt. We kept the soil moist for the duration. Over 40 plants came up. I couldnt believe that a cold storage tomato would perform like it did. Try it!

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Wendy Tremblay

This was so helpful! I was apprehensive to try to can , but was a breeze! Thank You!! Wendy

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Rhoda Rainey

Thanks for the easy method. I grew up in the country and helped in the garden and with the canning but I was so young and that was 30 yrs ago. I don’t have a single family member who cans anymore.

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Teresa J

I love your instructions and explanations sprinkled with a sense of humor. I will definitely try your method. I wish ito wasn’t too dark for me to go out & pick more tomatoes from my garden like I should’ve earlier. Guess I have to wait til morning. It’ll be my day to open!

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Fran

If your jar, rings, lids, and tomatoes are all boiling…. can you just turn them upside down on a towel and let them seal? My mom did that for years when I was a girl… I am now 64 and I just canned 14 jars of juice, 12 jars of seasoned tomatoes and 10 jars of whole roma tomatoes this way… they are all sealed and doing good. Also, I never heard of the lemon juice thing… I did not do it to any of my jars.I have kept my jars for way over a year.

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Lynda

My pot is not big enough to cover jars with boiling water can I submerge my jars of tomatoes up side down in the water?

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Becky

Fran, The reason they say to use “bottled” lemon or lime juice or vinegar that has 5% Acidity is because the new hybrid tomatoes are less acidic than the tomatoes we grew when we were children helping our parents & grandparents. I’ve been told not to use fresh lemon or limes because the acid in the fresh fruit isntnt always consistent so you should use bottled lemon or limes so their acid strength is consistent with vinegar. Vinegar is cheaper to use. 1 Tablespoon for a pint, 2 Tablespoons for a quart. I never taste the vinegar. If I’m making salsa i use bottled lime juice & apple Cider Vinegar. No difference between white or Apple Cider Vinegar along as they say 5% acidity.

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Karen

My mom canned hundreds of jars of tomatoes like this every year. Brings back some pretty amazing childhood memories. My hands were small so I got to be in charge of washing out every jar beforehand. Gardening at our house was a family affair- our basement steps were lined with jars being processed before being put on the storage shelf. My mom would get so excited every time another jar would make a loud “pop” when it sealed. Thanks for your humor!!

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Robert Jacobson

Thanks for the post. I kept referring to it as I canned my first 12 quarts of tomatoes (2 jars at a time). The messes got smaller and easier to clean up as I progressed. Questions:
1) The farmers market where I got the tomatoes said adding lemon juice was a “matter of preference”. The neighbor who has been canning for years said the additional acid was necessary to prevent botulism. Your thoughts?
2) If I put them in hot water to remove the skins, does it remove the vitamins? The longer I boiled them the easier the skins came off. But am i boiling away vitamins also?
3) What happens when we can for the 85 minutes? Is it a matter of sterilizing everything? Or are we cooking the tomatoes?
4) If bacteria is releasing gasses that lift the lid, doesn’t that take a while to happen?
Thanks for a great post. It gave me confidence to can (and hoard) a dozen quarts of tomatoes for the first time.

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cathie

Cathie
Jamie, than you so much for all the work you’ve done. This guided me through the process without a hitch; they’re boiling now! Thank you again.

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Joan

My mother canned tomatoes in this manner for years, but did not boil them for 85 minutes, skipped that step completely. 30 quarts and all sealed fine

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Linda

Great post. Definitely going to try this method. My mom canned for years. I’m not sure if she used lemon juice or not. But, I believe it will be a good thing. Great website. was looking for mug cake recipes. LO’ & behold I found your site. So, great day after all.

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Doris Lovelady

In the process of making some.. Got them in the 85 min. stage. Fingers crossed!!! Easier than I thought it would be using your method.. Thanks for posting this… I have pinned this to my page..☺

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Diann W.

I have canned my tomatoes and realized that I forgot the lemon juice. What do I do? Do I just have to use them right away?

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Mia

My Italian mom never put lemon juice in her canned tomatoes. If you processed properly then they are fine!

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Fern

Can boiling hot sauce be poured into hot sterilized jars,capped with hot sterilized lids and screwed down without further processing?

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Corwin

I have been canning with my Sicilian grandfather since I was 5,i am 47 now and he has left us a few years ago. I keep his tradition going. But we can slightly different than this step by step but we also make puree and not whole tomatoes so I would like to get some opinions. We clean and heat the jars in the dishwasher before we fill them. We also do a very hot water bath for the tomatos to clean them. Then we cut them in 1/4’s to make sure there aren’t bad ones. We do a first boil to soften them. Then we use a electric grinder to make a puree. We take that pot and reboil it a second time. It has a spigot that we use to fill the warm sometimes hot jars very quickly while the pot is on a slow boil. We then transfer the jars to a table and line them up so each one keeps the others hot for longer periods of time and we also cover them with heavy blankets to keep the heat in. They are all filled within 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the rim. We leave them for several hours to cool.

We don’t use lemon juice either. Just a small leaf of basil in each jar.

Now in 40+ years I have had a few jars lose seal and of course we toss them. But I have never Boiled the jars after I had put the tomatos in them since we are boiling them twice. I am curious to see if others have similar methods or experience.

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