Here’s a situation many gardeners can relate to: Before the snow fully melts in those early months of spring, you place a dozen or more tomato seeds in little pots and place them under a window. This is an old green thumb’s trick to get the maximum amount of growing time for your tomato plants.

Once they’re in your garden, you watch the plants grow with pride, and note how plump and delicious your tomatoes are. Then the harvest begins. Pretty soon you have far too many tomatoes and you start giving them away to your friends and family.

It’s easy to end up with too many tomatoes, so this year, instead of giving them away — or worse, letting them go to waste — why not try canning them?

Tomatoes are one of the easiest foods to can and are a perfect introduction to a hobby that is becoming increasingly popular in our DIY culture. What’s more, when it comes to canning, there’s a whole lot you can do with tomatoes, from making sauces to soups and more.

Basic equipment

In a previous blog we talked about the two most common ways to can food: The water bath method and the slightly more complicated pressure canning method. Fortunately, for the first-time canner, tomatoes have a high level of acidity, so they can be canned using the water bath method.

To get started, you’ll need a few basic tools, but nothing too expensive or fancy. In fact, the entire method is remarkably simple. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A case of Ball mason jars. These come in a variety of sizes, so pick the ones that will work best for you.
  • A kettle that is large enough to hold the mason jars as well as an additional 2 inches of water covering them. Look for the kettles that come with a jar rack, an essential tool for retrieving jars.
  • For everything else, this 5-Piece Canning Tool Set includes a magnetic and regular jar lifter, a funnel, a jar wrench and a non-metallic bubble freer, which is what canners call a spatula.

The process

  • Prepare the tomatoes by peeling them. To do this, dip them in boiling water until their skin splits, then transfer them to a vat of cold water and let them cool to the point you can slip the skin right off. Afterwards, cut the stem out as well.
  • Sterilize the jars. Fill the kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Place each of the jars in the boiling water for ten minutes. This will sterilize them.
  • Fill the jars with the peeled and quartered tomatoes. Add 1–2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the can.
  • Place the lids of the jars in a shallow pan filled with water and boil them for 10 minutes. Securely tighten lids to the jars.
  • Place the jars in the boiling water. Make sure they are covered by 2 inches of water.
  • Cover and let boil for 35 minutes for pint-sized jars or 45 minutes for quarts.
  • Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and let sit until they are cool.

Other foods to make with tomatoes

One of the most delicious things to can is homemade salsa. Everyone will have their own recipe, but if you’re looking for an easy way to get started, here’s a list of ingredients you’ll need to make approximately 8 pints.

  • 15-20 tomatoes
  • 1 pound of onions
  • 2-3 bell peppers, any color
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • A dash of salt
  • 2 tablespoons pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  1. Prepare the tomatoes in the same way as you did above, then dice them into small cubes.
  2. Chop the onions, bell peppers, jalapenos and chili pepper to your preferred coarseness. Mix them together in a bowl with the tomatoes.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mix.
  4. Now that you have the salsa mix, put it in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, and after 15 minutes, take it off the heat.
  5. Make sure the lids and the jars are prepared in the way outlined above. Fill each jar 3/4 of the way full with the salsa mixture, then cap it off with the lid.
  6. Can the jars of salsa just like you would above.

As we said, this is just a basic salsa. If you want more heat, add more peppers; if you want something more refreshing, try peach or pineapple salsa.

Pasta sauce

One of the other most popular tomato-based foods to can is pasta sauce.

Like salsa, everyone has their favorite recipe for homemade pasta sauce, and if you’ve never tried to make your own, then canning is a great excuse to get started.

The main ingredient is, of course, tomatoes, and lots of them. Prepare them the same way as described above: peeled, de-stemmed and diced. From here you simply boil the tomatoes in a large pot, crushing them as you go along.

This process of boiling down the tomatoes into a sauce can take three or more hours, depending on the consistency you want to achieve. This is also the point where the tricky part comes in. You need to add spices to the mixture, but which ones and how many is a contentious question. For those just starting their tomato sauce adventures, we recommend Mrs. Wages Pasta Sauce Mix, which comes with all the spices you need to can small batches of pasta sauce.

When it comes to canning tomatoes, there are hundreds of other recipes for dishes like tomato soup, stewed tomatoes and delicious beef stews that make thoughtful gifts and incredible meals. The options are endless, so dive in and put those good tomatoes to use and reduce your waste this growing season!