Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canning Tomatoes for the First Time: Some Lessons Learned

Although we've now been canning, mostly successfully, for a few years, this year we've been taking on bigger projects.  First those pesky peaches and now 3 bushels of blasted tomatoes.

We shot this great time lapse video of our twelve hour day that certainly demonstrates the busy-ness but there's much it is not showing.  

Here we are first thing in the morning...

... and a tomato toast 12 hours later.

Here are our notes for next year:

1. Source your tomatoes early.  We bought one gorgeous organically grown bushel from Highmark Farms but should have ordered more.  By the time we figured out how much we actually needed, they were sold out and we were out of time. We ended up getting some lower quality ones from an Italian Grocer on the Danforth but they were a pain to work with and I probably should have headed straight for the food terminal.

2. Next year we'll grow more paste tomatoes.  We grew some Amish Paste, Romas and San Marzanos but not nearly enough.

3. We teamed up with our friend Catherine and foolishly believed that the three of us could handle two toddlers while processing these tomatoes.  
We had a plan.  I made home made play dough.  We rented movies.  But troublesome toddlers don't care for duplo towers with Ryan when they could be standing behind you when you are blanching tomatoes in boiling water.  Thanks goodness for Ergos.  Next year the toddlers will be banished to their grandparents. They added a significant amount of stress at random intervals.

4. Packing tomatoes in water is a crock. We tried a few different methods as this was our first attempt with tomatoes but this simply did not work and we even read the instructions. We ended up hot packing half tomatoes and it worked out beautifully. See lesson #6.

5. We really needed more people. Two couples would have made this much easier.  With 3 couples (and zero mobile babies) we could easily double our yield.

6. Next year we will do things in the reverse order.  I can't remember the reasoning but we packed half tomatoes and them made sauce.  If we had made sauce then packed tomatoes we would have let the sauce cook longer with less urgency and would have had tomato juice to top up the tomatoes. That said we have used all that delicious tomato juice to make bread, cook couscous and I think Andrew and Catherine are making ceasars right now.

7. We need those cool outdoor propane burners like Well Preserved have.  We have one burner on the BBQ that held the big canner and we kept the lids warm on the actual bbq.  The running back and forth to the kitchen was pretty intense.  We do have a sink and water outside and otherwise it was a pretty good set up, but we'd like to move more of it out side next year. The kitchen was trashed. We also need a bigger pot and like 6 more pairs of oven mitts.

That said, it really was a smashing success. We did a few things right, like preparing the day before, having multiple sets of tools and extra pots, and spending a beautiful September day out on the deck   We have a nice haul of tomatoes and sauce for both our families and we had a pretty great time and even got the babies bathed at the end of the day. Sigh.

Any other tips for us?   
How does your family make sauce and can tomatoes? 
Anything else we should know for next year?


  1. I hope to learn how to can someday. This is just fascinating to me! I love love love the time lapse...what a great idea to document the day.

  2. We needed a higher table for a work surface - my back is so sore I have had to book a massage for today. Oh poor me.

  3. Wow...looks great Laura! Canning always seems to be a learning experience until you've been doing it about 30 years!!

  4. You guys did awesome and I love the video! Next year will be super easy with all you have learned this year. It is really quite amazing you processed so much in one day (with kiddos). *stands and claps* Yay for you!

  5. I certainly don't have any tips for your, as I've never done this before myself, but I'm hoping to get a group together and do a big batch of tomato planning next season- so this is a lot of great insight to start our planning!

    And congratulations on your first tomato canning. So many beautiful jars!

  6. Love this, Laura! I'd be super ultra happy to join you in your canning next year. This is something I'd really like to know how to do!