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How to Can Whole Tomatoes

44 quarts of whole tomatoes and 18 quarts of Bloody Mary mix later, I’m trying to remember how we got ourselves into this.

I think the conversation went something like this…

Lindsay: How many pounds of tomatoes should we do this year?

Erik: Hmmm…how many did we do last year?

Lindsay: About 30.

Erik: Well, we need to at least twice that many!

Please note that Erik was living it up in the Hamptons with some college friends the weekend that I did tomatoes last year, so he has no idea of what he’s getting himself into. Also note that I didn’t argue.

Lindsay: OK, so we should do 60 pounds. Do you think Brian and Mary (friends who recently started canning) want some, too?

Erik: Yeah! And we should do it at their house because they have a nice big suburban kitchen.

Lindsay: Swell! 120 pounds it is then!

A few months later…

Jimmy from Northshire Farm: The only way to can tomatoes is on one of those camp stoves with a high BTU.

Erik: Whoa! That makes it kind of like grilling! Let’s get one.

A few weeks later on canning day…

Nice lady at Cherry Lane Farms: Here, let me fill up these boxes for you, so that you have five 30 pound boxes instead of five 25 pound boxes.

And the rest is history…

Lessons learned:

  • Although some recipes say to boil the tomatoes for one minute before peeling, our tomatoes were stubborn and required two minutes. I would personally rather have a slightly overcooked tomato than battle with tomato peels.
  • You can not possibly have enough bowls. Next year, I think we’ll buy some of those big plastic bins that people use to store stuff in the garage. A big tub for each step, rather than piling slippery tomatoes into every bowl, brownie pan, and pie tin we could find.

  • Camp stoves are awesome!! It was so nice to do our work outside in the nice breeze. Plus, they’re much more powerful than the kitchen stove and heated the water up in no time.

  • Save the peels and cores!! We got 17 quarts of Bloody Mary mix out of them…totally free. We’ll try to get the recipe up here soon.
  • If you’re canning outside, either start before lunch or have a light source other than the sun. The lanterns helped and it was kind of cool and witchy standing over a steaming pot in the dark, but I definitely burned myself once or twice because I couldn’t really see what I was doing.

  • Many hands make light work. This year was much more fun than last year. Thanks, Brian, Mary, Kevin, and Ellie!!!

Whole Tomatoes
Yield: About 7 quarts

Amount Ingredient Preparation Where we bought it
(* Union Sq. Greenmarket)
20-25 pounds San Marzano or Roma tomatoes Washed; discard any bruised or damaged Cherry Lane Farms
About 2 cups Lemon juice Bottled is best


  1. Boil a big pot of water.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, cut a small X into the bottom (i.e. not the stem end) of each tomato. If the water starts boiling before you’re done with all the tomatoes, move on to the next step and come back to the X-ing while each batch is boiling.

  3. Once the water is boiling, fill a large bowl with ice water. Don’t fill it to the brim – you need room for some tomatoes.
  4. Drop a batch of tomatoes into the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. The size of your batch will depend on the size of your pot. The tomatoes should be able to circulate around. When I do this at home in my Dutch oven, I only do 5 or 6 at a time. When we did it outside, I used my friend’s canning pot, so there was room for 20 or so.

  5. Once the 2 minutes are up, fish the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and drop them into the ice water.
  6. Now it’s time to make a decision. If you have a friend around or can press a loved one into service, have them start peeling (next step). Otherwise, repeat the steps above until all the tomatoes are boiled.
  7. After the boiled tomatoes are cool enough to handle, cut the stem end out of the tomato and peel all the skin off. The stem end should come out like a little cone. Take a look inside and see if anything looks bad. If so, cut it out or toss the tomato. Sometimes the skin will fight you, but it should come off pretty easily.

  8. When you need a break from peeling, get your canning gear ready. (Steps 3 and 4)

  9. Once the tomatoes are peeled and the jars are warm and ready, get your big pot back out and put a layer or two of peeled tomatoes in it. Cover them by about an inch of water. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Don’t rush this part! The tomatoes need to be thoroughly heated to be safely canned. Yep, it’s pretty frustrating. My biggest pot only holds enough for 2 or 3 quarts, so I either have to cram another pot on my stove or take twice as long to fill my canner. I’d recommend the two pot approach, if you have a choice.
  10. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to each quart jar. This is important, because the acidity of tomatoes can vary. They’re probably acidic enough to can without the lemon juice, but why mess around? We couldn’t taste the lemon juice at all in last year’s batch.
  11. Pack the hot tomatoes into the warm jars with a slotted spoon leaving a generous 1/2 inch headspace (Steps 7 through 9). Don’t be afraid to squish them. They’ll shrink more as they’re processed. Add enough of the cooking liquid to cover, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Don’t forget to bubble your jars!

  12. Wipe the rims, seal, and process for 45 minutes. (Steps 10 and onward)

  13. Sit down and admire your hard work.

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