Canning Tomatoes: 3 Recipes

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

This article and the accompanying recipes originally appeared in print in the Globe & Mail on September 5, 2009. I thought I’d repost it here today since the season is so ahead this year and my large, indeterminate tomato plants are on the verge of a first round of ripening. CAN NOT WAIT! If you’re in a warmer climate, you’re probably enjoying them already and wondering how to use up the extras that are quickly rotting in a bowl and breeding fruit flies on your kitchen counter.

Perhaps that was not the image I should have left you with. Now I am obsessing about my own bowl of small tomatoes and the fruit fly colony I am potentially raising as I write this.

[At which point I did get up to go inspect my bowl of fruit that was in fact housing one rotting tomato and a few fruit flies.]

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

The article below includes some brief canning instruction and three recipes: Gayla’s definitive green tomato chutney, Superior heirloom tomatoes, and Old-fashioned tomato ketchup.

If you’re itching to dive in further, I’ve included more detailed instructions in my book Grow Great Grub: Organic Food From Small Spaces, along with a few extra recipes.

The Ball and Bernardin (in Canada) books are highly regarded as the most popular tomes, but I have to admit that I find them a bit dull and have never made a single recipe from these books. I personally recommend Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone. Her writing is conversational and entertaining, and is written from the perspective of a New York apartment dweller with real-world ingredients and realistic, small-batch quantities. I do not have a copy nor have I read it, but someone brought a copy of Canning & Preserving with Ashley English to my spring canning class and on a quick flip-through it looked very thorough, inviting and engaging.

I’m practically writing another article here, but since I’m on the subject, there are three contemporary British canning books that I would also highly recommend: Jellies, Jams & Chutneys, Preserves (This is the copy I have but it is listing at $206!!), and Fruits of the Earth The recipes are a bit more unusual than the stuff I have found in American books, using ingredients and combinations I had never thought to try.



Given that canning is such a popular trend right now, it’s hardly surprising to find homespun preserves at upscale food boutiques for outrageous prices. Earlier this year, $10 pints of pickled beets in undistinguished glass jars on display in a gourmet shop had me amused if not actually laughing out loud.

Realistically, canning your own may not be as cheap as buying the mass-produced version, but one can definitely put up a handful of beets or, better still, brew up a batch of homegrown tomatoes or brag-worthy condiments for far less than 10 bucks a pop.

And there is just no comparison when it comes to taste.

Putting up food when it’s in season and at its freshest is like sealing the best parts of summer inside a jar to be rediscovered during the dark days of winter, when most produce is either bland or tastes like the can it came in. Sounds flowery, I know, but I have landed in a panic on more than one grim February day when my personal home-canned tomato reserve had fallen below the halfway mark. Every year I step it up just a little bit more, stashing boxes of jars underneath the couch and into any crevice of my tiny apartment to ensure that the colours and flavours of summer never stop.

Following are some tips for enjoying tomatoes — which are among the easiest, safest crops to experiment with — well into the coming months.

Canning 101

To get started, wash canning jars in hot, soapy water and rinse, then sterilize for 10 to 15 minutes in a canning pot (which is fitted with a rack) filled with boiling water. Keep the jars warm in the hot water until they are ready for filling. Heat the lids and screw bands in very hot water for five minutes but do not boil.

When they are ready, fill the jars with their contents, using a funnel to prevent spilling and leaving the headspace recommended by your recipe to ensure proper sealing. Headspace allows air to escape and expansion during the sealing process. Release any trapped air bubbles by running a plastic knife around the inside of the jar.

Once the jar is filled, wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth and lightly screw a pre-warmed lid and screw band in place. Submerge the jars in the canning pot with at least two inches of water above them, then cover the pot and bring to a boil (this is called the “boiling water bath”). Start your timer when the water begins to boil and process for the recommended amount of time. Once the time has elapsed, set the jars aside to cool and wait for the popping sound that indicates a seal.

Store the jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Do not use any jar that does not appear sealed or shows signs of spoilage.

The importance of being cautious

Putting up food may seem as old as the hills, but what worked for your great aunt Winnie way back when may not be so safe for you and yours today.

Times have changed and so has our food. Through the years, all sorts of new and different hybrid varieties have been created, many with a lower acid content than the sort used in Winnie’s day. We also don’t live like she did back then. Our houses are warmer and typically don’t include those cold pantries that kept food longer at a constant, almost refrigerated temperature.

So save those vintage canning pamphlets and cherished family recipes for posterity. And follow up-to-date directives and procedures published within the last decade or so.

Among the big perils to avoid are botulism and other bacterial nastiness. These thrive in a low-acid environment, so getting your feet wet by jarring up high-acid preserves like tomatoes, pickles and chutneys (see my recipe for green tomato chutney on this page) will embolden you to move on to trickier projects such as jams and jellies.

So step away from that bushel of beans. In fact, don’t even bother with regular vegetable canning unless you’ve got a pressure canner – there just isn’t enough acid content to make it safe otherwise.

If you’re just too chicken to go there period, you can still get the taste of pickles, chutneys and jellies by making small batches for the fridge to eat in a few weeks tops.

Gayla’s definitive green tomato chutney

Since the past summer’s wet chill means that most of us are in for a glut of unripe tomatoes at the end of the season, this recipe showing just how good tomatoes can be even when green is especially appropriate. Substitute it for relish on a sandwich or burger or get fancy with a dollop on crackers and cheese.


  • 2 pounds diced green tomatoes
  • ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  • 3 apples, chopped
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 finely minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small hot pepper, deseeded and finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt


Place all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until everything is cooked and the mixture has thickened. Stir regularly to keep it from burning in the pan.

Pour the chutney into hot, sterilized jars leaving half an inch of headspace and heat-process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Makes about 4 cups.

Superior heirloom tomatoes

Forget pickles and jams on your first go-around. Home-canned tomatoes can’t be beat, are wildly versatile and are economical to boot. I promise you won’t regret the effort.


  • 5 pounds heirloom tomatoes
  • Lemon juice (from the jar is best)


Make two, criss-cross slits in the bottom of each tomato. Loosen the skins of whole tomatoes by boiling in water for 45 seconds.

Immediately plunge the tomatoes into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. Slide the skins off and cut out the cores using a sharp paring knife. Set aside in a large bowl.

Fill sterilized pint-sized jars with the skinned tomatoes, leaving a ½ inch of headspace from the top. Crush the tomatoes by pushing them down into the jars with your fingers as you go.

Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar. If you prefer, you may also add a single basil leaf at this point, although I prefer to keep mine plain so that the tomatoes can be used in virtually anything.

Wipe and cap the jars and heat-process in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes.

Makes about 8 pint jars.

Old-fashioned tomato ketchup

Homemade ketchup is rich, full-bodied and infinitely better than the over-processed, corn syrup-laden commercial version.


  • 7 pounds tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups onion, chopped
  • 1 cup bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • Spice packet:

  • 12 whole cloves
  • 15 whole allspice
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns


Place chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Press through a food mill to make a smooth sauce.

To make the spice packet, cut a 5-inch square of cheesecloth, place the spices in the centre and tie closed with a piece of twine.

Return the sauce to the pot and add sugar, vinegar and the spice packet.

Simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes to an hour until the sauce has reduced down to the desired consistency. Stir often to prevent the bottom burning.

Remove from the heat and discard the spice packet. Ladle the thickened sauce into hot, sterilized jars leaving ½ inch headspace and heat-process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Makes about 3 pints.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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14 thoughts on “Canning Tomatoes: 3 Recipes

  1. Thanks for this! I have decided to spring for a pressure canner, because I’m so afraid I will kill everyone if I try and can my own, un-USDA-tested salsa recipe.

    Do you tend to use the canned heirlooms for anything in particular in the winter? Trying to decide if I should sauce/salsa all my tomatoes for canning, or leave some just as tomatoes.

  2. Jennah: I like a mix of both. Keeping some just plain means I can use them literally in any way one would use tomatoes. If we do too many jars of salsa and such we often have a few left over… while the plain tomatoes get used up.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing these recipes! We are way behind season here in Southern Oregon, so I’m tapping my finger waiting for all our tomatoes to turn red already. I generally roast the cherries, puree and freeze, but I want to test out canned tomatoes this year too! And homemade ketchup… hmmm, I may have to dabble in that as well. ;)

  4. does adding the bit of lemon juice to your tomatoes mean that you don’t have to use the pressure cooker? i’m kind of freaking out by the p. cooker and don’t have enough freezer space for all my romas.

  5. I just got Ashley English’s book and it a well written, enjoyable read.

    Thanks for the canned tomato recipe – I’ll be making that one for sure!

  6. I should try again sometime in the distant future, the right way. Last year, after many hours of traveling to the vineyard, picking, cooking, canning, many jars of concord grape preserves got moldy. I cried. The memory is too recent.

  7. Ciao Gayla-

    It’s now my turn to say ‘perfect timing’. I like to do my canning on weekends when the electricity rates are lowest, so this morning, I got my large bowls of large red pastes down to a dull roar by canning 4 1.5L jars of them with a sprig of giant-leafed Napolitano Basil in the bottom. Right now, I’ve got a pot of Annie and Kalman’s Hungarian Pink puree cooking down for tomato paste. Before I puree, I cook the quartered tomatoes with the skins on mixed with diced carrot, onion, celery, garlic, fresh basil and fresh oregano just until everything’s soft, about a half hour. I let that cool completely before running it through the food mill. This was a 2 day process with me making the puree ahead of time so I didn’t have all of that prep to do on the same day I do the canning.

  8. Shylo: Yes. Adding the lemon juice provides enough acidity for water bath canning.

    Tess: I’m sorry. Losing so much work is a big disappointment. I hope you have the heart to try again someday when it’s a more distant memory.

  9. Hi! A question – what kind of apples for the chutney? I am figuring something that would be a good “cooking” apple – Granny Smiths, or something like that. What do you use?

  10. Maggie: I can’t say which apples I have used in the past since I buy so many from the Farmers’ Market in the fall… and all different types. I don’t keep track. But a cooking apple would be best.

  11. I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (, a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!

  12. Hi Gayla, I’ve been reading your blog for the first time and am full of admiration. I will be back regularly now I’ve found you. Then to my absolute delight I see you have mentioned my book, Fruits of the Earth. I am so knocked out, thanks for that. Since I wrote the book I have become a canning obsessive and am gathering material for another book now. Here in the UK canning isn’t such a big deal as in Canada / US and I’m hoping to encourage others to become interested. Keep up the brilliant work. You images are beautiful. Gloria

  13. Thank you for these recipes!!!!!!!!!!!! I now have 4 pints of ketchup and 5 pints of tomatoes put up for the winter! It’s so exciting harvesting and preserving food that I grew on my small city lot…some of it in the front yard. (Lawn be gone!) Salsa is next.

    Just a note about the ketchup, I had to boil mine down for a few extra hours to get it to thicken…must have been the juicy tomatoes.

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