How to Bottle Tomatoes
Some time ago I came across an article entitled “The Seven Foods that Experts Won’t Eat” that both confirmed suspicions but opened my eyes to a new food danger: tinned tomatoes. The problem lies with Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is a chemical component of plastic lining found in a variety of food packaging but especially in tin food cans. In non-acidic environments it pretty much stays where it’s supposed to (or so they say) but when it’s exposed to acids, such as tomatoes, it breaks from the lining and makes its way into your meals. In your body BPA imitates your body’s hormones which can cause issues ranging from reproductive difficulties to heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
After reading that article I decided to never again buy tomato products in cans and instead look for their equivalent in glass jars. We didn’t go so far as to throw our current inventory of tinned tomatoes out but after they were gone they were gone. Since then I haven’t made a single batch of one of my favourite recipes – a 30-minute Chili – due to a distinct lack of chopped tomatoes sold in jars. The only solution I could see for us is to bottle our own tomatoes and to store them in a way that the contents don’t touch the lid of the mason jars, which is also a place where BPA tends to lurk.
To Skin Tomatoes: plunge in boiling water until their skins crack then cool off in a basin of cold water
I had grand plans of growing outdoor tomatoes this year and then chopping and preserving the fruit in Mason jars to use throughout the cold months ahead. Growing tomatoes on the Isle of Man is generally an indoor/greenhouse pursuit and true to form my plants all caught the Blight and rotted into soggy black husks in the span of a week. It’s extremely frustrating when this happens not only because it spoils my plans but because I then turn on my computer and see buckets of beautiful tomatoes harvested out of Sunnybrook’s garden. I suppose that all of us gardeners look at each others’ produce and wish we had the other’s growing conditions but I think that he really must have one of the best.
Skinned tomatoes ready for chopping
The solution to my bottling plans was to save up the tomatoes I grew in the conservatory and supplement them with twelve kilos of store-bought fruit. I felt terrible buying the tomatoes rather than growing them myself but was able to get a decent deal on them at Robinsons, a local restaurant supply shop. Even so, the quality was far inferior to those I grew at home and I was a was worried that they wouldn’t be good enough for the job. In the end I decided that these are probably the same type of fruit used in ordinary tinned tomatoes but decided to mix them with the home-grown ones in order to improve their taste and colour.
Home-grown tomato on the left and store-bought on the right
I bottled and processed over a dozen pint and quart jars last week and have another dozen to go tomorrow. One jar didn’t seal properly so I was finally able to make a batch of my favourite Chili which I can tell you was absolutely delicious. The tomatoes tasted even better from the jar than they do from the can! It’s been a fairly easy process bottling them so I’m considering doing another two dozen jars next week. It’s just the two of us in the house but I’m sure we’ll use them all throughout the winter.
There aren’t as many people in the UK who bottle their own food so finding a modern method for preserving the tomatoes involved looking to some American sources – namely the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It’s not readily available here but through the blog network I was able to acquire a digital copy. If you have it at home I used the recipe and instructions given for processing tomatoes in their own juice on page 22. I’ve reproduced them below with my own notes.
Tomatoes – Packed in Own Juice
Whole, Halved or Quartered
2.5-3.5 lbs tomatoes per Quart ~ 1.25-1.75 lbs per Pint
Bottled Lemon Juice
Salt (optional) – I used Sea Salt
Mason jars, lids and screw bands
A jar lifter
2. Skin your tomatoes by simmering them in hot water until their skins begin to split then immediately plunging them into a basin filled with cold water. When they’re cool to the touch you can easily slip their skins off with your fingers. You can compost the skins or do as I did and set them aside for drying into tomato powder.
3. Remove the cores from the skinned tomatoes and then cut them up or leave them whole depending on your preference. When they’re all cut up then you can begin taking individual jars out of the oven.
4. Add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice to the bottoms of the pint jars and doubling that amount for quarts. Pack the tomatoes and their juices into the jars leaving 1/2″ headroom. Add 1/2 tsp salt onto the top for each pint jar (1 tsp for Quarts) then place the lid on the jar and twist the screw-band on fairly tight.
5. Process the jars in a hot water bath as is detailed in the below image. I felt that the 1 hour and 25 minutes processing time was a bit excessive so after looking into similar recipes I opted to go with 40 minutes at my sea-level altitude.
6. Remove the jars from the pan and set them on a towel lined counter to cool. After that I labelled the jars and put them in the pantry.
Additional note: I found that if you dry the tomato skins out completely and then pulse them they make a delicious tomato powder. It’s similar in taste to sun-dried tomatoes and I’ve already used it in one pasta dish with plans on adding it to Goulash and other rich flavoured tomato-based recipes.
Tinned tomatoes are cheap, I mean really cheap when you think about it – I’d say around 33p a can in many UK supermarkets. Because of this fact I imagine that a lot of people wouldn’t have bothered preserving them as I’ve done and might instead have decided to purchase tomatoes packed in glass jars. However we’re rather limited in choice when it comes to shopping on the island and it’s turned out that bottling them myself was the only option. Even so it was a fun experience and my only discontent came from the fact that I wasn’t able to use strictly my own tomatoes. Maybe one day though!