How to Bottle Tomatoes

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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.

How to can and preserve your own tomatoes - fresh from the garden or purchased in bulk #canning

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.

How to can and preserve your own tomatoes - fresh from the garden or purchased in bulk #canning

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.

How to can and preserve your own tomatoes - fresh from the garden or purchased in bulk #canning

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.

How to can and preserve your own tomatoes - fresh from the garden or purchased in bulk #canning

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

1. Inspect your jars looking for cracks or splits then wash them with soapy water and rinse well. Place all of your jars in the oven and turn the temperature up to about 180F / 82C and leave them in the heat until you’re ready to use them. This ensures that when you place the jars in the hot water bath that they won’t crack or shatter. While those are in the oven, place your lids and screw bands in a bowl and pour hot water over them, making sure not to exceed 180F/82C.

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.


How to can and preserve your own tomatoes - fresh from the garden or purchased in bulk #canning

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!

How to can and preserve your own tomatoes - fresh from the garden or purchased in bulk #canning

15 Discussion to this post

  1. Nothing like tomatoes in jars, I have them for lunch in the winter since I have so many, I have to use them every chance I get. If you can find Tattler lids, they can be used over for years so you won't have to keep looking for lids if they are hard to find.

  2. I tend to make up my pasta sauces and soups and ketchups and then store these…I have never just stored the tomatoes so I don't think I would do this but I have taken on board the tip about the tomatoes skins. Of course I doubt I will be doing any of this at all until next year as so far I have had about 8 ripe cherry tomatoes.. 🙁

  3. lynda says:

    I would be happy to send you a copy of the canning book if you would like one! They generally sell them in all of the grocery stores in the US..the tomatoes look delicious!

  4. Good for you for even doing it….we make tomato (pasta) sauce base each year the Italian way, and we buy our crates of tomatoes from local growers….we couldnt grow way enough to make the couple of hundred bottles that we need for the year…just for our family!

  5. Frenchie says:

    I read the same article, very scary. I wanted to can my own tomato sauce, pizza sauce and salsa for the whole year but now I'm rethinking the tomato sauce. Wow, does it take a LONG time to cook down. Yesterday I put 56 cups of tomato juice in my biggest pot, it took 8 hours to cook down. I got 4 quarts and 1 pint jar out of the whole batch. I agree with Sunnybrook Farm you should look into the Tattler Lids, they are BPA free. I started using them a few years ago after I found out that regular canning lids contain BPA.

    • I've just purchased twelve of the Tattler lids off Ebay and I'm looking forward to experimenting with them. It seems that the only thing you need to replace is the rubber ring?

      Eight hours for tomato sauce sounds like a very long time! I buy tomato passata in bottles at the shop so I'm not likely to bother with making sauce either. Chopped tomatoes on the other hand are really quick and versatile for me – I use them in everything from chili, pasta and soup.

  6. I just did the same thing last weekend, primarily for the same exact reason. I want to know where my food comes from, as much as possible, and know it's the safest I can get it. I canned 28 jars of crushed tomatoes and am working on whole tomatoes and more tomato sauce this weekend. I, too, had to supplement my garden tomatoes with purchased ones, however, I was fortunate to be able to pick them at a local u-pick farm so they were fresh. Great article (as all your articles are). I truly enjoy reading your blog – it inspires me.

  7. Jill says:

    I bottle whole tomatoes and add Italian seasoning and garlic for spaghetti sauce when u are ready for spaghetti just drain some of the juice out then dump in a blender and warm up on stove my family lives it and it is easier than the 8 hour process.

  8. Ione Taylor says:

    I am interested in the fact that you say that the salt is optional. We don’t like a lot of salt in food and want to bottle tomatoes without, but I have also read that you need the salt to prevent botulism. Does the lemon juice do the same thing?

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