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Canning Tomatoes for Self-Sufficiency: 5 Tips for Beginners

Tomatoes are one of the most beginner-friendly crops to grow at home. And what could be better than putting up tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and other fresh tomato recipes to enjoy long after the season is over? A few tomato plants and a strategy for preserving your harvest is all you need to produce enough tomatoes to last all fall and winter long. These tips will help you get started. 

1. Research the Best Tomato Types for Canning 

Some tomato varieties are better than others when it comes to canning. Heirloom tomatoes are favored by many growers; they’re known for their flavorful, meaty flesh and few seeds. They also tend to be fairly easily “skinned” when blanching and processing. Some of the most popular heirloom tomatoes for canning are Amish Paste, Atkinson, and Bonny Best, but the best variety for you will vary depending on your growing zone. If you know other homesteaders in your area, ask them what tomato varieties they grow! 

2. Make Sure Your Acidity is High Enough 

If you are water bath canning, you’ll need to add citric acid, lemon juice, or lime juice to ensure your tomatoes are acidic enough to remain shelf stable. Not all old-school tomato sauce, ketchup, or other tomato canning recipes include adequate acidity according to modern USDA standards. 

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3. Think Outside the Box 

Tomato sauce is the most popular option for canning tomatoes at home, but keep in mind that you can also process and can tomato juice, ketchup, diced tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes, and crushed tomatoes. Expanding your expertise to a variety of home-canned tomato recipes can help cut down on grocery store trips so you can shop your own larder instead. 

4. Check USDA Guidelines for Processing Times 

Processing Times vary depending on what tomato product you’re canning, what size jars you are using, and even your altitude. This site provides a thorough but user-friendly breakdown of processing times and information on troubleshooting projects that didn’t work out exactly according to plan. 

5. Use Your Best Tomatoes for Canning 

This probably goes without saying, but the best tomatoes to can are fresh, healthy, and vine-ripened, with firm meat. To peel them, drop them in boiling water for 15-30 seconds, then lift out and drop into ice water immediately; this makes the skins easy to remove. If your jars don’t all seal properly the first time (meaning the button on the lid doesn’t pop down), don’t stress; you can re-can them and seal again within 24 hours. 

If you’ve never canned tomatoes, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time and space to get the job done. Set aside more time than you think you need and set yourself up for success with clean countertops and an empty, clean sink before you start; you might be surprised how many pots and bowls end up being requisitioned for the process!