Too Many Tomatoes ! – Canning and Drying the Harvest

Grape tomatoes.

Grape tomatoes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

August is always tomato harvest time in Maryland, and even if you have just a few plants, you are inundated with a flood of vine ripened monsters with no room to put them! I think that Maryland is the perfect climate for growing the best tomatoes, hot and humid, plus a long growing season.There is nothing like the taste of a sliced  tomato fresh from the garden on a sandwich! But once you have used tomatoes on sandwiches or stir fried them into vegetable dishes and made spaghetti sauce, I want to preserve them for winter eating.

Freshly canned tomatoes of different colors ready to store for the winter

I have frozen tomatoes in the past because it is easier, but don’t like the texture or the condition of the finished product. Canned tomatoes are much preferable to use in the winter months rather than the frozen product. So I learned how to can some years ago and have canned sauce, chopped tomatoes, whole tomatoes, and salsa.

Various heirloom tomato cultivars

Various heirloom tomato cultivars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I mention canning to people, the most common response is that it is too much work. But if you are used to freezing tomatoes, canning just needs one more step –  processing in a hot water bath or pressurized canner. For the improvement in taste and texture, I think it is worth it. A hot water canner is very inexpensive and will last forever. Botulism is also a concern for many, but if you follow the proper canning procedure and add lemon juice to increase the acidity, you will be fine.

Food dehydrator

On the other end of the spectrum of preserving tomatoes is drying, and I love sun-dried tomatoes! And they are quite expensive, so it is worth while and incredibly simple. I bought a simple food dryer at Cabela’s and it is easy and efficient to use, and I usually have it on for several weeks during August drying all my Roma tomatoes. Roma tomatoes work better than regular heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes because the water content is much lower. Once the tomatoes are dried, I place them in Tupperware containers in the freezer.  I tried storing them in olive oil in jars in the frig one year but they got moldy. When I need some dried tomatoes for cooking, I grab a handful out of the freezer and place them in a bowl of water in the microwave and heat them up. They will reconstitute very quickly in the hot water and are ready to use in recipes.

Piles of dried Roma tomato slices in a tupperware container

Canning

Here are simple instructions for canning your harvest:

Clean

Sterilize your jars in the dish washer at the highest heat along with the rings.  Or if you prefer, put the jars in the hot water canner and boil them.  You have to boil this water anyway to can the tomatoes, so this might be the easiest and most efficient way. Place the lids and rings in a small saucepan of boiling water.  Keep the jars and lids in the water until ready to use.

Boil

In a saucepan, boil some water to fill the jars of tomatoes to the top.

Prepare

  • Weigh tomatoes

Weigh tomatoes – I find that 12 to 13 pounds of Roma and mixed larger varieties makes 6 quarts – enough for a full water bath canner

  • Wash tomatoes
  • Core
  • Cut an X on the bottom for easy removal of skins

Core and X mark the bottom with a sharp knife

  • Place the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 2 minutes

Placing tomatoes in boiling water

  • Dip the tomatoes out into ice water to stop cooking

Tomatoes in ice water to stop cooking

  • Drain tomatoes and remove the skin

Peeled, cored tomatoes ready to place into canning jars

  • In the empty sterilized jars, place 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice

I buy Minute Maid pure lemon juice for this

  • Fill the sterilized jars with tomatoes. Make sure that you fill them completely.  I press down lightly so as not to crush the tomatoes, but you want to fill them as completely as possible.  Use a wooden skewer to get rid of air bubbles and gaps.
  • Filling jars with tomatoes and using a wooden skewer for air bubbles

  • Fill the jars of tomatoes with the boiling water until the jars are full with a 1/2 inch head space.  Use the wooden skewer to get rid of any air bubbles.
  • Screw on the jar lids with rings, making sure that the rims are clean and the rings are ‘finger tight’.
  • Place into the water bath canner

Put the full jars into the rack of the canner

  • Process for 45 minutes.  That means wait until you get a full boil and then start timing for a full 45 minutes.
  • Lift the jars out and let cool.  The jars should seal with a ‘pop’! A vacuum is formed when the jars are processed. If you can press down on the lid and there is movement, the jar has not sealed.  Let the jar sit for 12 to 24 hours and if it doesn’t seal, you must use it immediately or store in the refrigerator until use.

Drying

Drying is my next favorite way to preserve the harvest. Once I have a good quantity of Roma paste tomatoes, I slice the top off and start slicing the tomato lengthwise.  One tomato will produce 3 to 4 slices to dry.  Place into a tray of a food dehydrator and plug it in. The slices will dry in about 12 to 15 hours.  Make sure that they are completely dry and kind of crispy before storing into a Tupperware container. Place in the freezer until ready to use.

Slice lengthwise

Stack the slices into the trays of the food dehydrator

About Claire Jones

Claire Jones is a landscape and floral designer and owner of Claire Jones Landscapes, LLC. She designs and helps people to create their own personal outdoor oasis and loves to write about her gardening failures and successes.
This entry was posted in Cooking in the garden, gardening, Sustainable Gardening and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Too Many Tomatoes ! – Canning and Drying the Harvest

  1. Love your post! I dehydrated a ton of tomatoes last summer and was planning to do another round this year and do a post as well! Thanks for the support. As soon as my post goes up, look for a ping back! :)

  2. Seasonsgirl says:

    I too have been doing some canning of our abudence of tomatoes this year as well as making them into homemade spegetti sauce and freezing it. It was my first time canning them and I was happy to see your photos as it looks like I did mine right :)

  3. PJ Girl says:

    I envy you having all those tomatoes! I have 5 plants but only manage a handful each day – and I generally scoff these extremely quickly!

  4. Enjoyed reading about drying tomatoes. That is something I haven’t tried yet. I sure love my canned tomatoes, though, especially during the winter. I can’t make vegetable beef soup without them, as it is just not the same! Thanks for the pingback!

    • I love to add links to other blogs as there are a lot of opinions about doing things that I never thought about. Drying is awesome and easy, and I just dried a bunch of fresh thyme in my dehydrator instead of buying a $6 container of thyme. That dehydrator has paid for itself in spades!

  5. Pingback: Greek Tragedy Under Labrador « The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment

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