So many tomatoes!

We planted 25 tomato plants in the spring. This is my first ever attempt at growing tomatoes, so we bought 3 different varieties to see which would work well. And the answer … they all did very well!!

We’d already had several crates of tomatoes off these, and they just keep coming!

So we’re sitting here with a mound of tomatoes around us! We’ve eaten loads, given some away, and used any ‘iffy’ ones for the chickens.

Unfortunately, the pressure canner I ordered back in January still hasn’t arrived from America, although it has at last been dispatched. The good thing about preserving tomatoes though is that you can just use a water bath to seal the jars (you can only do this with very acidic food!).

So I thought I’d share how to make your own bottled / tinned tomatoes. Since doing this I actually hate eating shop bought tinned tomatoes – they just taste like metal! So if you see a special offer at the supermarket, or decide to grow some of your own in the back garden, go big and plant lots, as by preserving them you can enjoy them all year round!

You don’t have to chop and cook the tomatoes before you bottle them, but I prefer to as they’re ready to use straight from the shelf then.

So you start by peeling the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to boil a big pan of water and then, using a knife, make an X on the bottom of each tomato and drop them into the boiling water for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the boiling water and dunk them straight into a bowl or sink of really cold water to stop the cooking process. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, take them out and the skin will literally slide off.

Next, chop the tomatoes (I like to cut away the tough stalk bit), keeping as much juice as you can.

Pop the chopped tomatoes into a big non reactive pot, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until they start to thicken.

While the tomatoes are cooking, sterilize the jars. Many dishwashers have a sterilize setting now, or you can wash them and pop them in the oven in a low heat for 30 minutes. The other way is to put them in a pan of water and boil for 10 minutes. The rubber seals or lid tops also need to sit in boiling water for 10 minutes. You need to use either clip top jars or mason jars for this (not jam jars!).

Mason jars have 2 part screw lids. Check your jars for chips or cracks, and make sure the lids are not damaged before using them.
Clip top jars have a rubber seal which should be replaced after each use.

Put half a tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of each jar, and fill the warm jars with the cooked tomatoes, leaving 1/2’’ headroom. You can add half a teaspoon of salt to the top of each jar if you wish (I don’t).

Bring a large pan of water up to the boil, but before it reaches boiling point, add the jars of tomatoes. It’s really important that the jars don’t stand directly on the bottom of the pan, and they mustn’t touch each other. I use old tea towels to protect them from the bottom, and wind another round the jars to stop them touching. The water needs to fully cover the tops of the jars by about an inch. Bring the pan up to boiling and then turn down slightly and process for 40 minutes. You will see bubbles coming out of the jars as the air is sucked out – this is what seals the jars.

This preserving pan is the biggest thing I’ve got, but I can only fit 500ml jars in it – when the pressure canner arrives (or ‘if’ it ever arrives!) I will be able to use 1l jars

Remove the jars and place on a cooling rack and leave them for 24 hours to cool – don’t even move them! You can check that the seals have worked by unclipping the jars – they shouldn’t spring open! If they do, then they need to go into the water bath again. With the screw top jars you can check that they have sealed by unscrewing the top – the middle part of the lid should sit tight on the jar.

The first time I preserved tomatoes it felt a bit complicated, but it seems much easier the second time around, I promise! Set aside a whole morning for this, especially if you’ve got a lot of tomatoes like we have!

The resulting bottled tomatoes will last at least 1 year, but should be used within 2 years.

Once you start preserving your own food you’ll never go back to shop bought!

When you first start preserving food, there is a bit of an initial outlay for a preserving pan (I ‘borrowed’ Mums a few years back!), some jars, a pair of jar tongs (really wouldn’t be without them) and a thermometer for jams etc. The jars are quite expensive but will last for years – you just need to replace the lids or rubber seals, which don’t cost much. My expensive purchase is the pressure canner – they’re not very common at all in the UK, which is why I’ve had to buy from America, but having one of these will enable me to bottle any fruit or vegetable (and you can do meat, fish etc too) – it’s what all the preppers use for their zombie apocalypse bunkers!

And apart from tasting better, preserving your own food is environmentally friendly too!

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