Tomatoes can easily be bought for a few dollars at the local grocery store. Yet, there is no dearth of canning aficionados who work with this fruit-vegetable. Why you wonder? Because although these juicy orbs can be purchased all year round, specific varieties are seasonal.
Plus, for those who grow their own heirloom tomatoes, there is nothing in the market that can beat the sweet and sour tanginess of homegrown, organic produce. So, if you want to know how to can tomato juice, look no further. This article will tell you all there is to preserving the bright and juicy goodness of those tart treats from Mother Nature.
Crushed, chopped, whole or juice?
Tomatoes can be preserved in numerous forms, depending on how much work you want to put into the pre-canning process and how you intend to use the canned produce. It is possible to can tomatoes whole and blanched, crushed, chopped, halved or as juice.
In terms of popularity, tomato juice is the clear winner when it comes to canning preference. For starters, you don’t have to bother with blanching and de-skinning. Plus, the canned produce has no skin or seeds. It’s also more aesthetically pleasing because the liquids don’t separate from the solids in the jar since the enzymes that cause the solids to steer clear of the fluids are dealt with during the juicing process.
Above all, canned tomato juice can be used in a myriad of ways. You can add it to sauces, salsa and curries or you could simply enjoy it served over a few ice cubes. Another thing to consider is that some heirloom varieties are not as fleshy as the ol’ beefsteak. So, it can be hard to preserve the texture and shape of such fruits. In their case, juicing/pulping is a better option to preserve their tangy, summery taste all through the year.
And if all that is not enough, there are so many different ways to tweak tomato juice, which make cooking a snap when you actually use your canned produce. So, to begin with, we will talk about how to make tomato juice and then we will discuss how to can tomato juice. But first, let’s start with the basics.
Picking the right tomatoes for canning
Because canning involves cooking down the tomatoes first, it does not help to work with fruits that are very juicy because you are essentially dealing with 50% or more water content in their case. This means less juice and more simmer time. Instead, what you need is fleshy, low moisture and sparsely seeded orbs that can give you thick juice with minimal wastage.
And, paste tomatoes fit the bill perfectly. In fact, the famed Roma is often on the top of the list as far as favorite canning tomatoes are concerned. But, there are others that you can consider, particularly if you intend to grow them. For example:
- The oblong and almost seedless Oroma.
- The extraordinarily sweet Santa Maria.
- The very meaty Rio Grande.
- The fantastically flavored Granadero F1.
- The impressively tasty San Marzano Redorta.
- The impeccably sweet Better Boy.
- The fleshy Amish Paste.
- The meaty and sweet San Marzano.
If you are buying tomatoes opt for at least a 50-50 mix of paste tomatoes and whatever else is available. But, when it comes to canning, it’s not only the tomato cultivar that matters but also the condition of each fruit that you intend to use. Here are a few things to watch out for and note:
- Don’t pick overripe, mushy tomatoes.
- Discard fruits that are damaged, bruised, cracked due to insects or blossom end rot or decayed.
- Don’t use tomatoes harvested from dead or frost-killed vines.
- Tomatoes that are ripened after harvest (off the vine) or in shorter daylight hours are less acidic, as are tomatoes grown in shade.
- If harvesting tomatoes for canning, start processing them within 2-3 hours of picking.
- Green tomatoes are more acidic than ripe tomatoes and can be canned safely.
- If buying tomatoes for canning, choose fruits that are firm, with no black or soft spots.
How to make tomato juice?
The equipment and the ingredients:
- 1 large stockpot (16 to 20 quart)
- 1 medium-sized stockpot (10-15 quart)
- Potato masher
- Sieve or food mill
- Spatula or spoon
- Sharp knife
- Tomatoes (as required)(you will need a bit over 3 lbs for every quart jar and about 1.5 lbs for every pint jar)
- Lemon juice or citric acid
- Wash and drain all the tomatoes.
- Put the stockpot on the stove on low heat
- Remove the stems, trim the soft and damaged parts if any and quarter the fruits (half of the total quantity you are working with)
- Put the chopped tomatoes directly into the pot and turn up the heat to medium.
- Stir continuously till the pieces begin to soften. Then, cut and add the remaining tomatoes into the pot.
- Continue stirring till the pieces soften.
- Use the potato masher to crush the pieces.
- Heat to boiling as you continue crushing.
- Simmer for 5 minutes after all the pieces have been crushed.
- Press the heated tomato pulp through a sieve or a food mill.
- Transfer the seed and skin free tomato juice into the smaller pot and bring to a boil.
- Continue boiling on medium heat for 10 minutes.
Do you necessarily need a pressure canner for preserving tomato juice?
No, you don’t. You could make do with hot water bath canning, but pressure canning yields a more flavorful and slightly more nutritious product given the low canning time. Plus, you won’t have to worry much if you don’t get the acidity adjustment right if you are using a pressure canner.
For pressure canning, you will need a pressure canner, which is not the same as a pressure cooker, although many products in the market these days offer both features in a single appliance. But, you cannot use a pressure cooker in lieu of a pressure canner.
For hot water bath canning, you only need a large pot with a rack to hold all the jars. The pot will have to be at least 10-12 inches deep to accommodate the jars and have enough room on top for boiling water.
How to can tomato juice?
You have to get the canning equipment ready in one place before you start making the tomato juice. This way, you can simply spoon the hot juice into the jars and proceed with canning, thereby eliminating the risk of the juice going bad. You will need:
- Glass jars with rings and lids.
- Canning funnel.
- Canning knife.
- Jar grabber.
- Lid lifter.
- Pressure canner or pot for boiling water canning.
Step 1: Preparing the jars
Wash the jars and the lids and sterilize them by placing them in boiling water for 10 minutes. If your dishwasher has a sanitize cycle, this will be enough for the jars, but you will need to sterilize the lids separately.
Leave the lids and the jars in the hot water till it’s time to use them. Jars sanitized in the dishwasher can be kept on “heated dry” till they are needed. Use the lid lifter to remove the lids from the hot water.
Wash and sanitize all other equipment that you intend to use, including the canning funnel, knife and the ladle.
Step 2: Getting the canning setup ready
- Place the pressure canner on the stove with 4 inches of water in it. For water bath canning, you will need enough water in the pot to completely immerse the jars.
- Place the jar racks in the canning pots before you switch the stove on.
- Keep the heat on high, so that the water boils by the time you are done transferring the tomato juice into the jars.
Step 3: Filling the jars
You will need 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice/quart (1 tablespoon/pint) or tsp citric acid/quart (¼ tsp/pint). The lemon juice/citric acid is not used for flavor. In fact, it will make no difference to the taste of the tomato juice. These are acidity regulators that will keep the juice from spoiling if the tomatoes were not too acidic, to begin with.
The thing to remember here is that even one overripe tomato per jar of juice can bring down the acidity level of the contents enough to cause degradation. So, play it safe and add lemon juice or citric acid to keep Botulism spores away.
Whether you are using lemon juice or citric acid, put it directly into the empty jar before pouring the tomato juice in it.
You may also want to consider adding salt ( 1tsp/quart or tsp/pint) and other flavoring agents like dried basil, celery, onion salt, etc. these are optional and are strictly used to enhance flavor. Once you have the jars ready, this is what you need to do:
- Place the canning funnel in each jar and ladle the tomato juice from the pot (while it is still hot) directly into the jar.
- Fill the jars all the way up, leaving a headspace of just inch. This is needed because the contents will expand when they are heated for canning.
- Put the canning knife into the filled jars and move it against the walls to remove trapped air bubbles.
- Use the rings to secure the lid on the jars. The lids should fit snugly, but there is no need to tighten them with all your strength.
Step 4: Canning the tomato juice
At this point, the water in the canner should be boiling or near-boiling. Place the jars into the canner, such that they don’t touch each other. Then, depending on the type of canner used, this is what you need to do:
A. For water bath canning: Add enough boiling water to the pot to cover the jars completely and reach an inch or two above the lid. Do not pour the water directly on top of the jars. Instead, pour it on the sides and continue to pour till you get to the desired level. It’s best to use a kettle with boiling hot water in it for this.
The jars will have to be kept in the boiling water for 35 minutes for pint jars and 40 minutes for quart jars. Make sure that the water inside the pot is kept at a rolling boil all along and the level is maintained. If you need to add more boiling water, go ahead and do so.
After 35-40 minutes, switch off the stove and allow the jars to remain in the canner till the water cools enough for you to comfortably and safely handle the jars.
B. For pressure canning: You should have 4 inches of boiling water in the canner before you start. Once the jars have been placed in the canner and the water is boiling, cover the canner with the lid, keeping the vent open.
Allow the canner to vent steam for 10 minutes then close the steam valve and allow the pressure to build to 10 lbs. for weighted and 11 lbs. for dial gauge canners. Fix the timer for 15 minutes if using pints and 20 minutes if using quarts.
Adjust the heat as required to maintain steady pressure inside the canner. After the required time, switch off the stove and allow the pressure to return to zero on its own. Do not make any attempts to cool the canner or to release the pressure during this time.
Once the dial shows that the pressure inside the canner has normalized, wait for another 20 minutes before opening the lid.
Step 5: After canning
- Remove the jars from the canner and place on a rack or cover the countertop with a dry towel or washcloth and place the jars on it.
- Allow the jars to cool undisturbed for 12-24 hours.
- Test the seals by pressing down on the lid. If it does not budge, the jar is properly sealed. If it makes popping sounds or moves on being pressed, it has not been sealed.
- Refrigerate all jars that have not been sealed immediately and use within one week.
- Jars that have been properly sealed should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place and used within one year.
Step 6: Reprocessing
Jars that did not seal can be reprocessed within 24 hours of the first round of processing. However, if the jar did get sealed but eventually the seal comes undone, this is an indication of spoilage. In this scenario, don’t bother to taste the contents, simply discard them.
- For reprocessing, start with a fresh jar (cleaned and sterilized as above) and new lids.
- Empty the tomato juice into a pan and heat to boiling (boil for 10 minutes).
- Fill the jar with the juice (no need to add acidity regulators this time).
- Reprocess (same canning duration and method as above).
You can find more information on the processing time required based on the altitude and the type of canning method used here.
Be sure to also check out our post on canning salt