Preserving your Summer Bounty: A Guide to Canning Tomatoes

What do you do when you have an excess of produce?  There are times when the local food scene is flooded with all kinds of colors: peaches, oranges, tomatoes, plums, figs, etc.  Then there are times when you feel like you never want to see another leafy green again!  Food preservation is a way to extend the life of all that beautiful summer bounty and it’s a dying art.  There are many reasons why food preservation is a beautiful thing, here are a few:

  • Save yourself some money!

  • Eat a balanced diet all year round

  • Eliminate food waste

  • Support local, seasonal foods

There are many ways to preserve abundant foods and extend the shelf-life of all that farmers market bounty.  Food preservation has been around for a long time.  There are many preservation methods including drying, freezing, fermenting, pickling, curing, jellying and canning.  While canning is the newest of the food preservation methods, it has still been around for quite some time.  According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, canning was pioneered by a French confectioner, Nicholas Appert, who discovered that when heat was applied to food in sealed glass jars, the food did not go bad.  While he didn’t understand how it worked, he discovered a way to “waste not, want not” by prolonging summer’s abundance.  

Whether you are a master gardener and/or are producing food faster than you can eat it or you are interested in supporting your local farmer by purchasing their bounty, canning may be the thing for you!  In my experience, people are afraid of canning for a number of reasons, but I’m here to assure you that it is not that hard.  Time consuming, yes… but totally doable if you practice patience.  Plus your patience pays off when summer’s abundance turns into winter’s scarcity and your pantry is filled with beautifully preserved foods of all kinds.  I followed this recipe to a T and came up with 3 quart jars and one pint jar of sauce.  As you read through the recipe, you will see the author prompts you to consider a few things before you begin such as the type of tomato you choose for your sauce.  This might depend on what types of tomatoes are growing in abundance in your area or it could be a preference.  I chose plum tomatoes, which are essentially Roma tomatoes.  They are good sauce tomatoes because they generally have more flesh, less water content and fewer seeds.  However, they are small and require more prep work.  They were the tomatoes that were available to me in bulk from a local farm, so they are the ones I chose.  Peeling the tomatoes is the most time consuming part, so you can also choose to skip this step to save time and just live with the peels in your sauce, totally your preference.  The article includes photos and tips for every step along the way.  Also, if you don’t have all the fancy canning supplies, you can make your own.  One final note on my variation of this recipe: I chose to add garlic and basil from my garden to the sauce right before the simmering for an 30-90 minute stage.  I used about 3 tablespoons of fresh basil and about 8 medium sized cloves of garlic and the flavor is just delicious.  If you don’t have basil or other herbs at the ready, fear not, you can always add to your basic sauce when you open it up in a few months.

If I can, you can (pun intended!).  Your farmer will thank you for supporting them and not allowing the beautiful fruits of their labor to go to waste and you will thank yourself in a couple months when you get home late and have an amazing  jar of homemade tomato sauce just waiting to be opened and eaten up.  Happy canning!