How to Make Tomato Preserves - Easily! With Step-by-step Photos, Recipe, Directions, Ingredients and Costs

This month's notes: November 2014: Apples are still available!  Frosts and freezes have begun, so don't wait . Corn mazes and hayrides are still going in most places through the first week of November. Make your own homemade ice cream including low fat, low sugar and other flavors))  Have fun, eat healthier and better tasting, and save money by picking your own locally grown fruit and vegetables, and then using our easy canning and freezing directions

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Making and Canning Homemade Tomato Preserves !

(also called tomato jam)

Making and canning your own tomato preserves is something families remember years later.  No store bought tomato preserves, even if it is shipped from Texas, compares with the taste of that made from your own tomatoes from your garden or fresh-picked from a local farm!  In the middle of the winter, you can have tortilla chips and your tomato preserves and taste the summer flavor of fresh tomatoes. You can make it plain or spiced!

Here's how to do it, in easy steps and completely illustrated.   This method is so easy, ANYONE can do this!  It's a great thing to do with your kids!

Ingredients and Equipment

  • Tomatoes - about 6 to 8 lbs; or 6 cups of prepared tomatoes. This makes about 10 half-pints (8 ounce jars) of tomato preserves! 
  • Grated lemon rind - 1½ teaspoons
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 4½ cups sugar or Stevia (or if you prefer, Splenda) or other sweetener
  • 1 box powdered no-sugar-needed pectin (if you are using sugar, you can then use the regular pectin, but I still think you get a more consistent set with the sugarless pectin)
  • Optional seasoning / spices:
    • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
    • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 Water bath Canner (a huge pot to sanitize the jars after filling (about $30 to $35 - $30 at mall kitchen stores and local "big box" stores.  Note: we sell canners, supplies and kits through our affiliates: click here or see the bottom of this page) Tomatoes are on the border between the high-acid fruits that can be preserved in a boiling-water bath and the low-acid fruits, vegetables  and meats that need pressure canning
  • Half pint canning jars (Ball or Kerr jars can be found at Publix, Kroger, Safeway and local "big box" stores - about $8 per dozen jars including the lids and rings). 
  • Lids - thin, flat, round metal lids with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the jar.  They may only be used once.
  • Rings - metal bands that secure the lids to the jars.  They may be reused many times.
  • Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars) 
  • Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water where you sanitize them. ($2 at mall kitchen stores and local "big box" stores, but it's usually cheaper online from our affiliates)
  • 1 large pot.
  • Large spoons and ladles
  • Jar funnel ($3-Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores; sometimes even hardware stores)

 

 

 

Process - How to Make tomato preserves from Fresh Tomatoes

Step 1 - Selecting the tomatoes

It's fun to go pick your own and you can obviously get better quality tomatoes!  

At right is a picture of tomatoes from my garden - they are so much better than anything from the grocery store. And if you don't have enough, a pick-your-own farm is the pace to go!  At right are 4 common varieties that will work:

Top left: Beefsteak Top right: Lemon Boy, yellow
Bottom left: Roma, paste-type Bottom right: Better Boy

 

The picture at left shows the best variety of tomato to use: Roma; also called paste tomatoes.  they have fewer sides, thicker, meatier walls, and less water.

Also, you don't want mushy, bruised or rotten tomatoes!

 

 

 

Step 2 - Removing the tomato skins

Here's a trick you may not know: put the tomatoes, a few at a time in a large pot of boiling water for no more than 1 minute (30 - 45 seconds is usually enough)

then....

 

Plunge them into a waiting bowl of ice water.

This makes the skins slide right off of the tomatoes!  If you leave the skins in, they become tough and chewy in the sauce, not very pleasant.

 

 

 

Step 3 -  Removing seeds and water

After you have peeled the skins off the tomatoes, cut the tomatoes in half.  If you are using paste (Roma type) tomatoes, you can skip to step 5. Other varieties, like Big Boy, Better Boy, Gardener's Delight, cherry tomatoes, etc have so much extra water that we need to remove the seeds and excess water. 

 

Step 4 - Squeeze of the seeds and water

Just like it sounds: wash your hands then squeeze each tomato and use your finger or a spoon to scoop and shake out most of the seeds.  You don't need to get fanatical about it; removing just most will do. Another way to do it is to cut each tomato in half, across it, instead of lengthwise. Then just shake the seeds and juice out.

 

 

 

 

Step 5 - Drain and dice the tomatoes

Toss the squeezed (Squozen? :) tomatoes into a colander or drainer, while you work on others. This helps more of the water to drain off.  You may want to save the liquid: if you then pass it through a sieve, screen or cheesecloth, you have fresh tomato juice; great to drink cold or use in cooking!

Next chop them up - I like 1/2 inch size cubes.

 

 

Step 6 - Get the jars and lids sanitizing

The dishwasher is fine for the jars; especially if it has a "sanitize" cycle; especially if it has a "sanitize" cycle.  I get that going while I'm preparing everything else, so it's done by the time I'm ready to fill the jars. 

Be sure to let it go through the rinse cycle to get rid of any soap!

Lids:  Put the very hot (but not quite boiling; around 180 F, steaming water is fine)
water for at least several minutes. 

Note: everything gets sanitized in the water bath (step 7) anyway, so this just helps to ensure there is no spoilage later!)

Step 8 - Bring the tomatoes to a gentle simmer, add spices, if desired

<-- Start with the chopped tomatoes in the pot...

Place chopped tomatoes in saucepan and heat slowly to simmering, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning. 

Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Measure about 6 cups of the cooked tomatoes into a large saucepan.

Optional: Add lemon rind, allspice, cinnamon and cloves.

 

 

Step 9 - Add the lemon juice and pectin, bring to a boil

Add ¼ cup lemon juice to the prepared tomatoes in the saucepan. Measure the sugar and set aside. Stir powdered pectin into prepared tomatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Note: I add about 20% more pectin (in other words 1 and 1/5th packets) because I find I like a firmer set!

Step 10 - Add the sugar, as soon as the tomatoes reach a full boil

Stir in the 4½ cups sugar or other sweetener as soon as you reach a full, hard boil. Stir and bring it back to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Then start timing and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Step 11 - Testing for "jell" (thickness)

I keep a metal tablespoon sitting in a glass of ice water, then take a half spoonful of the mix and let it cool to room temperature on the spoon. If it thickens up to the consistency I like, then I know the jam is ready. If not, I mix in a little more pectin (about 1/4 to 1/2 of another package) and bring it to a boil again for 1 minute.

Notes about "set" (thickening or jell): It takes 3 ingredients for jams and jellies to set: pectin, sugar and acidity. The amount of pectin that is naturally occurring in the fruit varies from one type of fruit to another and by ripeness (counter intuitively, unripe contains more pectin). See this page for more about pectin in fruit. It takes the right balance, and sufficient amounts of each of pectin, sugar and acidity to result in a firm jam or jelly. Lastly, it takes a brief period (1 minute) of a hard boil, to provide enough heat to bring the three together.  Generally speaking, if your jam doesn't firm up, you were short in pectin, sugar or acidity or didn't get a hard boil.  That's ok - you can "remake' the jam; see this page!

 

Step 12 - Fill the jars with tomato preserves and put the lid and rings on

Fill them to within ¼-inch of the top, seat the lid and hand-tighten the ring around them.  

 

 

Be sure the contact surfaces (top of the jar and underside of the ring) are clean to get a good seal! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 13 - Process (Boil) the jars in the water bath canner

Put them in the canner and keep them covered with at least 1 inch of water. Keep the water boiling, and the lid on - I have the lid off just for purposes of illustration. Most people will only need to process the jars for 5 minutes.  If you are at an altitude above 1,000 ft, see the table below.

Recommended process time for Tomato Preserves With Powdered Pectin in a boiling water canner.

 

Process Time at Altitudes of

Jar Size

0 - 1,000 ft

1,001 - 6,000 ft

Above 6,000 ft

Half-pints
or Pints

5 minutes

10 minutes

15 minutes

 

Step 14 - Done

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight)  You can then remove the rings if you like, but if you leave them on, at least loosen them quite a bit, so they don't rust in place due to trapped moisture. Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed verifying that the lid has been sucked down. Just press in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it. Some people replace the lid and reprocess the jar, then that's a bit iffy. If you heat the contents back up, re-jar them (with a new lid) and the full time in the canner, it's usually ok.

 

 

 

 

Other Equipment:

From left to right:

  1. Jar lifting tongs 
            to pick up hot jars
  2. Lid lifter 
            - to remove lids from the pot 
            of boiling water (sterilizing )
  3. Lid 
           - disposable - you may only 
           use them once
  4. Ring 
          - holds the lids on the jar until after
          the jars cool - then you don't need them
  5. Canning jar funnel
          - to fill the jars

 

   

Summary - Cost of Making Homemade Tomato Preserves - makes 5 pints  [= 10 half pint (8 oz) jars]

Item Quantity Cost in 2008 Source Subtotal
Tomatoes 20 - 25 lbs (to make about 16 cups of prepared tomato) free from the garden, or $0.75 cents at a PYO Garden  $0.00
Canning jars (pint size, wide mouth), includes lids and rings 10 jars $7.70/dozen Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores; sometimes Big Lots and even hardware stores $6.00
Sugar See step 7 $2.00  Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores $1.00
Pectin (no-sugar needed is best) 1 box/packet $2.00 per package Grocery stores, Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores; sometimes Big Lots and even hardware stores $2.00
Total $9.00 total
 or about  $0.90 per pint INCLUDING the jars - which you can reuse!

* - This assumes you already have the pots, pans, ladles, and reusable equipment. Note that you can reuse the jars!  Many products are sold in jars that will take the lids and rings for canning.  For example, Classico spaghetti sauce is in quart sized jars that work with Ball and Kerr lids and rings

Answers to Common Questions

What did I do wrong if my jars spoil?

Tomatoes are a borderline acid / low acid fruit (see this page about tomato acidity for more information) - adding lemon juice helps, processing at least 35 minutes in the water bath canner, or better still, using a pressure canner almost eliminates spoilage.  If you don't have a pressure canner, you must boost the acid level of the sauce, by adding 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart of sauce. 

My question is about salsa. I was going to borrow a pressure cooker to make salsa this year (for the first time). My grandma told me that I didn't need the pressure cooker, I could just make salsa using the "inversion" method like I did the blueberry jam. Can I do this?


Well, Grandma may be sweet, but a lot of her generation died of cancer from smoking, heart attacks from eating too much saturated fat... And food poisoning! :) Jam should get 5 minutes in the boiling water bath, too.

Tomatoes have enough acid to require only a water bath for processing; but by the time you add the other ingredients which have no acidity, you've got a food that can spoil easily. That's why most salsa recipes include a couple of cups of vinegar or lemon juice (both very acidic).

Even so, a pressure canner affords greater safety that a boiling water bath, and is more versatile. But if you follow my recipe and use vinegar or lemon juice as stated in the recipe, the boiling water bath will work fine.

And let Grandma make the cookies rather than the preserves! :)


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