Anything wrong with canning these tomatoes?

macthayer(z9a NV)January 19, 2008

In the past, I have grown mainly "beefy"" tomatoes, like the Beefsteak, Big Boy, and the like. I love their flavor. However, last year I did have some trouble with canning. I put it off to the fact that I was using a pressure cooker for the first time. Previously, I had always used a water bath (and I'm going back to using one again!) But now several women in my gardening club insist that you can't get a decent canned tomato unless it's a Roma or similar "paste" variety. Is this true? Any recommendations? Thanks in advance!


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Well, I for one certainly would NOT agree with that philosophy. Romas and other pastes ARE better, (somewhat -- although it varies with environmental conditions -- in high-rain conditions, there is often little difference between paste and non-paste types in water content,) for THICK sauces and other thickened products, because they do have a lower initial moisture content and fewer seeds. However, for general canning -- cold-packed canned whole tomatoes, for example, the other types of varieties which you mentioned are just fine. In fact, I personally prefer 'Better Boy' 'Celebrity' and 'Champion' for canning, as well as 'Rutgers' and even 'Early Girl' to 'Roma' because they are larger, less work to pick and peel. I try to do my general canned whole tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, juice, etc. out of the regular varieties, and save the 'Romas' for spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa, chili sauce, things which need to boil down a long time and thicken, and for dehydrating.

Many of the large, round varieties like Rutgers were developed specifically FOR commercial processing.

The bottom line is, almost ANY tomato is fine for canning -- I've done all-white, all-yellow, all-green, etc. If a variety is claimed to be "low acid," I just add either vinegar or sour salt to the jars.

Your post didn't specify what went wrong with your canned tomatos from last season, but it certainly had nothing to do with the variety.

Your garden club friends may just be exhibiting a cultural bias for paste tomatos based on a historical perspective that Italian, imported canned paste tomatoes were superior for cooking to domestically produced, regular canned tomatoes like Hunts and Campbell's.

A lot of this bias came about because of the insistence of American producers to use Calcium chloride as a firming agent, to prevent the tomatoes from falling apart as the cans are jostled and handled. This has the unfortunate effect of also resulting in tomatoes which take FOREVER to break down in cooking, or sometimes never do, and the tomatoes are unnaturally hard, and often leave hard, woody chunks in your finished product. Most companies, unless the tomatoes are "Organic," still use Calcium chloride. I HATE store-canned tomatoes, they NEVER cook down.

Italian canned tomatoes, in contrast, per my experience, don't seem to use Calcium chloride, and do cook down properly into sauces, etc. (However, don't flame me if I'm wrong about this -- we can over 200 quarts of whole tomatoes a year, plus sauces, juice, salsa, etc -- I've bought maybe 2 dozen cans of "store" tomatoes in my life, only when I ran out). This is why they came to be perceived as "better" -- and many people erroneously attributed these superior cooking properties to the variety, paste, rather than the Calcium chloride additive.

You really shouldn't need to pressure can tomato products, in my family, we've been using the boiling water bath for MANY decades, without any problems. As stated above, we add either sour salt of vinegar to almost all of our tomato products, as an insurance policy that they're acid enough, and because we enjoy a nice, tart flavor.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 10:31PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

You really shouldn't need to pressure can tomato products...

Sorry but that isn't completely true. USDA guidelines call for the addition of either lemon juice or citric acid to all tomato products with no other ingredients (whole, juice, sauce, etc.). And they can be BWB. However, tomato items such as salsas, stewed, relishes etc. with additional veggies and/or other ingredients added do require pressure canning per the tested and approved USDA, NCHFP, and local county and university extension guidelines.

You'll find numerous discussions about all this over on the Harvest Forum - that's where all of us heavy into canning and preserving hang out and several professional home preservation consultants post there on a regular basis.

Also check out National Center for Home Food Preservation for all the details on safe home canning with tomato products.

As to the romas - it is all a matter of personal taste. Some prefer canning only roma/paste varieties (primarily because they require less cooking down) but just as many of us will happily can any tomato we can get our hands on. ;)


Here is a link that might be useful: Harvest Forum

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 10:52PM
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I like be as safe as possible when canning, so I always use a pressure canner. I think I am the only person locally that does this--most use the water bath method. I always add lemon juice per the Ball Bluebook of Canning. Lemon juice gives the necesary acid but no off taste. I let the steam vent 10 minutes, bring to 10 pounds pressure, and then process for 25 minutes.

I can a large amount of tomatoes and salsa and always use the beefsteak tomatoes with no problems--Park's Whopper, Big Beef, and Sunmaster. I could not peel enough Romas to get the quantity I need!!!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 12:13AM
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macthayer(z9a NV)

Hi Again,
I agree I don't want to peel all those little Roma tomatoes, which is why I was so flabbergasted when the garden club kind of "ganged up" on me over this one issue. So I guess I'll just keep canning what I want and keep my mouth shut!
As far as the problem I had with the canning, it was with keeping the pressure at 10 pounds. It kept going higher, forcing liquid out of the jar. Now I have jars with air in the top. However I call the USDA and they said that as long as the jars sealed and they were pressure treated for the proper length, they should be fine. I've had one batch of chili and some terrific spaghetti sauce so far, and I'm about to make more chili. I LOVE chili with fresh grown tomatoes! Even after canning, they're still better than anything you could get at the store.

Thanks again for your help. This forum is a Treasure!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 12:37AM
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I agree with all of the posters above. I make a lot of tomato sauce & salsa with the tomatoes I grow & can them. I have never grown paste tomatoes and have only grown romas once (with great difficulty due to a pest that loved them. No, the pest wasn't my husband!)As mentioned above, any tomato can be used. If you like the taste of it, go ahead & can it. Make sure to add the recommended amount of acid (I use lemon juice)to each jar. If it is not a paste or a roma, you'll need to cook it down longer when making sauces & salsas. The Ball Blue book is a great reference.

So the short answer to your question, no, there's nothing wrong with canning Beefsteak tomatoes.

More people can probably help you over here:

Here is a link that might be useful: The Harvest Forum

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 9:03AM
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As far as the problem I had with the canning, it was with keeping the pressure at 10 pounds. It kept going higher, forcing liquid out of the jar. Now I have jars with air in the top...

Pressure canning tomato product works well and is faster and more economical than water bath method (not including the price of the pressure canner). For canning juice in particular (by either method), a simmering event (prior to the canning process) for a 15-20 minute period is needed to almost eliminate separation of clear liquid and colored liquid in the canned product and to reduce the "froth" that is generated when tom products are heated. (The simmering procees itself generates "froth", but it largely goes away after said period.)

When pressure canning tomato-based stuff (or anything else), little of the product should escape the jars in that process. If the pressure canning water is not nearly free of the jars' contents (e.g., if it is "pink" in the case of red tomatoes), something has gone amuck in the process. For tomatoes, a primary cause is that the product (tom juice or whole tomatoes) was not simmered before pressure canning. A second possibility is that, after the processing period, the pressure was manually released, or the canner was rapidly cooled before its internal pressure became equilibrated with ambient pressure. This can cause the contents of the jars to come to a vigorous boil inside the canner and thus blows product out (also wide swings in pressure during the processing can probably result in this condition as well).

At any rate, the pressure canning process should not expel any significant amount of the contents of the jars.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 12:56PM
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maupin(z6 So. IL)

When I can sauce, I use at least 1/2 Opalkas, which are IMHO the most flavorful paste tomato. I do this because it thickens much better than the beefsteaks.

I do not care for the flavor--or lack of it--of Roma. I find Opalka much more flavorful than any plum tomato.

When canning anything but sauce/paste, I usually mix my beefsteaks to get the terrific mix of OP flavor and color. The exception---I have canned Black only for the color and distinct flavor).

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 2:29PM
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Hot water bath is perfectly adequate for canning tomatoes and note that the original poster added sour salt - that is, citric acid. I find that this affects flavor less than lemon juice while adding the requisite acid.
Pressure canning is only necessary when what is canned contains non-acid ingredients. In the interest of simplicity, I stay away from mixes like that and add such things as onions, garlic and sweet peppers to the already canned tomatoes when they are turned into sauce.
Not necessary to simmer tomatoes first - I cold pack. If the liquid separates out, just shaking the jar a few times will fix it. Fancy restaurants are making a big thing of tomato water sherbers - I don't see the point of descarding something that contains minerals and vitamins. At the very least, if you want to drain it off when you open the jar, you can always use that liquid in soups.
Cold packing and a hot water bath is the easy way - I prefer to make things as simple as possible and find this has been working for the 70 some years I've been canning!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 7:37PM
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OK, so now I'm confused. I've never had any problems with my boiling water bath method for things like my salsa, but I do use a LOT of vinegar in it -- I put about a cup of cider vinegar into a batch, which generally makes 4 to 5 quarts. Sort of the same with my chili sauce -- a batch makes about 6 pints, and contains about a cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of vinegar.

I went on the National Center for Home Food Preservation site listed above, and their recommendations vary from recipe to recipe. They pressure-canned their spaghetti sauce recipes (well, the one with meat is a no-brainer) but BWB their salsa recipe.

So, what is it -- BWB or Pressure Cooker for salsa, spaghetti sauces (no meat or cheese), etc?

I used to have a pressure cooker, but got rid of it -- too scary. Don't they blow up and hurt people, or embed food and broken glass in your ceiling?

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 9:04PM
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Not necessary to simmer tomatoes first...

OR, true that shaking separated canned tomato juice restores it to a largely homogenous consistency. BUT, if you are pressure canning tomato juice (or raw toms) that has not been exposed to some simmering, expect poor results, i.e., expulsion of contents from jars resulting in very excessive head space in jars. And this is apparently what the poster experienced.

I speak from limited but pointed experience in pressure canning tom juice. But ALL of the un-simmered pressure-canned tom juice that I prepared had significant blow-outs... to the extent that contents of most of the jars was unusable because they were only ~ full. When I simmered the tom juice before pressure canning, canner water was totally clear (it was very pink without the simmering event).


    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 9:06PM
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macthayer(z9a NV)

Hi Reg,
Just a follow up question here. I thought I WAS simmering my tomatoes long enough (15-20 minutes prior to adding pressure). My real problem came when I added the pressure. It shot up over 20 very fast, and since I have one of those ceramic top stoves, the burner doesn't respond quickly to changes in temperature. I couldn't get the pressure down, and I was terrified I'd end up with an explosion, or at the very least, all of the jars in the pressure cooker would explode. So Yes, I "hand reduced" the pressure way too fast by tipping the stopper over the steam vent. (Yes, I know you're not supposed to do that). I suppose it would have been better just to leave it at the higher pressure and see what happened. It was too heavy to move off the burner. But this was my first time with a pressure cooker -- never used one before -- and I learned a lot! Still, I think I'll stick to my water bath next year. They say you can't use one on a ceramic top stove (because it doesn't have a flat bottom) but if I can boil lobsters in mine, I think I it will can my tomatoes! In fact I would have used it this year, but we just moved, and darned if I could find it no mater how hard I looked. (I've found it NOW, of course.)

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 10:53PM
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I simmer my salsa up to an hour and then just use a water bath and have never had any trouble. I haven't ever used a pressure cooking for any of the tomatoes I put up. I just use the methods that worked for my Mom and Grandmother. And never had any troubles. Jay

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 11:55PM
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I thought I WAS simmering my tomatoes long enough (15-20 minutes prior to adding pressure...

You may be confusing simmering with "pressure cooking venting."

The simmering needs to be done before the tom product (like juice) is placed in jars for the pressure canning procedure. You will notice froth (at least for toms) in this activity... a protein causes this I think... stir the mix periodically. But it is deactivated with some sustained heat... you will easily notice this. Then you can transfer tom to jars to pressure can.

If you put the raw product in closed jars to "simmer" it, the "froth" will still remain and will want to come out of the jars when their contents are pressure canned. The froth stuff apparently has a tendency to breach the domes in a pressure canning event. Trust me, I learned this by experience.

In any case, I have no fear to pressure can tomato products.

all of the jars in the pressure cooker would explode... Very unlikely unless you tightened the rings with a vise-like grip manner... which is a very poor method because the things will, in that event, not properly seal.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 11:59PM
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macthayer(z9a NV)

Thanks Reg for pointing out the difference between simmering the tomatoes BEFORE you pack them in the jars, and during the 15-20 minute simmering that starts the pressure cooker process. No, I did not pre-simmer the tomatoes prior to putting them in the jars. I'd like to be able to use the pressure cooker, if not for tomatoes, then for other things, so it's nice to obtain more information and get more comfortable with it. Has anyone else ever used it on a ceramic topped stove? How to you conquer the need to drop the temperature after you've reached the proper pressure?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 12:21AM
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purpleacres(Upper Northern California)

howde there

This is my opinion and my opinion only. I have canned thousands of jars of tomatoes and I mean thousands. I use all varieties of tomatoes from paste, beefy, and even a few cherry type tomatoes cooked down for a sauce. I use a presure cooker and do not follow fda guidlines. I follow my grandmother's guidlines who lived to be 79 yrs old.

My opinion is that you can can any tomato. What tomato you can depends on what flavor you want and what you are doing with the finished product.

Hope this help and if you have any question please ask.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 2:45AM
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Denninma, as far as canning goes, a lot of it is a question of acidity and density. I use a boiling Water Bath (BWB). I also only use tested recipes.

Here's my favorite spaghetti sauce & salsa recipes.

Spaghetti Sauce (Chunky Basil Pasta Sauce)

This is my spaghetti sauce recipe that I can. The recipe comes from Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. This makes 8 cups.


8 cups (2 L) coarsely chopped peeled tomatoes -- (about 9-12 tomatoes or 4 lb/2 kg)
1 cup chopped onion -- (250 mL)
3 cloves garlic -- minced
⅔ cup red wine -- (150 mL)
⅓ cup red wine vinegar (5 % strength) -- (75 mL)
½ cup chopped fresh basil -- (125 mL)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley -- (15 mL)
1 teaspoon pickling salt -- (5 mL)
½ teaspoon granulated sugar -- (2 mL)
1 6-oz/156 mL) can tomato paste

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, wine, vinegar, basil, parsley, salt, sugar and tomato paste in a very large non-reactive pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes or until mixture reaches desired consistency, stirring frequently.

If canning, remove hot jars from canner and ladle sauce into jars to within ½ inch (1 cm) of rim (head space). Process 35 minutes for pint (500 mL) jars and 40 minutes for quart (1 L) jars in a BWB.

Hints, tips, tricks and how to cheat
If the sauce is too tart, add a tablespoon of sugar or grape jam. If you are not canning the sauce, try omitting the vinegar and upping the red wine to 1 cup total. Use a wine you like to drink. I have used white wines before as well as white zinfandel. Red wines that work well are Bare Feet Merlot, Black Opal Merlot, Little Penquin Merlot, Yellow Tail Merlot, Marcus James Merlot, Swedish Hill Svenka Red. The sauce also freezes nicely.

Annies Salsa

This is a great salsa that my internet canning friend, Annie Triton, made. She got it approved by the Michigan Cooperative Extension for canning.

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped and drained
2 ½ cups chopped onion
1 ½ cups chopped green pepper
3 5 chopped jalapenos
6 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp black pepper
⅛ cup canning salt (or Kosher salt)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
⅓ cup sugar
1 cup vinegar (I use lemon juice instead)
16 oz. tomato sauce
16 oz tomato paste

Mix all ingredients, bring to a boil. Boil 10 minutes. Pour into hot jars, process for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath for pints.

Hints, tips tricks and how to cheat
The sugar is for taste, not for preservation. If you like a tangier salsa, omit some or all of the sugar. If you want a hotter salsa, substitute some of the green pepper with hot pepper, keeping the total of the pepper at 1 ½ cups (ex: You could have 1 cup green pepper and ½ cup cherry peppers).
Makes 6 pints

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 9:26AM
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How to you conquer the need to drop the temperature after you've reached the proper pressure?...

I assume you mean here a reduction of the temperature of the cooking surface...

When heated, all properly functioning pressure cookers/canners must vent in order to maintain an effective, rather constant, and safe operating state. If the device (e.g., a weight over a vent) controlling the venting mechanism is working properly, the pressure (and thus the temp) inside the vessel will remain relatively constant (after venting of steam commences), regardless of how high the rangetop burner is set.

The idea is to reduce the setting of the burner in small increments such that venting continues, but subsides to a less frenetic pace. And then do not mess with the rangetop setting until the processing has been completed. Not doing so is a waste of energy and also increases the rate at which water is lost from the vessel... and with the (very outside) risk of boiling it dry.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 12:57PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

With testing and research, over time the safe home canning guidelines have changed greatly from what they were in the past. Our grandparents used different vegetables, different growing methods, different recipes, different forms of preparation, etc. and they also had a great deal of luck mixed in. ;)

Even the current set of guidelines is currently undergoing revision. We all have to access our own degree of acceptable risk of course but it is a decision best made only after reviewing what are the current regulations and the reasons for them.

Again, this is a discussion that has been addressed in great detail numerous times over on the Harvest forum and it is an excellent source of info on canning practices - both new and old - as well as the proper use of pressure canning. Modern pressure canners are used by thousands today without "blowing up and hurting people, or embeding food and broken glass in your ceiling". ;) However people do still get sick and even seriously ill from improperly home canned/preserved products.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 2:36PM
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