Tuesday, 15 September 2009

How to bottle tomatoes

Tomatoes are the only vegetable it is safe to bottle (or "can") without the use of a pressure canner; this is because they are quite an acidic vegetable (or fruit if you like), and it's the acidity that guards against botulism in the processed produce. I've been at this for over 20 years, so thought I'd share my method, and in response to a request from Shropshire Girl.
Gather together what you will need: tomatoes, water, salt, lemons, clean jars with lids, seals, etc.
Set a big pan of hot water on the stove to simmer just under boiling; place a folded tea towel or thick dishcloth in the bottom for the glass jars to stand on so they don't get too close to the heat source which may crack the jars.
I bottled 2 x 1 pint jars this morning, so made up approx 1 pint of brine - 1 pint of cold water with 1 oz of table salt dissolved in it. To this, I added the juice of half a big lemon. Stir well to dissolve the salt, and set aside. The amount of brine needed is variable, according to size of fruit etc being bottled, but is quick and easy to make up if more is required. Sort over the tomatoes, removing any blemished or overly soft ones; take off any stalks. Small ones can be left whole, or halved as liked; bigger ones can be halved or quartered. Make sure they are clean, wiping over if necessary, and pack into the jars without pressing them down too much - the aim is to get the tomatoes to keep as much of their shape as possible. Pour over the brine, so that it just covers the top tomatoes. Put on lids and seals according to type of jar. If using screw tops, don't screw too tight, but don't leave them loose either; just tightened is about right.
Place jars in pan of water, on the cloth, get the water to just on the shoulder of the jars, bring to just a bubbling simmer, then on with the lid and process for 40 minutes. After this time, remove from the pan carefully and place on a wooden board to cool. When cool, test for a seal by removing the ring or clip, and checking that a vacuum has formed - the sealing ring and the lid should be fast together. Replace ring or clip, wipe over jars, label and store in a cool, dry, dark place until needed. If there is a problem and the seal isn't made, just put this jar in the fridge and use it up sooner. Use the hot water from the pan for washing up :)

Bottling is the way to go - easy, safe, cheap (once the initial investment in jars and rings etc is made, which will last for eyars if care is taken), and no energy used in the storage. The flavour of fruit particulalry is much superior to frozen fruit, which I have almost stopped doing now, in favour of the bottled fruit. A big bonus is that you don't have to remember to defrost it either! Invest in the proper jars; not all those made for storage, even though they have rubber rings, are suitable for processing in heat, with thin glass that will probably shatter. secondhand ones are stillf airlye asy to come by. Two names I trust are Kilner and Le Parfait.
Bottling is a great string to add to your bow, and you won't be left with piles of rotting food when the lgihts go out and the freezers go off.

Further discussion here on my forum:


If you have any further questions, just shout and I'll try and help.


brightandnew said...

I hope this isn't a stupid question, but I am in the very, very early stages of learning, so forgive me if it is! :)

Can I just use normal, saved jam jars for this? Every time I see a picture of someone preserving this way they always use the jars with the metal clips, such as you are using in your photos. I doubt I could get many tomatoes in a jam jar, but I would like to have a go at this and jam jars are all I have!

The chutney I made yesterday looks promising - it looks like chutney, smells like chutney and tastes like chutney! I feel so pleased with myself! Thank you for shareing the recipe in your blog.

MrsL said...

I wouldn't use the jam jars; it's the vacuum seal that forms that preserves the food, which is where the rubber ring comes in. Any air that gets in will spoil the food, possibly leading to trouble.
Some people use the jars with the popping lids - the dents in the middle, and say that the lid goes down when the seal is formed, popping up again when the jar is opened. I've no experience of this, I'm afraid, but someone might come along who could comment.
It's not a stupid question - the only stupid question is the on never asked !:) Everyone has to start somewhere; on the face of it, it would look possible to use jam jars, but I wouldn't recommend it, sorry.
Hope that helps.



Shropshire Girl said...

Mrs L you are brilliant! Thanks so much, I will be bottling this evening now.
The american books I have say to cover the bottles in about an inch of water, whereas the english ones say up to the shoulder, that was one of my queries, I see you do the Marguerite Patten way!
I bought myself another box of Kilner jars at our fantastic ironmongers last week, Ron behind the counter said that he could not keep up with sales and didn't understand why Kilner jars were going so quickly! A Sign of the Times I wonder?!

Andalublue said...

Thanks for that article. I've got a glut of cherry tomatoes and was surfing around trying to find ideas for what to do with them. You helped a lot, so I linked to your blog on mine; Eat The Alpujarras. Do pop by some time and if you ever need a ton of free tomatoes, this is the place to come!