I have always felt appreciative of my Italian heritage, but there’s one weekend a year when I feel especially proud. We call it “Tomato Canning Weekend.”
Toward the end of the summer, my dad travels to a farm in southern New Jersey to purchase several large crates of Roma tomatoes. Eight adults and three children in my family work for hours—coring, chopping, cooking, processing, filling, and canning.
This year we canned over 425 pounds of tomatoes, which yielded about 140 jars of tomato puree.
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But you don’t have to go quite as big as we do. Even if you're canning just a few pounds of tomatoes, here are five essential tools that will make the process much easier. (And remember: we’ve been doing it for more than a decade, so you can trust our guidance on this.)
8 crates filled with 425 pounds of fresh Roma New Jersey tomatoes (left) turned into 140 jars of canned tomatoes (right).
1. A Tomato Corer
For the first time in ten years of canning tomatoes, we finally purchased a tomato corer (our favorite is from Norpro). For years we cored tomatoes with a paring knife, and while that’s perfectly fine, our knife work is not nearly as fast or precise as using a tomato corer.
This small, inexpensive tool helped us fly through tomato prep this year. Even better, the corer only removes a tiny bit of tomato, so there’s less waste than when we used a knife.
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2. A Paring Knife
3. A Colander
After being cored and quartered, the tomatoes sit in a colander and drain while we wait for space to open up on the stove. My mom has our top-rated colander, the RSVP International Precision Pierced 5 Qt. Colander, which is roomy enough to hold a good amount of tomatoes. Plus, it’s covered in tiny perforations, so the liquid drains from it quickly.
Tomatoes are quartered and drained (left) before they're cooked in oversize stockpots (right).
4. A Stockpot
Once the tomatoes are drained, they’re ready to be cooked. Most home cooks can get away with using a 12 quart stock pot. In our case, we use 24-quart stock pots. But if you’re looking to can just a few pounds of tomatoes, our favorite stock pot is a perfect choice. It’s lightweight, maneuverable, and easy to pour from.
5. A Canning Jar Lifter
The tomatoes have been cooked, run through the food mill, canned, and boiled (you can use your stock pot with a rack in the bottom or a pot specifically made for canning for that part). Now it’s time to lift them carefully from boiling water with a canning jar lifter.
Our winner (the Ball Secure-Grip Jar Lifter) has curved arms that are meant to securely lift the glass jar’s cylindrical shape. Most importantly, it provides a stable grip. We would hate to lose any precious jars of tomato gold.