The Cottage Smallholder

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How to hot water bath tomatoes: canning/bottling


Photo: Hot water bath and equipment

Photo: Hot water bath and equipment

I’ve been bottling tomatoes like a woman possessed. This might seem strange as tinned tomatoes can be so cheap if you know where to go. But these are our own organic tomatoes, they are sweeter than the tinned ones and once made they sit in the barn waiting to be added to dishes until our first tomatoes ripen the next summer.

Last year I bottled whole tomatoes and passata. Once we discovered that Bloody Marys made with homemade passata were to die for, we used up our winter supply within a couple of months. Danny was dead keen for me to grow masses of tomatoes this year for extra supplies of passata.

This year I just filled the slow cooker with chopped tomatoes (it hold 3 kilos) added a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and 5 peeled garlic cloves per kilo and switched to auto for about four hours until the garlic cloves had softened. The long slow cooking really brings out the flavour of the tomatoes. I then passed the tomatoes through the mouli (food mill) – there is a similar one to mine here. I used the medium sieve and created a thickish tomato puree. The mouli strains out the pips and skin which negates the need for skinning and seed removal prior to cooking.

The puree can be turned into soup, reduced a bit more for passata or pizza topping or just added to dishes that need tomatoes. If your slow cooker doesn’t have an auto setting, switch to high for an hour or so until the tomatoes are bubbling and then switch to low for another three hours. The tomatoes could also be simmered in a large heavy bottomed saucepan on the stove top (lid on) and if you don’t have a mouli they could be passed through a sieve or just bottled as is.

Home bottling is pretty straightforward. The only bit of specialist equipment that is a must is the jar holder or canning tongs – as you will be placing hot jars in hot water and lifting them out at the end of the process. I bought my canning set from Lakeland. I use old (sterilised) jam jars and new plastic lined metal lids.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. The saucepan has to give 2”/5cm headroom over the tops of the jars. Put a cake rack at the bottom (or an old tea towel) to keep the jars above the base of the pan.

Pour the hot tomato puree into hot sterilised jars and add I teaspoon of cooking salt and 1.5 teaspoons of lemon juice into each jar and stir well with a plastic spoon. This will also get rid of any air bubbles. Put on the screw top lids and twist to finger tight. Lower the jars gently into the water (my pan will hold 4 jars) put a piece of rolled up cloth between the jars to stop them knocking together and breaking. Put on the lid and continue to simmer hard for 35 mins. Remove the jars to a wooden board and check that the lids are screwed on tight. Allow to cool, after a while the lids will pop to indicate that you have a good seal and the circle in the centre will be sucked down. Label and store in a dry, dark place.
N.B. If the circle in the centre of the lids does not go down you have not achieved a good seal and the puree will need to be used immediately or frozen.

3 kilos of tomatoes generates just over 8 300-400ml jars.

  Leave a reply


  1. Freda Marks

    Sorry to be a bit thick but it’s my first time making passata – does the water have to cover the lids in the water bath – if not, how far up the jars does it need to come?

  2. mrsmortis

    Silly question as I’m about to can my first batch for the year.

    My mum is allergic to citric acid so I can’t use lemon juice. If the lemon juice is only to increase acidity I presume that I can replace it with white wine vinegar? If I do will 1.5 teaspoons be enough? I’m not sure of the relative acidity of vinegars to lemon juice.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Mrs Mortis

      I’m not sure whether the vinegar would work – it should do but don’t leave out the salt.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Anne

    Thanks for this! Wish we had a Lidl nearby.

  4. Just to let everyone know ….Lidl are selling an electric canner this week for £29.99.

  5. PipneyJane

    Don’t know if this will help anyone but I can using my pressure cooker and the Kilner jars, rings and lids from Lakeland. When I first looked into canning, you couldn’t find a pressure canner in the UK for love nor money (can you now? I don’t know). So we chose the biggest pressure cooker we could find in John Lewis. It holds 4 x 500ml Kilner jars or 3 x 1L.

    Marguerite Patton’s Jams and Preserves cookbook gives times for bottling vegetables in a pressure cooker. And I believe the USDA website says to add an additional 20 minutes at 15lb of pressure if you use a pressure cooker instead of a pressure canner for any given recipe.

    – Pam

  6. Eleanor the Great

    I’m from the US, we can tomatoes pretty regularly, and you’re right, there are a lot of worries about low acid tomatoes. A lot of the newer varieties seem to be lower in acid. However, the lemon juice increases the acidity of the batch, so it does make up for the possibility of lower acid in the tomatoes themselves.

    Now, I don’t know what the USDA would say on that for sure, but that is the way my family has been doing it for a long time. Also, the more recent canning books seem to say the same thing.

    So! I think you’ll be safe while canning tomatoes (only tomatoes, no other vegetables – after all, tomatoes are closer to fruits) as long as you add the lemon juice to up the acidity of the batch.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Eleanor the Great

      Thanks for this input. Lemon juice is essential!

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