By Charles Marr

Kansas State University

Extension Horticulturist

This has been an excellent tomato year, and many gardeners are getting mountains of tomatoes all at once.

We are beginning to see people lock their doors and hide behind the curtains when they see the neighbors coming--afraid they will bring some tomatoes along. You can, of course, preserve tomatoes by canning.

Canning tomatoes has become a little bit of a lost art. It was standard practice in years past to preserve the summer garden by getting out the canner, jars and heating up the kitchen for a few hours.

Canning is a good way of preserving tomatoes, but it does require jars to process the tomatoes in and for storage. Jars can be expensive, if you plan to use them once or twice. In earlier times, jars were used over and over again--just by replacing the flat metal lid on the jar top each year.

Sometimes, you can find jars at a garage sale or farm auction. Make sure the jars are free of any cracks or nicks on the top, where the lid must make a complete seal.

The advantage of canning tomatoes--compared to many garden products--is they can be canned using a "shorter" processing time, because of the acid content of the tomato fruit. However, it is important to follow caning instructions very carefully. It now is recommended that you add some lemon juice or citric acid to each jar prior to processing to make sure there is a "safety margin," so the tomatoes always are acid enough to deter the growth of food spoilage organisms.

Many people are too busy to get involved in canning tomatoes. With many "dual career" families and single parent families, it becomes difficult to find time to can tomatoes, considering all of the other housekeeping chores that seem to accumulate through the week.

If you are limited by time, you might try freezing tomatoes. When frozen tomatoes thaw, they become "mush," but that is fine for a few ways that we use tomatoes. If you are into stewed tomatoes, homemade spaghetti sauce, making ketchup or salsa, you might want to freeze tomato puree as follows:

Select ripe tomatoes, dip them in boiling water for about 30 second and rinse in cold water. Then remove the peel, trim the stem ends out and cook the tomatoes in a large pan until tender. Cool the cooked tomatoes and place into plastic freezer cartons. When thawed, use this tomato puree as an ingredient in your favorite pasta sauce, ketchup or salsa receipt or add some onion, green pepper and croutons for making stewed tomatoes.

You also can make homemade tomato juice by peeling as indicated above, cutting the tomatoes into quarters or eighths, simmer for about five minutes, press through a sieve to remove the juice and pulp and place in plaster freezer cartons for freezing.

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