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Canning Heirloom Tomatoes

13 years ago

I am sure this has been covered before, but I did a search and came up empty.

I'm canning heirloom tomatoes. I have tried it both ways, cold and hot pack.

Neither one was terribly successful, so I am looking for tips and advice.

When I cooked the tomatoes for a hot pack they just fell to pieces, more like a stewed, shredded tomato. Appetizing !

With the cold pack, they held their shape a bit more, but floated halfway up the jar.

I think I am beginning to really see the difference between canning paste tomatoes and the heirlooms, and next year will separate the tomatoes I grow for canning and what I grow for slicing.

So I guess I'm looking for advice on a couple of fronts.

One is what is the best method for canning heirlooms, and one is advice about the best canning varieties.

Or just tell me where my conclusions are wrong. I am happy for all advice !!!!!

Comments (13)

  • robinkateb
    13 years ago

    Personally i see nothing wrong with the floating tomatoes when you raw pack them. Okay, they are less photogenic. What are you planning on using them for? I can most of my heirloom tomatoes as crushed tomatoes, but the rest I do as whole in own juice, raw pack. The floating does not bother me as it does not mean they are lower quality.


  • readinglady
    13 years ago

    I agree with Robin. So they float. So what? It's the flavor and secondarily texture that counts.


  • digdirt2
    13 years ago

    Agree. It has nothing to do with your tomatoes being "heirlooms" or hybrids or not. To some degree, it is the difference between paste tomato varieties and non-paste tomatoes (aka slicing, round, or standard) varieties since paste tomatoes tend to be more firm and less juicy. But mostly what you are seeing is just tomatoes doing what they do when you can them. ;)

    Hot pack (sounds like they may have been over-ripe and you over-cooked them) results in less floating but you still get some. Floating is normal due to the air in the fruit. In time, the air is replaced with the liquid and they sink.

    If it is the appearance of whole/halved tomatoes in the jar you want then you can either raw pack and don't worry about the floating and give them time to settle.

    Or you can use hot pack but use only the smaller sized ones that are slightly under-ripe and still firm, more like a roma/paste type would be.

    BUT, given the ways most of us use our canned tomatoes later on anyway - it isn't as if you'd be able to take them out and slice them - they are going to be crushed and smushed and cooked anyway so it doesn't really matter to us that they look like salsa in the jar. See what I mean? ;)


  • mockturtle
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    I don't really care about how they look. I'll be using them in tomato sauce, so looks are pretty irrelevant. But it SEEMS to me like I am losing so much tomato in the jar, when they are only filling up half of the quart .
    It seems like a somewhat inefficient use of the jar space.

    Does that make sense? gain, could care less about appearance !!!!!

  • digdirt2
    13 years ago

    Does that make sense? gain, could care less about appearance !!!!!

    Yes, I know what you mean but think of it this way. Assuming you aren't adding water to the jars, what you are seeing is all part of the tomato. It is just juice from the tomatoes so when you shake the jar up it is all good tomato "stuff", right?

    Still there are a couple of things you can do to get more tomato meat and less juice in the jar. You can smash pack them in more tightly (that's the advantage to using the Crushed Tomatoes instructions). You'll still get some separation but there will be less juices.

    Or you can drain them well before putting them in the jars. Cut them in halves or quarters, lightly squeeze and drain in a colander, even squeeze them a bit more. Then pack the jars. Some even pop out all the gel in the seed cavities to reduce the liquid.


  • zabby17
    13 years ago


    I grow a lot of heirloom tomatoes and I know where you are coming from!

    A few comments.

    First, as Dave wisely says, it's all good tomato "stuff"! Even the clear liquid is packed with tomato taste (my brother says he was served some clear tomato liquid in a tiny glass as a palate cleanser in a fancy restaurant recently, ooh la la --- it tasted tomato-y all right).

    So when you open the jar to make sauce, you'll be starting with exactly what you would have been starting with if you'd made the tomato sauce from the fresh tomatoes.

    As has been said, it's not because your toms are heirlooms but because they're juicy varieties that you have a low tomato pulp - to - liquid ratio.

    Here are a few ideas.

    * Make the sauce BEFORE you can it. (I love the flavour of sauce made from a mix of heirloom types.) This way you can cook it down as much as you want till it's a thickness that you like (or even ladle remove some of the clear liquid early on, either by ladling it out when they just start cooking, or by freezing and thawing & draining them first, to help thicken it without too long a cooking time). This is, as you suggest, a more efficient use of jar space.

    * Grow more paste-type tomatoes. You can still use heirlooms: try Amish Paste, Opalka, & Heidi, for example, all very meaty varieties with great flavour.

    * Can crushed tomatoes rather than whole ones. This won't get any more pulp into each jar, but it is distributed evenly so it doesn't look so float-y. I haven't found any recipes that call for whole tomatoes that don't do just as well with crushed ones. So nowadays I can

    - salsa
    - chunky herbed sauce w/ wine (the batches that come out thinner I label "pasta sauce" and the ones that come out thicker I label "pizza sauce" LOL --- this recipe is from Ellie Topp's Small Batch Preserving, and can be found with a search on this site)
    - plain tomato sauce (I separate out the yellows and oranges sometimes, for a few gorgeous bright jars)
    - crushed tomatoes

    This takes care of all my tomato needs throughout the year.



  • cabrita
    13 years ago

    Do you mean heirloom tomatoes as in open pollinated rather than hybrids? If by heirlooms you mean the type that look really good as a slice of tomato on your sandwich, and tips the scales to over one lb, yes, they are delicious but watery. I use them myself, I mill them after cooking to get the peel and seeds out. From this I get a rather thin sauce that I plan on reducing when I open the jar (or reduce and use before canning).

    For a thicker sauce, or for chunks and very meaty and delicious tomatoes I like oxhearts. They are open pollinated, so they are heirlooms too. I have had no luck with Romas, San Marzanos, Opalkas, Amish pastes.....they produce less and taste bland. Why bother? However oxheart was a different story, very tasty and productive! We will grow it again and target it more for sauces and canning.

  • mockturtle
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Awesome advice, everyone.
    I have thirty two tomato plants, six of them are Romas, Amish Paste, and San Marzano's. I planted everything late because of weather, so the only thing I have put p yet is my "heirloom" slicing tomatoes.
    It sounds like it is what it is. I think I will just try all of the ideas I have read here ( I will have enough tomatoes to do that), and see which method I like best this winter.
    Hey Zabby, can you post your Heirloom sauce recipe? Or is that the one you have a link to?
    Guess I need to go find out !!! Thanks everyone!

  • zabby17
    13 years ago


    The herbed pasta sauce I make is from the book Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (which I heartily recommend, btw). There's nothing particularly "heirloom" about it, however. You can make it with any kind of tomato, though since you peel the toms first I try to avoid using catfaced ones, which are a pain to peel, or ones that are really small. If you use juicy tomatoes, it comes out thin; if you use meaty ones, it comes out thick. On pasta, it's all good!

    I refer to it as "Chunky Herbed Pasta Sauce" rather than "Basil" because I often replace some of the basil with oregano, thyme, and/or other herb combinations.

    Chunky Basil Pasta Sauce

    Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
    -------- ------------ --------------------------------
    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
    2/3 cup red wine -- (150 mL)
    1/3 cup red wine vinegar (5 % strength) -- (75 mL)
    1/2 cup chopped fresh basil -- (125 mL)
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley -- (15 mL)
    1 teaspoon pickling salt -- (5 mL)
    1/2 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.

    Remove hot jars from canner and ladle sauce into jars to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of rim (head space). Process 35 minutes for pin (500 mL) jars and 40 minutes for quart (1 L) jars in a BWB.

    "8 cups"

  • mockturtle
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Just came across this in a canning blog. Thought I'd see what the experts here think-

    "The one secret you need to know is that when you peel and cut your tomatoes, they release an enzyme that may cause pulp and liquid to separate during the hot-water bath. You want to avoid this watery defect. Because heat deactivates the villain enzyme, your goal is to get the skinned, crushed tomatoes into a hot pot quickly, as described below.

    Figure about a pound of fruit per pint or 2 pounds per quart. Ease yourself into things with a small batch. Then once you get the hang of it, go back to the market and buy 25 pounds of tomatoes, which should run you about a buck-fifty a pound. And then get busy.


    about 1 lb Roma or other variety plum tomatoes

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice. (I don't like using bottled lemon juice because it tastes like wet dog dunked in Drano, BUT the argument for it is that commercial lemon juice has a set acidity level so it's more reliable for food safety.)

    1 peel the tomatoes: working in small batches, blanch tomatoes in a large quantify of boiling water for 1 minute. remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to shock them. cut out the stem with the point of your paring knife and then peel away the skin.

    2 now you need to work quickly: quarter enough tomatoes into a pot to cover the bottom, mash them good with a potato masher to release their juices and quickly bring them to a lively simmer.

    3 while they heat, blanch and peel your next small batch of tomatoes. add them one by one to the now-simmering liquid in the pot. if you want, you can quarter each new tomato as it goes in. i like to crush each one lightly in my palm and immediately push it down into the hot juice.

    4 once all your tomatoes are in the pot, return to a boil and cook steadily for 5 minutes, stirring and turning over the tomatoes periodically.

    5 ladle into jars and seal. Process in a boiling-water bath for 35 MINUTES FOR PINTS and 45 MINUTES FOR QUARTS.

    If any of this is unclear, please consult Ball or USDA-approved canning guidelines before attempting the"

  • hhfarmscottonwood
    9 years ago

    The problem isn't because you used heirloom tomatoes. Any non-paste type tomato will tend to be watery and will float. Look for paste type tomatoes like San Marzano and Amish Paste - both of which are heirlooms and are specifically intended for canning. In fact, San Marzano is considered by chefs to be THE best canning and sauce-making tomato available and the San Marzano tomato brand is one of the premier canned varieties available in specialty super markets. So don't the problem is that you're using an heirloom vs non heirloom. The problem is most likely that you're canning non-paste type tomatoes. Incidentally, I canned every tomato in my garden last year - all mixed into one ginormous batch - even cherry tomatoes! The flavor was sweeter than paste tomatoes would have been and it was definitely more watery, but it was delicious all the same and it beats supermarket canned tomatoes any day. Good luck to you!

    Here is a link that might be useful: H and H Farms

  • digdirt2
    9 years ago

    Any non-paste type tomato will tend to be watery and will float. Look for paste type tomatoes like San Marzano and Amish Paste - both of which are heirlooms and are specifically intended for canning.

    I'm sorry but that just isn't accurate at all. While it is true that canning heirlooms is no different than canning any other tomato - the heirloom label is irrelevant when it comes to canning - ANY tomato variety can be easily canned with excellent results. Further, many varieties other than paste types provide superior flavor when canned.

    While I would agree in part that San Marzano is a good variety, it is far from the best variety for canning. Rather it is just one of many good canning varieties. The old claim that only paste tomatoes should be canned has long been considered outdated..


  • thatcompostguy
    9 years ago

    I saw on one of those cooking shows one time where they either put tomato juice in a centrifuge to separate it, or they just let the solids settle out. They wanted clear juice for whatever it was they were making. It had all the tomato taste, but none of the red color. I could see making a Bloody Mary like this. Would be interesting. I could see using the clear liquid to put in pasta water to help flavor the pasta. I could see using plain gelatin to make tomato flavored gel hors d'oeuvres.

    Tomato juice deconstructed. Neat.