Putting Up Tomatoes (Yes, YOU Can Do It!)

Who Needs The Grocery Store??

This past week, I put up over 20 pounds of tomatoes. If you have never canned a thing in your life, putting up tomatoes is the place to start. You will feel so resourceful! You don’t need any special equipment or special training. Truly anyone can prepare tomatoes to be stored for the winter and it doesn’t take very long at all. Even the kids can help with this project!

For years, I have been really careful about the food I feed my family, but I always felt pretty nonchalant about buying canned tomatoes at the grocery store. Heck, I knew that they did not taste as amazing as the tomatoes from my garden or the farmers market, but I was not really concerned about their safety. Alas, all the debate over the past few years about BPA (bisphenol A) got me thinking and made me take a closer look at the canned products I was purchasing. Many companies are now phasing out the use of BPA in cans and, truthfully, a lot of scientists say that the issue of BPA in cans is completely different than the use of BPA in baby bottles or soft plastics that can release chemicals when heated. However, under the better safe than sorry category, I decided to get my kitchen in order and start freezing my tomatoes for the winter so that I could rely less on canned goods from the grocery store. 

Tomatoes at the Scituate Farmers Market

Putting Up Your Tomatoes … 

Getting tomatoes ready for winter use could not be easier. All you need is a bunch of tomatoes, a pot of boiling water, a big bowl of ice water, and cutting board and some freezer bags or freezer safe jars or containers.

Getting started: 

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cut an “X” or a slit in the top of each tomato and set it aside.

2. Gently lower a few tomatoes at a time into the pot of boiling water. Depending on the size of the tomatoes, you want to let it hang out in the boiling water for only a couple of minutes. (Tiny Roma Tomatoes will take just under a minute – they are GREAT for making spaghetti sauce by the way.)

Boiling, boiling, boiling …

3. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the tomatoes one at a time to the bowl of ice water. You should notice that the skin on the tomato is starting to shrink back. Perfect!

4. Once the tomato is cool to the touch, remove it from the ice water and use your fingers to peel away the skin. This is a great task for the kids! Mine LOVE to peel away the skin – it comes off so easily. They peel away the skin and toss it in our compost pail.

5. I usually remove the skin from about 4 or 5 tomatoes at a time (or have my kids do that job) and then I chop them up all at once into the size that I most use for cooking – generally small bite-sized pieces.  I remove the top, tougher part of the core and some of the seeds and retain just about everything else. It helps if you chop your tomatoes on a cutting board that has a rim so that the juice is contained and doesn’t drip all over your counter. Chopped tomatoes, juice and all, should go into your freezer bags or jars!

Chopped tomatoes

6. Scoop the diced tomatoes into your freezer bags or freezer safe containers and let cool completely. I like to weigh my freezer bags on my kitchen scale to make sure that each bag has about 15 or 16 ounces of tomato in each bag – the equivalent of a can of tomatoes! This helps me make an easy substitution when I see a recipe calling for 1 or 2 cans of diced tomatoes.

7. After your tomatoes have cooled, press all the air out of the bags, seal them, date them, and lay them flat in your freezer. To use them later, take them out the night before you need them and let them thaw in your fridge. Couldn’t be easier!!

Why buy canned tomatoes when it is so easy and cost efficient to put up your own?  If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, the next time you are at the farmers market, ask your favorite farmers if they have “seconds” of produce to sell you – I am usually able to get a box of tomatoes (20 pounds) for maybe $12 or so because they aren’t pretty enough to be sold for full price. That will give you about 20 “cans” of tomatoes for less money than you would spend at the store and it’s way more delicious! Happy freezing! 

For Further Reading on BPA and Canned Goods … 

To check out a list of products with and without BPA in their cans, click on this link from Inspiration Green. This article from George Mason University gives some pretty solid reasons why we don’t really need to be so worried about BPA in cans. The European Food Safety Authority has undertaken significant studies to learn more about levels of BPA in humans and to regulate their use in products that are used for food.

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