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Grandma Ruth’s Canned Tomatoes (No Pressure Cooker!)

How to Can Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are a great base for stews, soups, and sauces. Tomatoes are blanched, peeled, stewed, then placed into jars - no pressure cooker or water bath necessary! While the process is time-consuming, this is a simple process anyone can do. 

Jar of canned tomatoes

The great thing about this recipe is you know exactly what’s in your preserved tomatoes! No chemicals, dyes, or words you can’t pronounce, just tomatoes with a dash of sugar and salt. 

History of this recipe

This recipe was passed down through my grandmother, Ruth Miller, from deep in the holler of Madison County, North Carolina. We took a trip to where she grew up, and it's a beautiful piece of mountainside country out there.

Because she grew up without many of the luxuries we have today, this canning process is truly a back-to-basics recipe - with minimal ingredients and no electric pressure cooker. In fact, many people from her generation still can tomatoes this same way. It’s my hope that I can encourage you to carry on the tradition.

Best tomatoes for canning

We picked these tomatoes up from a local farmer’s market in North Carolina, so I’m not sure of the exact breed, but everyone has a different favorite for canning. In my experience, you can’t go wrong.

According to Food52 and other sources, the following breeds do well as canning tomatoes:

  • Bison
  • Roma
  • San Marzano
  • Big Mama
  • Jersey Giant

If you are getting your tomatoes from a farm or farmer’s market, you can always ask the farmer for their recommendation. They are usually very helpful and will be happy to offer tips, too!

About the Process

Yes, it’s possible to can tomatoes without a canner. As a fair warning, this process is labor intensive, but so rewarding. This process is similar to hot pack canning but without a pressure canner. 

TIP: I recommend breaking up the work by doing the prep work the day before, then the actual canning the next day. That way, you won’t be completely exhausted by the end of canning. 

The process moves at a gentle pace to start, but speeds up significantly as the food goes into the jars. 

Sterilizing Canning Jars

The first step in preparing for canning is to sterilize your canning jars. Make sure you have the proper number of lids, rings, and jars available.

Sterilize the jars and lids by running them alone through a dishwasher on a regular cycle with a heated dry, or boiling them. We chose the dishwasher option as that’s what my grandmother always does. 

There’s a lot of argument out there about the cleanliness of your dishwasher and how bacteria could breed inside the sealed jar. My grandmother has always used this method without fail. Especially with the heated steam drying everything, I don’t see how any bacteria could remain.

After the jars are sterilized, allow them to cool and place them in a clean dry place until you are ready for canning. Some opt to leave them in the dishwasher until they are ready to begin canning.

Canning Day Tips

After the prep work is done and the big day of canning has arrived, follow these preliminary tasks before you get started:

  • Clear and disinfect the kitchen counters. Make sure your countertops are clear because you will need to be able to work quickly as the process speeds up.
  • Set out the jars, lids, and rings for easy access.
  • Clear out your sink of any dishes. You will need lots of room for the next steps.

How to can tomatoes 

Follow the steps below for canning homegrown tomatoes.

Step 1: Prep the jars, lids, and rings

  • Line up your sterilized jars on the counter. If you have a granite countertop, I recommend placing a bath towel underneath the jars to avoid accidentally shattering one while working.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt in the bottom of each of the jars.
  • Place the lids and rings in a small pot and cover with hot water - almost boiling. This is not to sterilize, but to help the lids seal properly. 
Empty mason jars for canning with salt and sugar in the bottom

Tip: Drop every other lid right side up, then right side down in the pot. This prevents them from sticking together.

Step 2: Washing and Blanching tomatoes

Before washing or blanching, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. It should be enough to cover the tomatoes when they are all in the sink. 

Then, wash tomatoes twice with hot water and place them in your clean sink. Be sure to remove any dirt specks. Leave all of the cleaned tomatoes in your sink for the blanching process.

Now, when your stock pot of water comes to a boil, carefully pour the boiling water onto the tomatoes in the sink. Allow them to soak for about 15 minutes to blanch. 

Tomatoes in sink

The blanching process makes the skin peel right off of the tomato. After a few minutes of soaking the tomatoes in the sink, you will be able to see the skin start to separate from the flesh of the tomato. 

Peeling tomatoes by hand

After 15 minutes, skin and core each tomato. Quarter the tomatoes and place them in a large pot. When the pot is full, roughly “smash” up the tomatoes with a potato masher. This makes the cooking and canning process easier.

Step 3: Cooking the Tomatoes

After your tomatoes have been peeled, cored, quartered, and smashed, add enough water to the same stock pot to cover the smashed tomatoes. Then, bring the water and tomatoes to a boil for 5 minutes.

Tomatoes simmering in pot

Step 4: Canning tomatoes

After your tomatoes have been cooked, this is where the process speeds up quite a bit. Do a quick double-check to make sure you have all of your tools handy. You’ll want to move fast so each one of the jars seal properly.

Working with one jar at a time, spoon tomato mixture into each jar, leaving about 1-1.5 inches of headspace.

Immediately cover with a lid and ring. Seal tightly and place to the side.

Jar of tomatoes on stove

Working quickly through this process allows the heat to remain inside the jar and seals the lid properly. If the lid does not seal properly, the tomatoes will not keep more than 3-5 days in the refrigerator, so this step is very important.

As the tomatoes “seal”, you will hear a beautiful popping noise, which means your lids are sealing properly and you will have plenty of tomatoes for cooking. The lids will begin to "pop" or within an hour to 12 hours from placing the lids on the jars.

Ways to use canned tomatoes

We like to use our jarred tomatoes as bases and additions to soups, stews, and sauces. 

Check out these recipes:

Thinking outside the box, TheKitchn has 25 creative ways to use up canned tomatoes. Sloppy joes, braising meat, cooking pastas or grains, simmering meatballs, and pizza sauce were all great ideas!

Tips

  • Allow the sealed jars of tomatoes to cool before storing.
  • Do not move or tap on the lid after the can has been placed aside. This affects the internal pressure of the jar.
  • If the lids do not "pop" within 12 hours, gently press down on the center of the lid until it drops down.
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5 from 1 vote

How to Can Tomatoes (No Pressure Canner!)

Canned tomatoes are a great base for stews, soups, and sauces. Tomatoes are blanched, peeled, stewed, then placed into jars – no pressure cooker or water bath necessary! While the process is time-consuming, this is a simple process anyone can do.
Prep Time30 mins
Active Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 30 mins
Course: Cooking Guides
Cuisine: American
Keyword: canning, preserving, summer fruit, tomatoes
Yield: 13 Quarts
Author: Anna Kate
Cost: Not applicable

Materials

  • Table salt 1 teaspoon per jar
  • granulated sugar 1 teaspoon per jar
  • 10 pounds tomatoes about ½ a bushel

Instructions

Day Before Canning:

  • Sterilize jars by running them through a dishwasher.
  • Gather tomatoes and other tools.

Day of Canning:

  • Clear and disinfect the kitchen counters. Make sure your countertops are clear because you will need to be able to work quickly as the process speeds up.
  • Clear out your sink of any dishes. You will need lots of room to work.
  • Place the lids and rings in a small pot and cover with hot water – almost boiling. This is not to sterilize, but to help the lids seal properly.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt in the bottom of each of the jars.

The Process:

  • Wash and blanch tomatoes.
  • Remove skins, then core, quarter and smash tomatoes. Add to a large stock pot.
  • When pot is full or tomatoes are complete, add enough water to cover the tomatoes.
  • Bring to a boil for 5-10 minutes.
  • Funnel tomatoes into jars. Place ring and lid, and set aside.

Notes

Since this is an involved recipe, please read the post and this recipe card thoroughly before beginning.
* A commenter brought to my attention that through his experience as a dishwasher tech, he does not recommend sanitizing the jars or lids via dishwasher. Modern dishwashing units do not get as hot in temperature as older models. Please keep this in mind as you follow this tutorial.
* This recipe is best suited for tomatoes that will be used in sauces, stews, casseroles, or other dish that will be cooked thoroughly. It is not intended to be consumed "raw" or uncooked.
* As you read the comments below, you will notice the spirited mix of opinions on this method of canning. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on this method; however, as the owner of this website, I reserve the right to delete any and all comments which are hateful, disrespectful, or threatening in nature.
Recipe Rating




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Terri

Tuesday 4th of January 2022

Yep, this is just how my Mamaw in Jellico, Tennessee canned her tomatoes! She did cut an "X" into the bottom of the tomato before dropping them into the hot water, and she only blanched them for 5 minutes, the skins peel up from the X cut almost as soon as you put them in the cold water. Thanks for posting this, we've never, ever, ever, given our tomatoes a hot water bath, not once in many decades of canning tomatoes. Some varieties of tomatoes are considered "low acid" variety and if you're canning those, a little citric acid (or lemon juice) in the bottom of your jars and you're good to go. I don't understand the negative comments when this recipe has been tried and true for decades. Happy Canning Y'all

Jackie Ryan

Tuesday 23rd of November 2021

Thank you for posting this, I have been trying to find a recipe that does not require adding any other veggies. The only change is did was running my tomatoes through a tomato press then added the directly to the jars. Now I will be putting them into my homemade mac and cheese which is the bomb!!!

Kim

Monday 22nd of November 2021

Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! My Grandma used to do this same process and I never wrote it down, but after reading your recipe it all came back to me!!! Thanks! :) I will for sure pass this down to my kids.

PS.. From North Carolina

Linda Zee

Thursday 23rd of September 2021

I've found an easier way to slip tomato skins involving no boiling water. I half and core fresh tomatoes and lay them out on a cookie sheet (one with sides to catch any juice). Then I broil them in my oven for about 3 to 5 minutes. Take them out and the skins slip right off. I wish I could have told my Mom about this years ago so she wouldn't have had so much steamy work in a hot kitchen when she canned tons of tomatoes.

Kathy

Monday 20th of September 2021

Can I add onions with the tomatoes to this canning process?

Anna Kate

Tuesday 21st of September 2021

Hi Kathy,

I would not recommend adding onions as I have not tested that with this recipe. If you choose to do this, I would recommend proceeding with a pressure canner. Thanks!

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