The even greater tomato canning of 2009

Canned tomatoes ©DPaul Brown

Gluttons for punishment, we are. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, we undertook our greatest processing and canning feat to date, dispatching with 200 pounds of tomatoes across two weeks. Thanks to our experiences over the past couple years, we’ve learned a few things that help speed the process and move things along.

For our purposes, as we were looking to get as much sauce out of the fruit as possible, two extremely large stock pots were of the essence. In addition, 23-quart pressure canners*
were required so we could process multiple batches in parallel. A 36″ range helped, but was not strictly necessary. Snacks and wine, however, were.

Whereas last year we merely scored the bottoms of the tomatoes and then blanched and cored them, this year we had an epiphany: If we cored the tomatoes first, then blanched them, the skins came away more easily, and we didn’t need to handle the slippery devils with a paring knife in one hand. Good-quality rubber gloves prevented our skin from cracking from the constant exposure to acid. Our ducks were in a row.

Our first day of canning by the numbers:

  • 100 lbs of tomatoes
  • 2 large stockpots and 2 23-quart pressure canners
  • 42 quart jars, lids and rings
  • 12 hours
  • 4 grown men
  • 3 underfoot dogs
  • 2 flaming kitchen towels

On the second Saturday, at our friends Nick & Russ‘s place in the East Bay, Nick mused on how we all enjoy this activity, and wondered how we as a society moved away from such labors. The answer, of course, is World War II.

Rosie the Riveter

The war effort was so great that, for more or less the first time in American history, women flooded the workplace. Postwar, many women continued to work out of the home, yet of course were still saddled with the full responsibility of maintaining a home and caring for a family. Convenience was the new black in the kitchen and around the house, and time-intensive chores like putting up food fell out of vogue, overshadowed by the TV dinner and other ready-to-eat foods. Home canning as a craft began to die a slow death.

The times, they are a-changin’ (again). Home canning has once again come into vogue, and punk domestics like us have taken it up like nobody’s business, turning to it not only as a way to preserve our own culinary creations, but as a social occasion, like a quilting bee. For labor-intensive though it is, I can attest that many hands do in fact make light work, and a day of canning with friends is time and effort well spent indeed.


Join the Canvolution!  Canning Across America (CAA) is a collective of cooks and writers who are dedicated to inspiring people like you to can, today.

Shauna recounts a CAA canning party in Seattle.

Marisa’s blog is wholly dedicated to the art of Food in Jars.

Apply the fruits of your labor on Lydia’s luscious cioppino.

* Tomatoes are insufficiently acidic for water-bath canning, or at least would require exceedingly long processing times. In addition, as we made a base of sweated onions and garlic in olive oil for our sauce, there is the risk of anaerobic bacteria. Pressure canning is the only safe method under these circumstances: 15 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure, to be precise. Refer to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for full information. 

  • That’s a lot of tomatoes! I was planning on canning mine, but, good-or-bad, I keep eating them as they ripen! I think I ought to go back to the Upick farm and just pick enough to can. Can’t beat the flavor!

  • I love having jars of tomatoes on hand through the winter and spring months. It’s a total taste of summer!

  • Wow that is a lot of canning…
    I have always wanted to try it. I love having the taste of summer in the later months.

  • I love reading your canning saga every year.

  • Tea

    So incredibly impressed with your tomato-rama each year. Wowza.
    I think another aspect of canning falling out of favor post WWII, is that a big industry had been developed to produce shelf-stable food for the troops, and once the war was over they needed a sales outlet. Thus the ad campaigns that told people this was the wave of the future and they should put the canner in the mothballs and get with the program. I love that people now are reversing the trend.

  • Thanks for that insightful addition! You’re absolutely right about that.

  • What an accomplishment! And so rewarding to have a supply of delicious products throughout the year. I just discovered your blog and it’s going on my Favorites list immediately!

  • um, wow. that’s a whole heck of a lot of tomaters. your bounty should last ya’ll, what, about 3 months? 🙂 too bad about those burnt towels, though–such sacrifice.

  • Thanks — I will strive to keep you entertained! 🙂

  • Heh, actually I think it might hold us until May or so, but that’s using it judiciously. We do tend to go through a lot of tomatoes!

  • Sean, can you tell me more about removing the core? We canned a mere 100 pounds over Labor Day weekend, all San Marzano, and I just left the cores in. Were you coring paste tomatoes?
    Also, I had a little brush with disaster when I cored tomatoes the night before I made them into sauce. I left them on the counter and they started to ferment a bit. By the time I cooked them down to sauce, they all tasted fine, but I was a little worried. What kind of work were you able to do ahead of time?

  • When we did the second installation at our friends’ place, about half of their tomatoes were San Marzanos. They definitely do have less of a core, so little that you probably could skip it altogether, though we did cut ours away just as a matter of course. In both cases, we did all our work in a day, but we did have many hands to make the work light.

  • Vicki in GA

    Wowzer – found this site on I love canning. I’m a Sacramento woman who moved to rural Georgia mountains five years ago – think “Deliverance” (it was filmed in the next county). This is the land of white bread, pork, grits, pork, biscuits, pork, gravy, and men who look like Larry the Cable Guy. Yes, it has taken a little adjustment on my part – thank goodness Trader Joe’s opened their first store a couple years ago in Metro Atlanta and around the corner from TJs is Whole Foods. I will survive…even if it is a 4-hour r/t drive from home.
    Back to topic: This little town has an old cannery that has been kept running for the local women since after WWII. The plant was built to give men returning from the war a job. Now, it is a haven for women who like to can veggies from their garden or from local farmers. I can’t begin to explain how neat the place is and how much I’ve learned from the women who can every year just like their mothers and grandmothers did. Pints are $.15 and quarts are $.25 to be processed in huge old industrial type pressure canners.
    The building has long stainless steel tables and sinks, with hoses over the tables. The floors are cement with drains. There are huge big pots to cook beans, soups, and stews before canning them. The plant opens at 7 a.m. and closes at noon two days a week until mid-October. I’ve had such a great time growing my own vegetables and canning. Last week, I watched a family making applesauce, and to some of the jars they added Red Hots to give the applesauce a pink tone and a cinnamon flavor. That is gourmet around here!! I absolutely love it here.