Three Ways to Can Tomatoes // Salsa, Spaghetti Sauce, and Quartered Tomatoes

Canning season is in full bloom. It’s right about now when I place bulk tomato orders with farms for canned soups, sauces, and salsa for the year. Tomatoes are my favourite thing to preserve. Canning your own is often more affordable than purchasing tomato-based products, and a jar of salsa in January is a taste of summer all over again.

Below are my fave tomato-based canning recipes that have been included in The Adventures in Local Food Blog over the years, including an introduction to hot water bath canning.

The basics of home canning:

In home canning, heat is applied to jars of food interrupting the natural decaying process and killing the microorganisms that cause food to spoil. The process also forces the air out of the jars, forming a vacuum seal that prevents any air or microorganisms from entering the jar, and allows the jars of food to be stored at room temperature for up to a year.

A Few Warnings: Hot water bath canning is safe for high acid foods such as fruit, pickles, chutney, jam, salsa and tomatoes with added acid (lemon juice). It is not safe for low acid foods such as vegetables and meats. When canning, follow a recipe and use the jar size dictated in your recipe as this relates to the necessary processing time.

Necessary Tools: canner (or large, deep pot), a rack (optional but helpful), (heavy glass) jars and two-piece metal lids, tongs, a rubber spatula, a ladle and a wide-mouth funnel.

Home Canning Steps

  1. Wash and prepare your produce according to your recipe.
  2.  Wash jars with hot, soapy water and rinse well. Place jars in the canner (or large, deep pot) with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes, sterilizing the jars. Leave the jars in the canner until you are ready to fill them.
  3. Place the snap lids in a small bowl or pot and pour very hot water over them. Allow them to sit a few minutes in the water to soften until you are ready to use them.
  4. Prepare your canning recipe. Don’t veer away from canning recipes. Fill your jars (with the help of the funnel and ladle) with your recipe. Follow your recipe regarding how much “headspace” to leave. The general rule is: ¼ inch for 125mL and 250mL jars and ½ inch for 500mL and 1L jars.
  5. Remove any air bubbles in the jar by running the rubber spatula along the inside wall of each jar. Wipe the rim of the jar to remove any food spills. Place the snap lid and metal screw band on the jar, tightening gently. Repeat for each jar.
  6. Now you are ready to “process” the jars in the hot water bath. Place the filled jars into the canner of boiling water. Begin timing, following your recipe regarding necessary processing time. Ensure that the water covers the jars by a min. of 1”.
  7. When your processing time is up, remove the lid and remove the jars from the canner without tilting. Place them on a heat-protected surface in a draft free area. Do not tighten the screw bands or move the jars for a number of hours. You will likely hear a popping sound when the seal forms. You can test the seals by checking that the centre of the snap lid curves downward. Store your jars in a cool, dark place.


Yields: Approx. 24 X 500ml jars


  • 30 lbs Tomatoes
  • 10 large onions
  • 10 average sized green peppers, chopped small
  • 10 jalapeño peppers, chopped small, without stems
  • 15 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of tomato paste (300 ml sized cans)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • 3 tsp. toasted and ground cumin seed
  • 4 cups of cilantro, chopped (6 bunches or so)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tsp. salt
  • 4 limes, juiced
  • 20 x 500ml mason jars.


  1.  Seed tomatoes: scrape out the insides, leaving only the meat part attached to the skins and remove the tops, where the stem attaches. The seeds and the ‘juicy’ parts come out. Save the seeds and the heads for use in another recipe (like soup!)
  2. Bring tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, garlic, tomato paste and vinegar to a boil. Once the boil is rolling, turn the stove down! Keeping the element at full blast will burn tomato to the bottom of the pot and risk ruining the batch. Boil until consistency is “like salsa”. Stir with constant vigilance.
  3. While the salsa is boiling and you are stirring, sterilize the jars by boiling them in the canning pot for 10 minutes.
  4. When the salsa has cooked down and it is the consistency that looks about right, add in the cilantro, cumin, sugar, salt and lime juice.
  5.  Using a pitcher and the jar funnel, pour salsa into the jars, making sure not to spill any on the rim.
  6. Leave ½ inch of space at top of jar.
  7. Clean rim with paper towel and vinegar. Place lids on immediately.
  8. Process 500ml jars in water bath for 20 minutes.

Family Secret Spaghetti Sauce

From the book Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Stick closely to the recipe; adding additional fresh vegetables will change the pH so it’s unsafe for water-bath canning. If you’re freezing it, then it’s fine to throw in peppers, mushrooms, fresh garlic, whatever you want.

Yields: Approx. 6-7 quarts


  • 10 quarts tomato puree (about 30 lbs. tomatoes)
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 1 cup dried basil
  • ½ cup honey
  • 4 tbs. dried oregano
  • 3 tbs. salt
  • 2 tbsp ground lemon peel
  • 2 tbsp. thyme
  • 2 tbs. garlic powder (or more, to taste)
  • 2tbs. dried parsley
  • 2 tsp. pepper
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg


  1. Sterilize jars.
  2. Saute onions in a small amount of water. Do not use oil! this is important if you are canning.
  3. Add tomatoes, spices, and bring to a boil. Once  a boil is reached, simmer on low for 2-3 hours. This will allow the sauce to thicken.
  4. Frequently check the sauce and stir to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  5. Add 2 tbsp of bottled lemon juice to each jar (half that much to pint jars).
  6. Ladle hot sauce into sterilized jars. Leaving ½ inch headspace.
  7. Process jars in canner. Once water is boiling, process for 35 minutes.

Quartered Tomatoes

Adapted from: Foods of Spry Field: Cooking and Preserving Then and Now. Urban Farm Museum Society

These are excellent used in sauces and cooking. If you add salt to the canned tomatoes, remember to reduce salt in any recipes for which you used canned tomatoes.

Yields: approximately 1 pint (500 ml) jar for every 5 medium tomatoes.


  • Lots of tomatoes!
  • Bottled lemon juice (not fresh lemon juice)
  • Salt (optional)


  1. Wash tomatoes and peel by dipping in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Cut tomatoes into quarters and cut out the hard core at the top. Remove bruised and discoloured sections. How do you peel a tomato? Score the peel – just make a little X on the bottom of the tomato with a knife. When you bowl is full of scored tomatoes, pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for a minute or two and then transfer the tomatoes into a bowl of cold water. The peels should rub off easily. Peeling tomatoes is optional.
  2. Put 2 cups (480 ml) tomato quarters into large stainless steel or enamel pot. Bring to a boil as you crush the tomatoes. Simmer, stirring constantly.
  3. Add remaining tomatoes quarters 2 cups (480 ml) at a time, but do not crush these tomatoes. When the last of the tomatoes have been added, boil 5 minutes.
  4. Remember that you must put in an acid (in this case, lemon juice) in each jar of tomatoes if you want to can them in a boiling water bath. Otherwise, they must be processed in a pressure can. Put 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) bottled lemon juice in each hot pint (500 ml) mason jar, and 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) bottled lemon juice in each quart (1 L) mason jar.
  5. Optional: To each pint (500 ml) jar add ½ tsp. (2 ml) salt. To each quart (1 L) jar add 1 tsp. (5 ml) salt.
  6. Pack hot tomatoes into jar leaving ½ inch (1 cm) headspace. Remove air bubbles and readjust headspace to 1/2inch (1 cm). Wipe rims and put on snap lids and screw bands. Process pint (500 ml) jars 35 minutes in a boiling water bath and quart (1 L) jars 45 minutes.

Happy canning,


~Jen Organ is the Community Food Programmer with the Our Food Project of the Ecology Action Centre.

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at Follow us on Twitter @ourfoodproject.

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