Bottled Tomatoes

Since we’ve reached that part of the season when we’ve eaten just about all of the tomatoes we can handle I figured it was time to show you how we preserve our tomatoes.

My family have been preserving tomatoes for at least the past 80 years (that we know of) and as yet Ol’Pauly and I are the only ones from our generation to continue the tradition. Its something that we both love to do and we’re more than happy to share the process with anyone who wants to learn.

We use Fowlers Vacola jars for our preserves because they are of the highest quality.

Standard jar next to Fowlers Vacola jar. Note the thick rim of the Fowlers Vacola jar.

As you can see they are very thick glass and although they are on the expensive side ($3-4.50 per jar) they are most definitely a worthwhile investment as they do last a long time. Some of the jars that we are using today were handed down to us and are at least 50 years old.

If you use Fowlers jars I recommend that you follow our family rule: The jars are for family only! I have made the mistake of loaning them to a friend who threw the jars in the recycling bin! In our family we have a clear understanding that: these jars are like boomarangs – they come back! And at the end of each year there is a big round up of all of the jars so people know to expect a knock at the door.

Of course, you can do this with ‘standard’ jars that you’ve recycled from the supermarket. However, you will need to buy new lids often, as they don’t last very long. I use these jars for the preserves I put aside for friends. I do this so that I don’t have to worry about tracking them down afterwards. The process is essentially the same as for the Fowlers jars.

Before you get started:

Ensure that you have all of the equipment that you need for processing your tomatoes. This equipment should be thoroughly cleaned before use.

!! Never mind if you know you have cleaned it before you put it away last. All equipment must be washed immediately prior to use!!

You need to fastidiously clean your jars, lids and rings. Use a scrubbing brush or a bottle brush, and hot soapy water. I add a bit of bleach to the water too.

Then rinse in hot water with a splodge of white vinegar. The vinegar does two things: it assists in the sterilisation of your equipment and it also helps to remove soapy residue. This will leave your jars shiny and streak free.

Note: You do not have to use heat to sterilise Fowlers Vacola jars. They simply need to be very clean.

Thoroughly rinse all food items that will go into your bottles in clean water. Drain and set aside. In this case that would be your tomatoes and any herbs that you may be adding to your bottles.

Ensure that all of your equipment is placed in their appropriate positions ready for the processing to start.

OK – Here we go:

Fill your pot with water and bring it to a gentle boil.

Score the skin of all of your tomatoes by cutting a small X in the bottom. Set aside.

Blanch the tomatoes by placing them into the boiling water for only a minute or two. The aim is not to cook the tomatoes. We just want to loosen the skin so that it comes away easily when the tomatoes are plunged into the cold water.

Now is a good time to place your rings into a bowl of warm water, where they should rest for at least 15 minutes.

Remove the tomatoes from the pot with a colander or sieve and plunge them into a bucket of cold water. This will encourage their skins to begin peeling off.

Peel all of the tomatoes, placing their skins in a scrap bucket and placing the skinned tomatoes aside.

It is at this point that you will chop or puree the tomatoes if you prefer not to bottle them whole.

Now we go over to our clean jars. Place the wet rings into the grove on the outer rim of the jars, making sure that it is on evenly and that there are no twists in the ring. The rings should remain wet.

Just under the rim there is a groove where the ring sits. Pull the ring into this position.

The ring is in position.

A twist in the ring. Always correct twists in the rings as they will prevent lids forming a seal.

Place the jam funnel in the opening of your bottle. This is to ensure that the rim of your jar is absolutely clean. If there is any residue, no matter how tiny, it could prevent the lid forming a seal.

Pour a little water or juice into the jar, about 1/3 full should do. Packing the fruit into liquid helps to eliminate large pockets of air.

As you pack the tomatoes into the jar neatly place any herbs you prefer in and around the fruit. Presentation is always important of course! 😉 Note: I forgot to pack the basil into this lot. Oops!

While the funnel is in place add 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid per 500ml jar (1/2 tsp to 750ml, or 3/4 to a Lt), or if you are using lemon juice that’s 2tsp per 500ml jar (1 tbsp to 750ml or 2 tbsp to a Lt)

Top the jars up to within 1 cm of the lid of preserving liquid, whether that be water or juice. Don’t fill them any higher!

Double check that the rim of the jar is completely clean.

Place the lids on top of the jars so that they are level and snap on the clips. Or if you are using standards jars, screw on the lids.

If you have a preserving unit like the one below place the bottles into the unit and fill to 5cm above the jars with cold water (or tepid water for standard jars). Turn the unit on.

Fowlers Vacola preserving unit.

If you don’t have a preserving unit, place the jars into an empty pot with a cake rack sitting inside the pot. (The cake rack prevents the bubbles rattling the jars, which can cause them to break). Put your jars into position and fill to 5cm above the jars with cold water (or tepid water for standard jars).

A large stainless steel pot with a round cake rack placed at the bottom.

The jars must be completely submerged at all times in order for the jars to form a seal.

You need to bring the water to a rolling boil. This should take approximately 1hr. If the water boils before the hour is up don’t allow it to boil for more than 5min before switching off the unit or turning off the heat (pot).

**If you are using standard jars DO NOT use cold water to submerge hot jars as you risk breaking the glass!**

Using your bottle tongs, carefully remove the tomatoes from the water and place on a cooling rack or towel that has been spread over your bench.

Allow the jars to cool completely, undisturbed for 12 hrs.

Check that seals are all in tact. If all is well, label your jars with product name and the date of processing. If there are lids that did not seal you may need a new ring or lid. Replace and reboil.

How was that? Helpful?

If you’re interested, I run workshops on gardening and preserving the harvest. These workshops are aimed at teaching people how to do all sorts of practical things just as you see here at EveryDayInTheGarden. If you’d like to join one of my workshops please send me a message via the contact form and I will keep you up to date with any upcoming events. I also host “Garden Parties” for small groups throughout the year. I like to think of them like Tupperware parties but, for practical skills, knowledge and yummy cakes.

Speaking of cake:  Just in case you missed my post last year about tomato cake, now is the perfect time to make one. I swear it doesn’t taste savoury, it’s a little like carrot cake. My tip for serving it to friends is this: Don’t tell people what it is before they’ve tried it. Ask them to tell you what they think it is! I’ve experimented with this many times. If you tell people its tomato cake, they’ll turn their noses up at it. However, if they don’t know before they try it a) they never guess what it is and b) they all love it!

Are you preserving your harvest? Let me know what you’re preserving.


16 responses to this post.

  1. Well, I learned something new today. Never heard of Fowlers jars, or that type of preserving unit. But the jars look wonderful! How I wish I still had some old jars of my grandmothers. You are so right that the newer ones are so much thinner. I like the idea of a tomato cake, too. I bet my husband would love it, carrot cake is his favorite.


    • Hi there Holleygarden. Please let me know if you do try the tomato cake. I love to hear how people get on. Cheerio.


    • Oh yeah, I meant to ask if you had seen the link to the Bulla Garden Club? It is a gardening club that I am involved with. The garden specialises in Alister Clark roses as Bulla is the home town of Alister Clark. His property is just down the road. I’m not sure where you are but if you make it to Melbourne some time be sure to come and check it out. It’s just around the corner from the main Airport. Entry to the garden is free and the gate is unlocked during daylight hours.


  2. Posted by Nicole on March 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Just a small jar for me thanks Jo!


  3. Oh how I wish you’d posted this a few months ago! I bumbled my way along to the same point, but there was so much conflicting information out there! Thanks for all the great instructions and pictures – I think they really help.

    Where do you buy your lids and rings? I really need to get a big batch of new #3s and a jar funnel. I had so much mess all over my jars by the end of the process without using one.


  4. Beautiful! Love it! I have all my grandmas Jars on both sides of the family out of 22 grand kids, I am the only gardener/canner/preserver. I have never heard of Fowlers. Thank you for the post.


  5. Posted by Kate on March 19, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I had always used the Fowlers Vacola jars too until a friend made me get some of the Ball Mason preserving jars OMG!!!! they are fantastic!! SOOO easy to use no stupid clips and rings! and very very pretty!! I have a heap of FV jars that are doing very well as garden edging! LOL!



    • Hi Kate,

      I use the Ball jars from time to time too, particularly for tomato paste, but I love the quality of the Fowlers jars. I swear they bounce! BTW, you should give those old Fowlers jars a good clean up and sell them. There is quite a market out there for old jars no matter what the condition!


    • I was planning to buy some Ball jars but recently read that the lids contain BPA so planning to stick with my FV jars, despite them being a little more fiddly and not so pretty.


  6. I wish I could do this, but I just don’t think I would ever get around to it. There are somethings I just have to say, no you won’t ever do it. Must be great to have it all done and know you have the preserves.


    • Hi Leanne, I know that time is a huge issue for most people but I have two :

      1. get a small group together and make a morning/afternoon out of it. It is so much quicker. Everyone gets to take home their share of the spoils and best of all (if people come to yours) everyone chips away at the mess and when they leave you’d never know that all that work has gone on in your sparkling kitchen 😉

      2. Do little batches as and when you can. You’d be surprised how much you can end up with when you do this.

      I’m thinking about starting a little one a month group…


  7. Posted by Nancy on March 24, 2012 at 1:04 am

    This is a great post – thank you! I’m bookmarking it for fall when it’s time for me to preserve my tomatoes! I’m going to look for some of these jars. 🙂


    • Hi Nancy. I’m thrilled that people have found it so useful. I have been teaching a lot small groups how to do this through late summer and the overwhelming response is always, “wow, I didn’t realise how simple this was”. When you get the chance to do it in a group of friends or family it really is so much fun. The trick is finding good company to share the joy with you.


  8. I love my FV unit. I have an old stovetop one and bottled about 40 jars of marties (I left the skin on though) and about a dozen of pasta sauce too, using the #42’s and #27’s for the marties and #27’s for the sauce. Because of the way the stovetop units are set up with the thermometer in a hole in the edge of the unit, you cannot submerge your jars completely as the water pours out the side and I have only had 2 jars fail to date.

    This year I am planning to put in some huge veggie gardens (we’re hoping to move soon) and I will hopefully be canning and bottling a years supply of fruit and veggies. I have the FV for water bath preserving and a brand new not yet opened pressure canner for veggies that can’t be safely water bath preserved in the FV.


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