Tag Archives: tomatoes

Homegrown Tomatoes — Not just a Daydream

This winter was a cold one for most of us, making that next round of fresh homegrown tomatoes seem a distant daydream.  Did your supply of home-canned tomatoes from last year get low or even emptied?  Well, it’s not too early to start thinking of your next harvest.  Tomato plants can go in the garden once any danger of frost has passed, so sooner than later those ripe tomatoes could be a reality.

In southern states, tomato plants are now going into the ground. In more northern climates last frost may still be a few weeks away, but tomato plants Spring calendarcan already be started indoors. If you start them indoors from seed, you’ll wait four to seven weeks before they are ready to be planted outside.

A few tips from University of Georgia Extension will help your chances of success in starting your homegrown ‘maters:

  • Establish an indoor location near a south-facing window that receives a lot of sunlight. If you cannot do this, then you might need to use a supplemental grow light with a spectrum that mimics natural light.
  • Use a light soil mix for planting tomato seeds.
  • Select a seed variety that is adapted to your local area.
  • Remember to harden off the plants before transplanting by gradually exposing them to sunlight a little bit more each day for about a week before carefully tucking them into their garden beds.

Are your tomato plants already ready to go into the garden? Follow the planting, mulching, fertilizing, and watering tips from UGA Extension: Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes.

If you plan to preserve your upcoming bounty of homegrown tomatoes, then remember that there are options for both boiling water bath canning and pressure canning tomatoes. Make sure you follow tested recommendations, and have citric acid or a bottle of lemon juice ready! (Directions for canning tomatoes call for adding a small amount of citric acid or commercially bottled lemon juice in order to ensure the acidity and safety of the final product.)

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Your Favorite Salsa Recipe…Is it Safe to Can?

Raw ingredients for salsa

Maybe you inherited a delicious salsa recipe from your father and you’d like to ship it out the entire family, or maybe you got creative in the kitchen with your kids and would love to store jars of their salsa for a surefire snack throughout the school year. But then you wonder: is that unique blend of ingredients safe to can at home? Here are a few reasons why that’s an important question to ask, and a few resources to help answer it.

Cutting tomatoesChopping jalapenos

  • Salsas are a mix of acid and low acid ingredients. Overall pH is what determines if a product is safe to be processed in a boiling water canner. If a salsa is not adequately acidified to a pH of 4.6 or below, then processing in a boiling water canner will not provide enough heat to prevent toxin-production by botulism-causing bacteria. Sufficient, carefully calculated amounts of vinegar or another acid are necessary ingredients for acidification.
  • Without detailed knowledge of the ingredients, proportions, and procedure used for a salsa recipe, there is no way to tell is the product is safe for boiling water canning. Unfortunately, we at the National Center are not able to fund and staff product testing for individual recipes. Here is a link to learn more about the science behind determining the Heat-Processing of Home-Canned Foods.
  • If you are determined to can your own salsa, please call your local Cooperative Extension office and ask if they have contact information for private testing companies. This link will help you Find Your County Office.
  • Fortunately, USDA and Cooperative Extension have a variety of tested recipes and processes for canning salsa at home. Ten different and diverse salsa recipes as well as background information and step-by-step boiling water canning directions can be found in the University of Georgia publication Sensational Salsas. If you want to view the recipes by themselves, follow this link to the NCHFP webpage “How Do I?…Can Salsa”. From there you’ll see that each salsa recipe is also available in Spanish.
  • Some equipment and home preserving ingredient manufacturers also offer more recipes to try, but first do some research to find out if they are indeed reliable companies with tested recipes.

Mango Salsa Raw Mix

Since You Can’t Have Too Many Tomatoes…

Tomatoes

Just as the tomatoes in your garden grow and the varieties of tomatoes in markets continue to increase in number, we also encounter a generous assortment of directions for canning tomatoes. But canning your tomatoes does not have to be too complicated, if you simply use reliable, research-based directions for preparing and processing your food.

For example, home canned tomatoes may be crushed so that they are ready-to-use, or left whole or halved. Whole or Halved Tomatoes may be canned with water, in tomato juice, or with no added liquid. While the no-added-liquid version of canned tomatoes is a raw pack, Crushed Tomatoes are a hot pack only. Tomato Juice can be made as is or as a Tomato-Vegetable Juice Blend, as hot packs only. Also only available as a hot pack is Tomato Sauce.  Many more classic canned tomato product directions are available, such as Spaghetti Sauce with or without meat and Ketchup.

Canned Tomatoes

No matter how you choose to can your tomatoes, remember that it is very important to use a canning process time that matches up with the preparation directions for filling your jars. Also, it is important to the safety of your canned tomato products to use tested directions, like those from USDA. For many of these tomato products, there are canning options for both boiling water and pressure canning available in our directions.

In the case of these tomato products with both options, the pressure processing still requires acidification in these products. The pressure options only provide the same amount of heat to the product as the boiling water processes. Just because pressure is used to decrease the process time, the canning process is not the same as one to destroy spores of Clostridium botulinum as you would expect for low acid foods.

Peeled Tomatoes

Tomatoes are borderline in pH between acid and low acid foods, so the USDA preparation directions for these products call for acidification to allow a less severe heat treatment than would be required without it. To ensure safe acidity in whole, crushed, or juiced tomatoes, add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes. (Citric acid results in a less noticeable change in taste for most people.) For pints, use one tablespoon bottled lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon citric acid. Acid can be added directly to the jars before filling with product; in fact, this is recommended to be sure you get the acid in each and every jar. Sugar may be added to offset an acid taste, if desired, but the acid cannot be decreased to taste. (Four tablespoons of a 5 percent acidity vinegar per quart may be used instead of lemon juice or citric acid. However, vinegar may cause undesirable flavor changes.)

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has recommended directions for canning tomatoes and tomato products under “How do I”….”Can”…..”Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products“.

This entry contains excerpts from an article called “Sorting Out Tomato Canning Directions” written by Elizabeth Andress, PhD and Director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.