Traditional Tomato Preservation Methods

Tomato preservation is an age-old practice, allowing you to savor the summer’s bounty throughout the year.

Before the advent of modern refrigeration, traditional methods such as canning, drying, and fermenting were essential for keeping tomatoes from spoiling.

Today, these time-tested techniques not only serve a functional purpose but also offer a unique taste and texture that can enhance your culinary creations.

Tomatoes hanging in a cool, dark cellar, surrounded by jars of homemade tomato sauce and sun-dried tomatoes

Sun-drying is one of the most ancient preservation methods, harnessing the natural energy of the sun to eliminate moisture and prevent spoilage.

This method concentrates the tomato’s flavors, making them ideal for pastas, salads, and as a tasty snack.

Canning, on the other hand, involves sealing tomatoes in sterilized jars to protect them from bacteria and enzymes that lead to decay.

This technique keeps the fresh taste of tomatoes accessible, whether you’re looking to craft a hearty stew or a homemade sauce.

Tomatoes hanging from a wooden beam, sun-drying on a warm, sunny day. Jars of canned tomatoes line the shelves in a rustic pantry

Throughout history, you can observe that the journey of tomatoes from a wild fruit to a preserved staple involves both cultural perceptions and technological advancements.

Cultural Significance of Tomatoes

Tomatoes have deep roots in Mesoamerican cultures, originally grown by the Aztecs and Mayans.

You’ll note that after their introduction to Europe in the 16th century, tomatoes overcame an initial reputation for being poisonous and dubious to become integral to Mediterranean cuisine.

The rich culinary landscape of this region eventually led to the widespread acceptance and need for preserving tomatoes.

Evolution of Preservation Techniques

The progression of preservation methods shows adaptation and ingenuity.

Initially, sun-drying was used by ancient civilizations to extend the shelf-life of tomatoes, utilizing the natural dehydrating effect of the sun to reduce moisture and prevent spoilage.

As time progressed, innovations such as canning emerged, especially following the technological advancements of the 18th century. This method, involving the heating of tomatoes to eliminate bacteria before sealing them in sterilized containers, provided a reliable means to preserve the fruit year-round.

Preparation for Preserving Tomatoes

Preserving tomatoes requires careful preparation to ensure the quality and safety of the preserved food. By selecting the best tomatoes and handling them properly, you maximize flavor and longevity.

Selecting the Right Tomatoes

When choosing tomatoes for preservation, opt for ripe and disease-free fruits.

Ripe tomatoes should have a uniform color, without green spots, and feel slightly firm to the touch. Avoid any tomatoes that show signs of disease or decay.

If frost is a concern, remember that frost-killed or damaged tomatoes are not suitable for preservation due to the potential of spoilage and bacteria proliferation.

Cleaning and Preparing Tomatoes

Before preserving, thoroughly wash your tomatoes with water to remove any dirt or bacteria.

It’s also crucial to cut away any dead spots or imperfections to ensure only high-quality pieces are preserved.

Gently dry the tomatoes with a towel to minimize moisture on the skins, which can affect the preservation process.

Peeling and Deseeding

To peel your tomatoes, a common method is blanching.

Swiftly submerge whole tomatoes into boiling water for 30-60 seconds until skins start to split, then transfer them to an ice bath. This process makes the skins easier to remove.

After peeling, it’s optional to deseed your tomatoes—cut them in quarters, remove seeds, and press out extra juice if a drier preservation method, like sun-drying, is your choice.

Remember, seeds and extra moisture can affect texture and flavor in some preservation methods.

Canning Tomatoes

Canning is a reliable method to preserve the flavor and longevity of your tomatoes through sterilization and sealing in jars. Here’s how you can do it efficiently.

Canning Whole Tomatoes

Before you start, ensure your canning jars and lids are clean and sterilized.

Wash them in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. For sterilization, place the jars in a boiling-water canner for at least 10 minutes.

To can whole tomatoes, first, you need to peel them.

Cut a shallow “X” at the bottom and blanch in boiling water for 30-60 seconds until the skins start to pull away. Then, immerse in ice water.

Pack your peeled tomatoes into the jars, leaving about a half-inch of headspace at the top. Add a teaspoon of bottled lemon juice per pint to ensure acidity.

1. Peel TomatoesBlanch, cool, and peel skins.
2. Pack JarsPlace peeled tomatoes into jars with lemon juice.
3. Remove AirSlide a non-metallic spatula inside the jar to remove any air bubbles.
4. Seal and ProcessWipe rims, apply lids, and process in water bath.

Making Tomato Sauce for Canning

Start by cooking down your peeled tomatoes in a large saucepan until they reach the desired consistency for sauce.

You may add vinegar or additional bottled lemon juice to assure the sauce has an adequate acid level for safe preservation.

Simmer the sauce to thicken, then pour into your sterilized jars, again leaving proper headspace.

Remove air bubbles with a spatula, wipe the rim clean, then secure the lids. Process the jars in a water bath to seal and preserve.

Pressure Canning for Longevity

For enhanced preservation, you may opt for pressure canning, particularly for low-acid tomato varieties that require a higher temperature to prevent spoilage.

Use a dial gauge pressure canner and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific model.

Fill your jars with prepared tomatoes or sauce, leaving the appropriate headspace. After sealing the jars, load them into the pressure canner.

Adjust the pressure according to your altitude and canner’s specifications, and process for the recommended time.

Once done, let the pressure return to normal before opening the canner, then remove the jars and allow them to cool undisturbed.

Freezing Techniques

When you freeze tomatoes, you effectively extend their shelf life while preserving the taste and nutritional value. Freezing is convenient and can be done with whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, or as part of a prepared dish.

Freezing Whole Tomatoes

To freeze whole tomatoes, start by selecting ripe, firm tomatoes.

Wash them thoroughly, then pat dry. You may choose to peel the tomatoes or leave the skins on.

If peeling, make a small X on the bottom of each tomato and blanch in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then transfer to an ice bath. The skins should slip off easily.

Once peeled, place the tomatoes on a baking sheet, avoiding overlap, and freeze until solid.

Transfer the frozen tomatoes to plastic freezer bags, label with the date, and return to the freezer.

The storage time for quality will generally be around 8 months, but they can remain safe beyond that.

  • Ripe tomatoes: Select firm and blemish-free.
  • Peeling: Optional, blanch to ease peeling.
  • Storage: Up to 8 months in freezer bags.

Freezing Tomato Sauce

To freeze tomato sauce, prepare your sauce as you typically would, allowing it to cool completely before freezing. This ensures the sauce’s texture and flavor are optimally preserved.

Pour the cooled sauce into freezer-safe containers or plastic freezer bags, leaving enough headspace for expansion—around 1 inch—seal, label, and freeze.

Store the sauce flat to save space and ensure even thawing. Your frozen tomato sauce should maintain optimum quality for up to 6 months.

  • Cooling: Must be completely cool before freezing.
  • Containers: Leave 1 inch of headspace.
  • Storage: Best used within 6 months.

Packaging Tomatoes for the Freezer

Proper packaging is crucial for preserving the quality of your frozen tomatoes.

Plastic freezer bags or airtight containers are your best options. Remove as much air as possible from the bags to prevent freezer burn.

Clearly label each package with the date to keep track of how long they have been stored.

Organize your freezer to allow air circulation and make it easy to find and use your frozen tomatoes.

Drying and Dehydrating Tomatoes

Drying and dehydrating are time-honored techniques to preserve the robust flavor of tomatoes when they’re most plentiful for enjoyment throughout the year.

While the methods differ slightly, each process removes moisture to create concentrated, shelf-stable tomato products.

Oven Drying

To oven dry tomatoes, start by cutting your tomatoes into uniform slices to ensure even drying.

Preheat your oven to a low setting, around 200°F, which helps preserve the tomatoes’ natural taste.

Place the slices on a baking sheet, ideally lined with parchment for easy removal, and bake for about 6-12 hours.

This time can vary based on tomato size and water content.

Once dried, they should feel leathery but not crispy.

Sun Drying Methods

Sun drying taps into the natural heat and airflow of the Mediterranean climate, well-known for its sun-dried tomatoes.

Choose a series of dry, sunny days with temperatures above 85°F.

Slice the tomatoes and lay them on clean racks or screens. Protect them from insects with cheesecloth and turn regularly until the moisture evaporates.

This method imparts a unique, deeply sun-kissed flavor but may take several days.

Using a Dehydrator for Tomatoes

If you opt for using a dehydrator, it permits controlled air circulation and temperature, leading to consistent results.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on the trays without overlapping.

Set the dehydrator to 135-140°F and let it run for approximately 6-8 hours.

Dehydrating times may vary, so check the slices periodically until they reach the desired leathery yet pliable texture.

Fermentation and Pickling

When preserving tomatoes, fermentation and pickling are two traditional methods that each offer unique flavors and textures.

By using salt, sugar, vinegar, and various spices and herbs, you can transform tomatoes into long-lasting, delicious products.

Fermenting Tomatoes

Ingredients for Fermentation:

  • Salt: Sea salt or kosher salt without additives is preferred for its ability to enhance the natural flavor.
  • Water: Chlorine-free, to promote the growth of good bacteria.
  • Spices and Herbs: Customize with garlic, pepper, and onions for added aroma and flavor.
  • Tomatoes: Cherry or Roma tomatoes work well due to their firmness and size.


  1. Prep: Wash cherry or Roma tomatoes and any herbs or spices you are using.
  2. Salting: Dissolve salt in chlorine-free water to create a brine.
  3. Submerge: Place tomatoes in a jar and completely cover them with the brine.
  4. Ferment: Store the jar at a cool, room temperature away from sunlight for several days.

During fermentation, natural sugars in the tomatoes interact with bacteria to develop a tangy flavor.

Pickling Green Tomatoes

For pickling green tomatoes, you’ll create an acidic environment using vinegar which acts as a preservative.

Pickling Ingredients:

  • Vinegar: The base of your pickling solution.
  • Sugar: Balances the acidity.
  • Salt: Enhances flavor and aids in preservation.
  • Spices: Such as dill, mustard seeds, or cloves.

Pickling Steps:

  1. Slice: Cut green tomatoes into halves or quarters.
  2. Combine: Mix vinegar, water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil.
  3. Jar: Place tomatoes in jars, adding herbs and spices to taste.
  4. Pour: Fill jars with hot vinegar solution and seal.

This process retains the crunchy texture and infuses the tomatoes with a zesty flavor.

Creating Flavored Vinegars

Create your own flavored vinegars for an extra twist to your pickled tomatoes by infusing them with various herbs and spices.


  • Vinegar: Choose white, apple cider, or wine vinegar as a base.
  • Flavorings: Add herbs like dill or thyme, spices such as peppercorns, or aromatics like garlic and onions.


  1. Combine: Place chosen herbs and spices in a clean bottle or jar.
  2. Heat: Warm vinegar to just below boiling, then pour over the flavorings.
  3. Steep: Seal the container and let it sit for a few weeks, shaking occasionally.

The flavored vinegars not only add depth to your pickled tomatoes but can also be used in dressings and marinades.

Alternative Tomato Products

Ripe tomatoes being sun-dried on wooden racks, others being processed into sauce and paste in a rustic kitchen setting

Transforming tomatoes into various products allows you to enjoy their flavor throughout the year in numerous forms.

Whether you are making a robust paste, tangy juice, or a flavorful sauce, these methods help you preserve the fresh taste of tomatoes in a convenient and practical manner.

Making Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is a concentrated form of tomatoes that embodies their flavor in a thick, rich consistency.

To make homemade tomato paste, you should simmer tomatoes for several hours, allowing the moisture to evaporate and the flavors to intensify.

Once reduced, strain the mixture to remove seeds and skin, and further reduce until it achieves a dense, rich texture.

This paste can serve as a base for pasta sauce, tomato soup, or as an enriching ingredient in stews.

Producing Tomato Juice

For tomato juice, your tomatoes need to be washed and cut before being simmered to break them down.

This mixture is then strained to remove the solids, resulting in a vibrant, fresh-tasting juice.

You can season the juice according to your preference or use it as a base for soups or sauces.

Crafting Specialty Sauces

Sauces are versatile products that can range from simple purees to complex spaghetti sauces.

Begin by cooking down your tomatoes into a basic puree.

From there, the puree can be customized with herbs, spices, and other flavorings to create a variety of sauces such as pasta sauce, homemade ketchup, or salsa.

For a thicker tomato sauce, cook the puree until it reduces to the desired consistency.

These homemade sauces often surpass store-bought versions in both taste and quality due to the lack of added preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Storage and Shelf Life

When preserving tomatoes, maintaining quality and safety during storage is paramount. Correct storage practices help extend the shelf life of your preserved products, ensuring you can enjoy ripe tomatoes year-round.

Best Practices for Storing Preserved Tomatoes

To maximize the storage time and maintain the quality of preserved tomatoes, store them in a cool, dark place.

Canned tomatoes should be stored at temperatures between 50°F and 70°F.

When using glass jars, ensure they are sealed tightly to prevent contamination and spoilage.

For plastic containers used in freezing, verify that they are freezer-safe to withstand low temperatures without cracking and that they are airtight to avoid freezer burn.

  • Canning: Store canned tomatoes in a pantry.
  • Freezing: Freeze tomatoes in freezer-safe plastic containers.

Understanding Shelf Life of Tomato Products

Shelf life varies depending on the preservation method:

  • Canning: Generally retains quality for 12 to 18 months.
  • Freezing: Best used within 8 months for optimal flavor.

It is essential to label your preserved products with the date of preservation to keep track of their freshness.

Regular checks for signs of spoilage such as discoloration, off odors, or leaks are crucial, even within these periods.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find detailed responses to some common inquiries about traditional tomato preservation methods.

How can tomatoes be preserved using vinegar as per traditional techniques?

To preserve tomatoes with vinegar, you would typically create a pickling solution using a combination of vinegar, water, salt, and sometimes sugar.

After sterilizing your jars, pack the tomatoes in, cover them with the hot pickling liquid, and seal the jars using a water bath canning process.

What are the methods for preserving tomatoes in oil?

Preserving tomatoes in oil involves drying the tomatoes partially or completely and then submerging them in oil, often with herbs and garlic for added flavor.

The oil acts as a barrier from air and bacteria, keeping the tomatoes from spoiling.

What are the steps for canning tomatoes in jars using traditional practices?

To can tomatoes traditionally, start by washing and coring the tomatoes.

Then, blanch them in boiling water to remove the skins.

Next, pack the tomatoes into sterilized jars, add lemon juice to ensure acidity, and cover them with hot water or cooking liquid, leaving some headspace.

Process the jars in a water bath canner for the time recommended by safe canning guidelines.

Can you describe the Italian traditional way of preserving tomatoes?

The Italian traditional method of preserving tomatoes often involves canning.

After boiling and peeling the tomatoes, they are crushed and simmered.

The cooked tomatoes are then jarred and sealed with a layer of olive oil on top, followed by processing in a water bath to ensure they are shelf-stable.

What are some natural preservation methods for tomatoes without using a refrigerator?

Natural preservation methods for tomatoes include sun-drying, where tomatoes are sliced and left in the sun to dry out. After thorough drying, store them in a cool, dry place. Alternatively, you can layer them in sand or sawdust in a cellar to extend their shelf life without refrigeration.

What is the old-fashioned way of canning tomatoes?

The old-fashioned way of canning tomatoes involves peeling the tomatoes after blanching them. Then, you place them in sterilized jars filled with hot water or their own juice, and add acidity with lemon juice or vinegar. The jars are then sealed and processed in a water bath canning system.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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