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Though it seems more quaint than cool, canning is making a comeback, and it's not hard to see its appeal. Preserving produce is surprisingly simple (and fun) to do, and it can even help you save money.
If you're using jars from previous canning projects, discard any that have nicks, cracks, uneven rim surfaces, or other defects.
Wash jars, plus lids and screw bands, in a dishwasher or in hot, soapy water and rinse well (do not towel dry).
On a jar rack or other metal rack in a large, deep pot, fill jars and pot with water about 2/3 full and bring to a simmer; do not boil. Keep jars hot until you're ready to use them. At the same time, allow lids to simmer in a small saucepan until you're ready to start processing.
Work in small batches. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds until skins crack (about 3 pounds tomatoes for each quart jar). Immediately plunge into ice water and slip off skin. Remove core; halve, quarter, or leave whole.
Add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each jar, then fill with tomatoes and any juices, packing tightly, leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top.
Remove any air bubbles by sliding a narrow plastic spatula between the jar and food to ensure proper sealing.
Wipe rim well, then center lid and screw on band just until resistance is met.
Place jarred tomatoes in pot, keeping them covered with at least 1 inch water. Cover and bring to a boil; boil for 85 minutes, adding water to keep jars covered as necessary.
Turn off heat and remove pot lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars with a jar lifter (don't tip them) and place upright on a towel on the counter. (Don't worry about wiping water off lids; it's best not to disturb them while the seal is forming.)
Cool for 24 hours. Check seal (lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed) and wipe jars clean with a damp cloth before storing. Label jars with date.
New to canning? Equip yourself with classic Ball jars, which have been the home preserver's pick for 125 years. Get helpful information and a starter kit that includes all the basic canning tools for $60 at freshpreserving.com.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2009.