The first frost of the season waits for no one! I can’t use grad school as an excuse to delay the coming cold season, so I’ve been spending some early mornings and late evenings in the kitchen processing tomatoes. When I don’t have time to make a big batch of sauce, I am canning them simply on their own.

Canned tomatoes in their own sauce are easy to make and versatile to use all winter. You can pop open a jar and throw into warm chili, soups and stews, or simmer down into a sauce when you need it. The basic process is the same, regardless of how many quarts you decide to can.

Sauce tomatoes will work best, as opposed to cherry or slicer tomatoes, because they have small cores, low water content and are meaty. That means you get a lot of thick tomato taste without excess water. I like to throw in an odd yellow or orange tomato with my red ones to add a little color in the jar. You will need about three pounds of tomatoes per quart.

Working in batches, drop the tomatoes into a pot of almost-boiling water. Let them sit for up to 30 seconds – it could be as short as 10 seconds. The trick is to just soften the skins, but not cook the tomatoes. Throw them into a bowl or sink of ice cold water. Gently peel the skin off and core. If the skin is not loosened enough, throw them back in the pot for a few more seconds.

Have your warm, sterilized quart jars at the ready. Drop in 2 T. lemon juice into each jar, just as a safety measure to ensure the acidity level is high enough. Now stuff each jar with skinned tomatoes, pressing down on each one to mush them up and let their juices out. As you fill the jar, you should have enough tomato liquid squished out to cover the fruit. Leave 1/2 inch of headspace. Clean the rims, adjust two piece caps. Place in the hot-water bath canner.

Process the quarts in the hot water bath for about an hour and a half. A long time, I know. But those suckers need to get hot. When they come out, you should hear the “pop” within 24 hours. Tuck them into the cupboard and use as needed.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson