Guest Post – Canning Tomato Jam with Kids

As I venture into the world of canning for the first time, I am relieved to have some support from my experienced pals like Kathleen.  Many thanks for this awesome guest post on canning with kids.  (Yes, they can indeed make it a more efficient process!) Kathleen McDade is a writer, educator, mom, gardener and full-time bicycle commuter. She blogs about parenting, technology and sustainability at http://technoearthmama.com.

High temperatures, sharp objects, breakable glass, potential for spread of bacteria –a perfect activity for children? Yes, really.  Canning, like cooking, does have all of these potential hazards. But with proper training and supervision, it’s a fun activity for adults and children, as well as a great learning experience.

My daughters, ages 8 and 10, have been helping me preserve the apples, pears and tomatoes we’ve purchased or harvested this fall.  It all started one night when Suzy, the 10-year-old, came downstairs after bedtime and found me getting ready to can some applesauce.  It was late, but I figured it would be educational, so I let her stay up and watch and grab a few items for me.

Another night, I let her cut up a few tomatoes for tomato sauce. She quickly figured out the technique, and next time taught her sister Beth to do it, too.

Now they’re worthy assistants who actually do save me time. We’ve made two batches of tomato jam together, and have streamlined our process. Here’s how it works.

Tomato Shark

What you need:

  • Water bath canner (large pot with a lid and a rack for the bottom)
  • Jar lifting tongs
  • Magnetic lid lifter
  • Canning funnel
  • 8-10 half-pint (8-oz) canning jars with rings and lids.
  • Tomato shark & sharp knife
  • 5 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cloves
  • Ground ginger
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • 3-½ cups sugar
  • 1 packet of no-sugar pectin

What we do:

  1. Everyone washes their hands and puts on an apron.
  2. Next I fill the canner with enough water to go at least one inch above the tops of the jars and put a rack in the bottom (if you don’t have a rack, you can cover the bottom with extra jar rings). Then we put it on the stove, put the lid on it, and turn the burner up to high.
  3. We usually sterilize our jars in the dishwasher. Run ‘em through and then keep them on the heated dry setting until you’re ready for them. You can also boil them for 10 minutes in the canner to sterilize.
  4. We dump five pounds of ripe tomatoes into a clean sink full of clean water and wash them off. Any kind of tomatoes will work; we prefer Romas, which contain more “meat” and less water.
  5. Next, Beth uses a tomato shark to remove the stem and core of each tomato. We keep a bowl handy for the scooped-out pieces.
  6. Beth passes the tomatoes on to Suzy, who cuts off any bruises or scabby-looking pieces of skin. Then she cuts the tomatoes into quarters (you may prefer smaller pieces).
  7. Meanwhile, I get the lids and rings into a saucepan of water, and bring it to a boil. After they boil for 10 minutes, I turn it down to the lowest setting to keep everything warm.
  8. After Suzy has cut up several tomatoes, I start putting them into a large, stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat.  As they soften, I mash them up with a potato masher and stir frequently. I also stick a spoon in the freezer for checking the jam later (see step 12).
  9. Eventually we have all of the tomatoes mashed up in the pan. I stir in ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper and ¼ cup of bottled lemon juice, turn the heat up to high and bring it to a hard boil.
  10. Meanwhile, the girls measure out 3 ½ cups of sugar and mix it with a packet of no-sugar pectin. Yes, we use no-sugar pectin with sugar. It gives the jam a firmer set.  And you can use less sugar if you want to.
  11. When the tomatoes are at a HARD boil, I stir in the sugar/pectin mixture. Then we bring it back to a hard boil, and time it for one minute of boiling.
  12. At this point, you’re supposed to use an ice-cold spoon to check to see if the jam will set.  You scoop up a small amount of jam and tilt the spoon to see whether it runs right off or starts to thicken up. I almost never get a good result from this, but my jam sets anyway. Your mileage may vary. If it doesn’t thicken, you can turn the heat up and boil it for another minute and test it again with a fresh spoon.
  13. The girls help fill the jars with a canning funnel and a ladle, leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top of each jar. Then we wipe the jar rims with a clean towel to remove any excess jam.
  14. Next we put a lid on each jar, using a magnetic lid lifter to get them out of the saucepan. Yes, you really do need one. I tried to use regular tongs the first time, and it does not work. Then I put a ring on each jar, twisting it finger-tight (but not super-tight). I do this myself, because the jars are hot enough to burn little fingers.
  15. Then I use jar-lifting tongs to put the jars in the canner. I’m still doing this myself, too, but I could probably teach Suzy to do it without breaking any jars. Then we bring the canner back to a full, rolling boil, and set the timer for 15 minutes.
  16. We should use the 15 minutes for cleanup, but more often we rest and cool off. When time is up, I use the tongs to remove the jars immediately. They usually start popping right away, which means the lids are sealing! Then we let them cool overnight
  17. When the jars are completely cool, we check for proper sealing by pressing on the center of each lid. If the lid pops up and down, it is NOT sealed. If one of them isn’t sealed, that’s OK! We just put that jar in the refrigerator and use it right away.

Tips for canning with kids:

  • Teach them to use a knife safely: never point a knife at someone else, cut away from yourself, keep fingers out of the way.
  • Follow a progression: show them what to do, help them practice, then let them solo.
  • Give each child his or her own workspace and tools. We have a cutting mat for each child to use.
  • Handle the boiling water and hot jars yourself, at least at first. Older children may be able to help with this after some training.
  • If you need help with basic canning skills, my go-to guide is pickyourown.org.

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5 Responses to Guest Post – Canning Tomato Jam with Kids

  1. I just realized that I should have them tie their hair back! 🙂 Thanks for posting this.

  2. I can constantly with my 9 and 11 year olds-thanks for the shared knowledge and encouragement!

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