Extension Explores Tomatoes

Tomato Fiesta Contest Information

It’s a Tomato Fiesta contest! Please share a photo of your best 3 varieties of home-canned tomato products - (Examples include: whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, juice, salsa, paste)

Photos will be judged on canned products and creativity of display.

Please upload and send your best photo to Paula May by Friday, June 24th.

A prize will be awarded to the participant with the winning photo which will be featured in the July Extension Explores newsletter. 

So pull out your best three home-canned tomato products and submit today in the ‘Tomato Fiesta’ contest.

Photo Source

Email Paula May Your Entry Here

It's Almost Fair Time in Tennessee!

It’s almost summer which means fair season is right around the corner! Save the date for your county fair and get ready to bring your best home preserved items! Click the images below to see them in a PDF document. We have also listed the upcoming fairs in Middle Tennessee along with their dates and websites. 

Clay County Fair

June 7-11


Sumner County Fair

July 4-9


Smith County Fair

July 4-9


DeKalb County Fair

July 11-16


Overton County Fair

July 15-25


Bedford County Fair

July 18-23


Trousdale County Fair

July 28-31 & August 4-6


Gardening Tips

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the home garden. There are many types of tomatoes that are grown for different uses in a multitude of food dishes.


Types and Varieties - Determinate and indeterminant varieties provide options for harvesting and uses. Determinant varieties set numerous fruit over a very few weeks and ripen over a short harvest period, usually four to five weeks. Determinant varieties reach a height of three to four feet and are more compact than indeterminant varieties.

Indeterminant varieties continue to grow throughout the growing season until killed by frost, insects, or disease. Plants set and produce fruit in a consistent, continual harvest. Plants are much taller than determinant varieties, requiring more space and support.


Early Girl is an indeterminant earlier producer that will bear season long. Tomatoes are not large slicers, but plants are reliable, excellent producers.

Celebrity is a very popular determinant variety for those who want a concentrated harvest.

Larger fruit may be harvested from other varieties, including Big Boy, Better Boy, Parks Whopper.

Super Sweet 100 is a prolific cherry tomato. It is extremely sweet and great for snacks, salads, and more.

Roma tomatoes are plum types popularly used for canning and tomato paste because of its slender and firm nature.


Side dressing – Tomatoes are high nitrogen users. Provide additional nitrogen fertilizer when first fruits are one inch in diameter and repeat every four weeks through harvest. Don’t overdo it! Too much nitrogen will result in beautiful plants while reducing tomato fruit set and yields.


Provide support of plants with stakes and/or cages, or by using the “Florida Weave” technique. Tomato plants may be grown in containers, using pots that will hold a minimum of five gallons of soil or growing medium. Always provide consistent moisture to meet the needs and reduce stress on the plants.

To learn more about tomato production check out this publication which is also our photo source. 

Safety Tips for Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most widely home canned product in the United States. They also are one of the most commonly spoiled home canned products.

Although tomatoes are considered a high-acid food (pH below 4.6), certain conditions and varieties can produce tomatoes and tomato products with pH values above 4.6. When this happens, the product must be canned in a pressure canner as a low-acid product or acidified to a pH of 4.6 or lower with lemon juice or citric acid.

Research has found several conditions that can reduce the acidity of tomatoes. These include decay or damage caused by bruises, cracks, blossom end rot or insects, and overripening. Tomatoes grown in the shade, ripened in shorter hours of daylight, or ripened off the vine tend to be lower in acidity than those ripened in direct sunlight on the vine. Also, tomatoes attached to dead vines at harvest are considerably less acidic than tomatoes harvested from healthy vines. Decayed and damaged tomatoes and those harvested from frost-killed or dead vines should not be home canned.

To ensure safe acidity in whole, crushed or juiced tomatoes, add lemon juice or citric acid when processing in a boiling water bath. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes. For pints, use 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid. Acid can be added directly to the jars before filling with product. If desired, add sugar to offset the taste.

Freezing is a safe, easy alternative to home canning. Frozen tomatoes and tomato products do not need added acid.

The most common reasons for spoilage in home-canned tomato products are underprocessing and incomplete seals. Tomatoes that have not been processed long enough to destroy molds and heat-resistant bacteria may spoil during storage. One of the common spoilage organisms, Bacillus coagulans, is very heat resistant and causes flat-sour spoilage. The jar lid may still be sealed and the product may appear normal, but the tomatoes will smell sour because of lactic acid produced by the growth of B. coagulans in the product. Never use tomatoes or tomato juices with off-odors. Molds can grow on the surface of improperly processed tomato products and may eventually reduce the acidity to a point where botulism-producing spores can grow and produce a deadly toxin. Because even minute amounts of botulism toxin can cause fatal illness, discard without tasting any canned products that show mold growth on the surface. Discard them where they cannot be eaten by other people or animals.

Photo Source; read more here

Tomato Selection

What is better than enjoying a fresh, juicy tomato on a hot summer day? Garden tomatoes can be enjoyed all year long by canning them. A canning product is only as good as the original produce. Here are a few tips to help make the best selection when you are picking your tomatoes either from your garden or at your local Farmer’s Market or grocery store.  

  • Tomatoes should not have shriveled, bruised, or nicked skin. The skin should not wrinkle when you glide your thumb from blossom to stem end with light pressure.  
  • Tomatoes should have well-colored skin.  
  • Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size.  
  • Tomatoes should have a pleasing smell.  

Photo Credit


Why does the liquid separate from the tomatoes in the jar? 

This is not unsafe. It is caused by the action of enzymes when the tomatoes are cut and allowed to sit in the jar. The enzymes begin to break down the pectin in the tomatoes. Using the hot pack method can help to prevent this. Overheating the tomatoes can also cause separation of the tomatoes from the liquid. Heat the tomatoes up quickly before working with them to avoid this. 

How can I prevent loss of liquid? 

Work out the air bubbles in the jar before putting on the lid. Use a spatula to run around the edge of the tomatoes remove the air bubbles. It’s also important to make sure you have proper head space in the jar before putting on the lid. The most obvious possibility is an improper seal of the lid on the jar. Always check the jar rims and clean the edges with a wet cloth before tightening the lid. Hand tighten jars to guarantee tightness. 

Loss of liquid is also caused if the jars were not covered with water completely. Jars are covered completely with 1-2 inches of water during processing. 

Why do my tomatoes float to the top? 

When canning whole tomatoes, a common complaint is a large amount of liquid at the bottom of your jar with “floating tomatoes” at the top after processing. The floating is caused by the tomatoes' natural water content, which gets released after you process them. Other than a visual disappointment to the person who labored over each jar, this creates no issue with your final product. While you cannot avoid floating tomatoes all together, pouring out some of the juices as you pack your jars can reduce this problem. Choosing fresh, firm tomatoes in the first place can help with floating issues. Packing tomatoes in a regular mouth jar is another solution. The opening of the jar is smaller so the tomatoes are naturally pushed downward. Want to eliminate this issue? Crush or quarter your tomatoes before packing. They most likely will end up in that state when you open and use the tomatoes later. 

Recipe Using Crushed Tomatoes

Zucchini and Sausage Flatbread


  • 1 Zucchini
  • ¼ ounce Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 9 ounces Italian Sausage, Pork or Chicken
  • ½ pint Crushed Tomatoes
  • ½ cup Mozzarella Cheese
  • 3 teaspoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Step 1

Wash and dry all produce. Preheat broiler to high or oven to 500 degrees. Slice zucchini into ½-inch-thick rounds. Pick oregano leaves from stems; discard stems. Roughly chop leaves.

Step 2 

Place zucchini on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Season with salt, pepper, and ½ tsp Italian seasoning (will use more later). Place under broiler and broil until softened and browned, 5-7 minutes. (TIP: Keep an eye on the zucchini—it can burn.) Remove sheet from broiler, then adjust oven temperature to 450 degrees.

Photo Credit, National Center for Home Food Preservation

Use this Crushed Tomatoes recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation 

Step 3

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan along with half the oregano, breaking up meat into pieces. Cook, tossing, until browned and no longer pink, 4-6 minutes. Remove pan from heat.


Step 4

Place flatbreads on another lightly oiled baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of tomatoes across the tops of the flatbreads (we used half the box). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and ½ tsp Italian seasoning (you’ll have some left over). Scatter sausage and zucchini over evenly, then follow with mozzarella.


Step 5

Bake flatbreads in oven until golden brown at the edges and cheese melts, 4-6 minutes.


Step 6

Scatter remaining oregano over flatbreads (to taste), then cut into slices and serve.

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Extension Explores Content Team

Team Leader

UT-TSU Extension, Cheatham County615-792-4420Aneta Dodd

Team Members

UT-TSU Extension, Bedford County | 931-684-5971Whitney Danhof

UT Extension, Cannon County615-563-2554 | Kristen Jones 

UT-TSU Extension, DeKalb County615-597-4945April Martin

UT Extension, Pickett County931-864-3310 | Amanda Woody 

UT Extension, Robertson County615-384-7936 | Lauren Patterson

UT Extension, Smith County615-735-2900 | Mary Draper

UT Extension, Van Buren County931-946-2435 | Paula May 

UT-TSU Extension, Warren County931-473-8484 | Hilda Lytle 

UT-TSU Extension, Williamson County615-790-5721 | Patsy Watkins 

UT-TSU Extension, Wilson County 615-444-9584 | Shelly Barnes