The biggest problem I have run into in making and bottling my own tomato juice is how to get the juice to not separate in the bottles. If you have ever bottled tomato juice or other puree juices, you will know what I am talking about. The thick part of the juice seems to separate from the watery part. So, how do you keep it from doing that? It can seem to be a little tricky, but it is possible. First, I want to talk a little bit about tomatoes.
Tomato plants used to be more acid. Over the years, seed growers have cross bred the tomatoes to create sweeter varieties. This has caused us to need to change the way we preserve the tomatoes so they will be safe to eat. There are different ways of preserving food that is on different parts of the acid-base scale. The more acid foods can be boiling- water-bath processed safely and the food will keep well in the bottles and be safe. The more alkaline foods need to be preserved in a pressure cooker if you are bottling them. Tomatoes have moved from more acid toward neutral and because of this they must be acidified when they are bottled.
It takes a lot of time and money to conduct the tests to set the processing times and methods for each food. For this reason, the Agriculture Extension Service has recommended that we acidify the tomatoes back to near what they used to be and also cook them for longer periods of time or at higher heat so they will be safe to eat right from the bottles. Many people do not heat tomatoes up right out of the bottle, and because of this they must be processed long enough to kill potential botulism spores that may be in them. Botulism toxin is odorless, tasteless, and can be deadly if ingested. If we simmer bottled food for 20 minutes after opening the bottles the toxins will be destroyed and the food will be safe to eat.
Making tomato juice will be easier if you use a food strainer sauce maker to puree the tomatoes. There are several on the market that are good and there are extra screens and spirals you can purchase to puree berries, pumpkin, and make salsa. You will also need a heavy stock pot or pan to cook your tomatoes before you puree them. Along with the sauce maker and stock pot, you will need a container to catch the tomato juice as it comes out of the sauce maker, long handled instruments for stirring, a few scrapers, and a cup or small pan to transfer the cooked tomatoes to the food strainer. To cut down on the kitchen and house mess, I like to do my juicing on my patio where I can hose it down when I am done. That way I do not have to be so careful, but I have done it all in my kitchen in the past.
The first thing you will want to do with your ripe tomatoes is wash them. You don't need to core them or cut them if they are small, but check them over and make sure they have no bad spots on them. The juice will only be as good as the produce you use to make it from. They key to making juice that will not separate is to get the tomatoes from the whole, raw state to the cooked state as quickly as possible. When you cut through the cells of the tomato it crushes the cell walls and starts the separation process of the juice from the pulp. The less you can cut it and the faster you heat it the better the juice will be. I begin to cook a few tomatoes in the pan while I am cutting the larger ones and I just keep adding and stirring them as I cut. You do not want to crush by stirring too much, but you also do not want the tomatoes to stick on the pan and burn. Cook the tomatoes until they are soft clear through. You do not need to take the skins or cores out because they will be separated when you put them through the food strainer. Now it is time to put them through the food strainer sauce maker. When this is complete, bring your juice back to a boil, ladle it into the clean, hot bottles, add your acid and salt or other flavorings, clean the lip of the bottle and put the hot canning lid and ring on and twist on tight. You are now ready to process your tomato juice. Check with your local Agriculture extension agent for recommended amounts of acid, times and methods of processing at your altitude. To acidify you can use citric acid or lemon juice.
Homemade tomato juice is one of my favorites. If you garden, you will want to know how to preserve those extra tomatoes for use during the cold or hot season when you can't grow the fresh ones. Tomatoes are one of the few foods that have healthy nutrients in them that are better for you when cooked. Enjoy your glass of tomato juice or tomato soup knowing you are getting good nutrition.