Making a Bloody Mary with fresh tomato juice

I’m not a big fan of commercially canned tomato juice. In fact, I only learned to tolerate it so I could drink Bloody Marys. And if you read my post How to Make a Bloody Mary Even If You Hate Tomato Juice, you’ll see that I usually tinker around with the store bought juice to make it more palatable. Given the high volume of traffic that post takes, I can tell I’m not alone in my distaste for tomato juice (speaking of, that post includes some great substitutions if you really can’t stand tomatoes at all).

While I find the canned stuff unappealing, I enjoy fresh tomato juice. In summer, I process it and enjoy it in my drink super-fresh. But I also can a big batch of it so I have plenty to get me through the year. Here’s how I use fresh tomato juice to make a Bloody Mary and how I can my own Bloody Mary mix.


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How to make tomato juice from fresh tomatoes

Start with fully ripe, or even slightly overripe, tomatoes. Avoid paste tomatoes, like Romas, as they tend to be fleshier and will yield less juice. Save those for making tomato sauce or canning tomatoes. While you want to use very ripe, soft tomatoes due to their higher juice content, don’t use tomatoes that have soft spots or any signs of rot.

The best part about making tomato juice is you don’t have to peel or core tomatoes, though you can if you want to.

Making tomato juice with a blender or food processor
  • Cut tomatoes into quarters, if they’re large.
  • Put them into the blender or processor bowl per manufacturer’s directions.
  • Process on high (food processor) or ‘juice’ or ‘puree’ setting until the tomatoes are sludgy.
  • Place the tomato puree in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Allow the juice to drain. You may need to gently press the puree or stir it to keep the juice flowing.
Making tomato juice with a food mill

If you’re serious about using fresh tomatoes for juice and beyond, a food mill is a great investment. It’s the most efficient way to get very fine tomato pulp or juice without any seeds or skin.

  • Cut tomatoes into quarters, then feed into the food mill
  • Process the tomatoes, separating the peels and seeds from the juice and pulp
  • Place the tomato puree in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Allow the juice to drain. You may need to gently press the puree or stir it to keep the juice flowing.
Making tomato juice with a juicer

If you happen to have a juicer, this is the time to use it! It will do the work of both processor and strainer, leaving you with fresh, pulpless juice. There’s not much to say on this, regarding method. Just feed the tomatoes into the juicer and wait.

Bloody Mary mix from fresh tomatoes

Making tomato juice without a  juicer, blender, food processor or other appliances

You can make perfectly good tomato juice without a food mill, or even without an appliance, though it will take longer.  Cut the tomatoes into small chunks. Place the tomatoes in a large colander (not a fine mesh strainer). Put the colander over a big bowl or pan. Then lay a clean plate over the tomatoes. Add weight to the plate with more tomatoes or a bag of sugar or anything else that will put a little pressure on the situation.

Allow the tomatoes to sit and the juice to press out. This can take an entire day, depending on the size and ripeness. Once the juice is extracted, Place the tomato puree in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Allow the juice to drain. You may need to gently press the puree or stir it to keep the juice flowing.

How many tomatoes do you need to make tomato juice?

The answer, of course, depends on how much tomato juice you want. But assume you’ll need around 3.5 pounds of fresh tomatoes for every quart of juice. A quart is 32 ounces, enough juice to make four ‘standard’ sized Bloody Marys. Obviously you can make your drinks bigger or smaller than that, but my Bloody Mary recipe assumes 8 ounces of juice per individual drink, with those drinks filling a 16 ounce pint glass (including ice cubes)

The overall ripeness or juiciness of the tomatoes will also determine how much juice you end up with. A softer, riper tomato will have more juice.

In the summer growing season, tomatoes are often easy to find in 25 pound boxes. One of those boxes would give you around 7 quarts of juice and tomatoes are pretty easy to process in bulk.

What about using heat to juice tomatoes?

A common way to render tomato juice from whole, fresh tomatoes is by simmering and crushing them in a stock pot. The heat helps to break down the tissue so the juice releases. While this is a great way to extract juice, it also cooks the juice. One of the joys of a Bloody Mary made from fresh tomato juice is….the freshness, which is lost by cooking. Having said that, feel free to simmer and crush your tomatoes if you don’t mind the flavor change or want to speed the process up.

One benefit to simmer-and-crush is that your juice will likely have a more consistent texture. Fresh pressed tomato juice (as described above) can separate into watery juice and heavier juice given enough time. If this happens, just shake the juice up to recombine. Since the goal of making this tomato juice is to use it in a Bloody Mary, which gets shaken, some separation really isn’t an issue.

Bloody Mary Mix with Fresh Tomato Juice

Now that we've covered how to turn those fresh tomatoes into juice, let's turn that juice into  Bloody Mary Mix!

Fresh squeezed tomato juice will be thinner and lighter than the canned stuff. The flavor will be different, too - much lighter and fruitier.

Recipe for Bloody Mary Mix

Serves 4

  • 32 ounces of fresh tomato juice (one quart)
  • 4 ounces of lemon juice, preferably fresh-squeezed
  • several dashes of Worcestershire sauce- link goes to Lee & Perrin's, the best
  • 1 teaspoon of celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika

Optional – HEAT for a Spicy Bloody Mary

  • a big pinch of ground horseradish –  one of the hallmarks of a great Bloody Mary (in my opinion) is the heat! If you like spice but not horseradish, sub in cayenne pepper, Tabasco or other hot sauce. Or use some combination of the three

This recipe is intended to enjoy fresh (it can also be frozen). If you plan to can your Bloody Mary mix, please see the notes further down to ensure the mix is safe to can.

For detailed instructions on using this Bloody Mary Mix, including making a pepper infused vodka, check out How to Make a Bloody Mary


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Storing or Canning Homemade Bloody Mary Mix

You can either store the tomato juice and add the Bloody Mary ingredients as you use it or you can add the ingredients and store the mix ready to use. I don't use tomato juice for anything except Bloody Marys, so I prefer to add in everything but the horseradish before I put the mix away.

Either way, it will store for 2-3 days in the fridge and for 6-8 months in the freezer.

Freezing Bloody Mary Mix

It's best to freeze the mix in the quantity you'll need at a time. A freezer safe canning quart canning jar holds 32 ounces, enough for four standard drinks. Fill the quart jar, observing the 'freezer line' around the top of the jar. Seal, freeze and thaw to enjoy. If you don't want to use a canning jar, there are plenty of freezer safe storage options, including these stackable rectangular containers. They're my favorite freezer storage since they're very space efficient.

Whether you use a jar or a plastic bin, write the contents and the date on the container with a dry erase marker.

Canning Bloody Mary Mix

Freezing your mix is easy, but it does take up space. Since tomatoes are only in season a few months of the year, it makes sense to put up a large batch of Bloody Mary mix. While that's a great way to ensure fresh, tasty juice all year long, it can also take up a lot of space. For that reason, I can a lot of Bloody Mary mix. And let me tell you, it's one of the easiest things in the world to can safely, even if you've never canned food before!

You will need to make a couple of changes to the Bloody Mary Mix recipe to ensure it's safe to can!

  • instead of fresh lemon juice, use bottled to ensure acidity. Put two tablespoons of lemon juice into each quart canning jar (1 tablespoon if using pint jars) before filling with mix instead of mixing the lemon juice into the pot.
  • leave out the horseradish - add it when you mix the drinks up.

What you need to can Bloody Mary mix:

  • glass canning jars (as noted above, the quart size is ideal) - wide-mouth or regular jars are both fine for this
  • new canning lids or clean reusable canning lids and seals (learn more about using reusable canning lids)
  • metal bands (wide or regular mouth, per your canning jars)
  • the Bloody Mary mix

You'll also need a water bath canner and a canning rack (link is to my new favorite canning rack, it's wonderful). It will also be very helpful if you buy a jar lifter and a canning funnel. It's possible can without the lifter and the funnel but they're a very cheap way to make the job easier and safer.

Don't panic, you can water bath (boil) can in any large stock pot. It should be at least 12 around and have a lid.

Water bath canning Bloody Mary mix

If you've never canned, review the National Center for Home Food Preservation's guidelines on Water Bath Canning. The NCHFP is the gold standard for safe canning practices.

FIRST

Fill the canning pot with clean, hot water. Put the canning rack in the pot, cover and turn the heat up to high. The water will need to be boiling once the jars go in.

SECOND

Put the Bloody Mary mix into a stock pot and bring to a low boil. While the canning process will cook the mix, it will maintain most of it's fresh flavor - not to the extent of freshly squeezed juice, but better than the commercially canned stuff.

While the mix is coming up to boil, wash the jars in warm, soapy water. Rinse them and keep them warm. You can put them in the oven on low heat or put them in a pot of hot water. I don't have room for three pots on my stovetop, so I put my canning jars on a baking sheet in the oven and leave the oven on the lowest setting until I'm ready to fill the jars.

It's no longer recommended to boil canning lids before using and it's not necessary to sterilize canning jars any more. Keeping lids and metal bands in warm water is a good practice, however, and seems to help the jars seal.

THIRD

Carefully place the warm jars on a clean counter or wooden cutting board. Use the funnel and a ladle to fill each jar. Leave 1" of headspace at the top of each jar. This allows the contents to expand and contract, forming the seal. Remove any air bubbles with a chopstick, swizzle stick or canning gauge.

Place a clean, warm lid on the jar, then put on a metal band, turning until it's tight but not fully cinched down ('finger tight').

Use the jar lifter to put the jars into the boiling water in the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1". Once the water is at a rolling boil, put the lid on and let the jars process for 40 minutes (quart jars) or 35 minutes (if you use pint jars).

Once the processing time is complete, turn off the heat and let the canner cool down for at least five minutes. Then remove the jars, being very careful. Put the jars on a wooden cutting board and let them stand for at least 12 hours. You'll probably hear the lids 'ping' as they seal.

WRAPPING IT UP

After 12-24 hours, remove the metal bands and check that each lid is sealed. Wipe the jars and lids to remove any residue. Label the jar with the contents and the date, then store somewhere dark and cool. Canned tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix will keep for at least 18 months. Be sure to throw the jar in the fridge a day or two before you plan to use it so it can chill down.


Want to learn more about canning food? Sure you do! Check out What do you need to can food? and How to save money on canning supplies.

Canning Safety Concerns and Tips

Tomato juice (or Bloody Mary mix) is easy to can because there are few concerns about texture, density or raw ingredients. That doesn't mean there aren't a few things to consider, though.

First, you must add lemon juice in order to ensure the juice is acidic enough to prevent botulism for growing. Bloody Marys call for lemon juice, so that works out well. If for some reason you don't want to use lemon juice, omit it from the recipe but put 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid into each jar before filling it. While some tomatoes might be acidic enough to can safely without added acid, there's no reliable way to tell, so be sure to add that acid!

Second, know that you can omit or swap the dried spices or Worcestershire sauce but you shouldn't add any MORE spice (proportionally) or other ingredients. Doing so may cause the mix to become less acidic, which would make it unsafe to can. If you want to tweak the recipe or add other ingredients, do it after the jar is opened, as you're mixing the drinks.


If you're into canning, you'll probably want a copy of my PRINTABLE CANNING PLANNER. It's a cheap and easy way to keep track of your supplies and plan your canning season. Print it out every year and you'll soon have a great written record of your canning history, too!