A couple of weeks ago, my father in law decided to come up to the Cariboo for a visit. I got to thinking that it was pretty close to “tomato buying” time – we can’t grow tomatoes outside here in the ‘Boo as the evening temperatures drop too much. There is no way I have enough room in our greenhouse to grow the amount I need. I did plant two tomato plants just so we could have some fresh in salads and on sandwiches.
I asked my father in law if he would mind to stop and pick me up some. I knew we were running low on tomato sauce – I had maybe a case and a half left in our cold room from a couple of years ago, when I had canned my last big batch. He didn’t mind and when he arrived, we offloaded 200 pounds of tomatoes out of his car. Yes, that’s right, it’s not a typo – 200 pounds.
He had the market fella weigh out all the tomatoes and ended up with 8 boxes full.
I got started right away. It takes time to turn tomatoes into sauce and the earlier I started, the sooner I could get jars of homemade sauce put by.
A nice box full of juicy field tomatoes.
Roma tomatoes are best for saucing, since they aren’t as juicy as field tomatoes. However, the market only had one box of Romas, so he made up the difference with field tomatoes. That’s OK, although it does take longer for the sauce to reduce down and get nice and thick.
I fill one of my kitchen sinks with cool water and add a bunch of tomatoes. After rinsing them well, I cut them into quarters and threw them in a saucepot. If the tomatoes are really large, I cut them even smaller since I want them to warm up and break apart as quickly as possible. I put the stove burner on a medium low setting and just let them sit there while I quarter more tomatoes and get them going on another burner.
Once they have warmed up, I just use a potato masher to start squashing the fruits. I don’t add any water at all to the saucepans, so I am careful to start mashing them pretty quickly, just to get some sauce at the bottom of the pot. After mashing, I leave them alone, usually until the tomatoes start simmering. This breaks them down quickly and they are ready for the next step. In the picture above, you can see the mixture of skins, seeds and lots of liquid. This pot is ready to be put through the mill. Don’t be too quick to take your pots of tomatoes off the stove; let the stove heat the fruits so they become very soft. Let the stove do the work to save yourself a lot of mashing.
It’s not uncommon for me to be using all four burners. I have 3 pots of tomatoes getting reduced and ready for the food mill. The last burner holds the actual sauce and I just keep adding to that pot as I mill more. I can get a good rhythm going, between cutting and quartering, reducing, milling and sauce simmering. It’s like cut cut cut, stir, mash, stir, mill and then back to cutting. You will find you can get moving pretty quickly.
And who wouldn’t want to speed up the work when you have this in your sights everytime you turn around from the stove?
Once the tomatoes have been lightly mashed and they are warmed right through, it’s time to run them through the food mill. Here is the one I use – it works great, isn’t expensive and it’s easy to clean. If you need to buy one, click on the picture and you can order it through Amazon.
I pour the tomatoes into the mill and start turning. Since some of the tomatoes have already become juice while they were warming up, that juice just goes straight through the mill into the bowl or pot below. I do not have to remove any core sections from the tomatoes when I quarter them, as this mill does a fantastic job of separating the juice from the seeds and skins. Everything good goes into the pot below and all the waste stays in the mill. I do clean out the mill after every potful, but I don’t take it apart at all to do this. I just use a large spoon and scoop up the waste and drop it into a large bucket. When the bucket is full, I can offload it to the chickens, who love it. No chickens? No problem. Just add this waste to your compost pile – your garden will thank you the following year!
Here’s what the sauce looks like when it comes through the food mill. Of course, it is still very runny, but that will change in the next step. What I like is that I end up with pots of sauce with absolutely no seeds or pieces of skin.
Once I have some sauce in the large pot, I turn that burner on medium low. I will adjust it higher once I get more sauce added so the pot is fuller. The idea is to bring this sauce up to heat, and then let it simmer. The simmering removes some of the water that is in the tomatoes and since we don’t want runny sauce, this pot will stay on the stove for awhile, sometimes 2 days. Don’t cover the pot, as you want the water to evaporate.
I stir it often when I’m working in the kitchen and at night when I am ready for bed, I turn the burner down to low. This lets the sauce keep reducing throughout the night and in the morning I can see a big difference in the quantity of sauce in the pot. An important note: In the morning, I start stirring the sauce again, but I don’t stir all the way to the bottom of the pot. This is just in case there is a bit of scorched sauce on the bottom, from leaving it going all night.
This picture was taken later in the day. As you can see, I have been saucing more tomatoes. There are three pots of sauce going by this point. So you see the sauce that sits on the sides of the pot? I scrape that every once in a while and stir it into the sauce. That is good stuff there, so make sure you use it!
Once the large pots have reduced some, I can add the contents of that third smaller pot, divvying it up between the 2 larger pots. This frees up my pot so I can….yes, quarter more tomatoes and get more sauce going!
In the morning, I start canning whichever pot of sauce has been simmering the longest. I do not add any new sauce to these pots in the morning, as they are thickened and I don’t want to thin the sauce by adding more liquid. I find that I can get a good rhythm going here too – I can the one pot of sauce and leave the other to simmer longer. Because I have one large pot emptied, I can ready more tomatoes and start adding it to that new pot.
Making your own tomato sauce is easy to do and I personally find it fun to spend a few days canning my heart out in the kitchen. The absolute best thing about canning for me is when I can look at all those jars of food on our pantry shelves and know it is good wholesome, good for us food. These tomatoes were grown with no chemicals added to the soil, and that’s what lets me know this food is healthy for us! If you can, try to find a market stand or farmer’s market where they advertise that they don’t use chemicals. Your family and your body will thank you for being smart about what you are putting on the dinner table.
If you are new to canning, you really should learn as much as you can about the process. I am able to water bath these jars of sauce, but ONLY because I add lemon juice to each jar. You need to know these things before you start putting food by for your family. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving outlines the processes of both water canning and pressure canning. They are two completely different things and you should have a good understanding of the process before you start.
You will also need a set like the one above – it’s a complete set which includes everything you need to water bath can, except for the jars and seals. Click on the picture or the link to learn more.
I’ll cover the actual canning of the tomato sauce in another post, to be put up here soon. Don’t be afraid to start canning food – it is easy to do, you just need to know that you shouldn’t cut any corners. Do it the safe way – the way it is supposed to be done. This way, there is no worry about whether the food in those jars is safe to eat. Homecanned foods last a long long time, so feel comfortable putting up enough canning to last several years! If you want to read my other canning posts, you will find them here. If you have any questions, please just leave them in the comment section and I will answer them for you. Enjoy!