It’s that time of year with which I have a love/hate relationship. The tomatoes are starting to come in the back door in multiple 5 gallon buckets now, and that means that no matter what else is going on, they must be dealt with. Mostly because we only have so many buckets, and there are plenty more tomatoes where those came from. Tomato sauce is one my main foods to get preserved, because we go through a lot of it all year long, and this easy tomato sauce gets the job done quickly.
This year, because of the late summer rain, our plants are finally succumbing to late blight, and that damages the ripening tomatoes in a way that makes getting them processed even more urgent than it normally is. It causes bad spots that kind of halt the ripening and begin to overtake the whole fruit so that none of it can be used. So, we are choosing the ripest ones and cutting out the bad parts. Fortunately the chickens are very fond of tomatoes, so those parts don’t go to waste, but there isn’t any time to waste either, so I have found what seems to be the fastest and most efficient way to get a lot of tomatoes turned in a sauce.
You can probably find methods that actually simplify this even more, because they don’t remove the seeds and skins, but I like a nice silky smooth tomato sauce, so I have to find a fast way to get them out, and get on with the rest of the job. I do a lot of “stewed” or whole tomatoes too, but that is a post for another day. In the past, I made my tomato sauce the more traditional way, by cooking the tomatoes down some before removing the skins and seeds, but I like this new way much better. I think it has better flavor, plus because some tiny bits of the skin do end up in the sauce, and that seems to thicken it more quickly, so you don’t have to cook it as long. This is the third year I have done them this way, and just for kicks, I tried the old on one batch last fall, so I could compare the flavor, and this sauce is definitely better.
These are a large grape hybrid tomato called Juliets, one of our favorites, because they are great eating tomatoes, make great sauce, have some disease resistance and they grow a ton of tomatoes on each plant. In addition, this batch of sauce contains a couple different paste tomatoes, including some San Marzanos. All of these varieties are low moisture, meaty tomatoes that are bred for the tomatoes’ ability to cook down to a sauce quickly.I set up an assembly line to get this done quickly. First, the tomatoes are washed, and next to the sink I have a cutting board, which is sitting on a kitchen towel [this gets a little messy]. Next in line if the food processor, and then the food mill, set over a large bowl followed by a very large pot on the biggest burner on my stove. As soon as I get the first bowl of tomatoes turned to sauce, the burner under the pot gets turned on to get things going.The tomatoes are trimmed of any bad spots, the cores are removed and they are cut into chunks. Then they get whirred in the processor until they are liquified. The seeds will stay whole, and there will be very small flecks of skin visible.Next, they get run through the food mill which goes pretty quickly, and cooked down to the consistency that you are looking for.This particular batch is a very plain sauce that is not cooked down a whole lot, because I plan to use it in things like soup, pot roasts, and stew. It simmered for about 90 minutes and it’s slightly less thick than a commercial canned tomato sauce.
It is important to note that your favorite spaghetti sauce recipe is probably not safe for water bath canning which is the easiest method. That is because you need to maintain a high acid level in foods that are water bath canned, and the addition of a lot of garlic, onions, peppers and herbs may lower the acid level too much to prevent the growth of some nasty organisms that are not safe to eat. The thing you worry about the most is botulism, which is not at all evident when you open the jar, but is rather deadly stuff, and nothing to fool around with. It is more of a risk with something like green beans, because you don’t typically cook those long enough or at a high enough temperature to kill botulism. Still, it can be found in canned tomato products, but a high acid content will not allow it to grow, so it is best to keep your tomato sauce simple, and add the other stuff later on. You can, [and if you are water bath canning, you should] raise the acid content of your sauce even more by the addition of lemon juice or, my preference, citric acid.
On the other hand, if you are going to freeze your sauce, you can go ahead and make it however you like, because nothing will grow at all in frozen blocks of tomato stuff. I often freeze sauce, if I end up with too small a batch to bother with canning, or if I have a lot of peppers, onions and garlic to get used up. I can to save freezer space though. Here are a couple of links with safe canning techniques, and at the end of this post is a list of books and equipment that I rely upon for canning. Ball Canning Tips and Mother Earth News Safe Canning Practices And my friend Jenn of Frugal Upstate has this handy article about Getting Prepared for a Canning Session, and I do things pretty much the same way she does.
- Fresh tomatoes, preferably paste or sauce type
- Salt [optional]
- Citric acid, if you are canning the sauce
- Wash the tomatoes well
- Remove the stem, and trim out the core
- Remove any bad spots, if needed
- Cut into halves or quarters as needed - you want pieces no bigger than 2 inches square or so.
- When the food processor is 3 quarters full, pulse several time to get it going, and then process until the tomatoes are liquified - about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Carefully empty the resulting puree into the food mill, which is set over a bowl the correct size to hold it securely, and run through the mill to remove the seeds and skin.
- Empty the sauce into a large stock or soup pot, and set the heat on medium to get it going as you process subsequent batches of tomatoes. You will want to scrape the seeds out of the food mill every so often to keep it working efficiently.
- Repeat the above steps until all of the tomatoes are done.
- Cook the sauce uncovered until it is the thickness you are looking for. I use a spatter guard to keep things neater, because it is pretty likely to spatter some as it gets thicker.
- You can add salt to taste if you like, but it's not necessary at this point, as you can salt the dish you use it in later on.
- If not all of the puree will fit in the pan at first, it can added as the sauce cooks down.
- This sauce can be canned [see post for links to safe canning practices] or frozen in containers.
- An 8 quart stock pot, filled to within an inch of the top will yield about 5 quarts of medium body sauce.
Here is an equipment list – this is stuff that I use, and these are Amazon links, so I make a little $ if you purchase through them.
Food Mill [I have the MIU, but any of these high rated ones will work just fine]
Food Processor [I have a more expensive model, because my awesome family went in on it together for Christmas a few years ago - if I had to buy it myself, this is a very good one]
8 quart Stainless Steel Stockpot
20 quart Stainless Steel Stockpot [this is similar to the awesome workhorse stock pot that multi-tasks as my waterbath canner]
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Handy Set of Canning Tools