I’ve been making my own tomato sauce for several years now and have gotten into a certain…rhythm. It’s not a difficult process, per se, but it is time consuming and extremely messy. So messy, in fact, that the first time I made tomato sauce as an adult (without the tutelage of my wise mother) I swore I would never put myself through such an ordeal again. My kitchen was a disaster and my sauce turned out thin and uninspiring. In fact, I didn’t even use some of the quarts I had canned because looking at them brought back such unpleasant memories! (Who says cooking isn’t an emotional experience?)
Those days are gone. I’ve trial-and-error’d tomato sauce to a Chelsea Perfection: a rhythm I am pleased with, and a product I am thrilled with. There is no need to blanch and peel the tomatoes, and all you need is a food processor and a strainer!
Step 1 – Choosing Tomatoes: Choose the right kind of tomatoes! If you can, use at least 50% of your batch with Romas. They are small but meaty, and will give you the consistency of sauce you desire. I like to blend 3-4 kinds of tomatoes to get the best flavors. This year I planted and harvested Romas, 2 kinds of Heirlooms, and Better Boys. Or Big Boys. Or Early Girls. I can’t remember. I’m not sure it matters. They’re red and if you let them get very ripe on the vine they have an amazing flavor…or so claims my husband. I hate raw tomatoes, but adore all tomato products. I know, I’m weird.
Step 2 – Preparing Tomatoes: Wash the tomatoes, slice in half, and cut out any blemishes, spots, cracks and the cores. I then quarter them, and throw them all into a stainless steel pot. According to the Ball Book of Home Preserving, “the acid in tomatoes can react with aluminum, copper, brass, galvanized or iron equipment, creating bitter flavors and undesirable colors”. Turn the heat on medium, and cook them down into a mush. Sometimes I even take a potato masher and make sure the chunks are practically liquified. This isn’t totally necessary, but it does help to speed the process up a little.
Step 3 – Process and Strain: Here comes the messy parts! I set up a work station like this:
Once the tomatoes are completely cooked down, and resemble sauce more than whole tomatoes, break out your food processor. Ladle a few cups of mush into the food processor and blend for several seconds. Then transfer the liquid to your strainer. Jiggle the strainer a bit to get all the juice through, then – with moderate force – bang the strainer down on the edge of the bowl to encourage the sauce through. This doesn’t take very long, less than a minute. There is no need to use a spoon to force it through, just do a variety of bang-bang-jiggle-jiggle’s on the side of the bowl.
Step 4 Reduce Sauce: Once all the mush has been processed and strained, return the pure sauce to the pan. I usually rinse or wash the pan first, to make sure there aren’t any rogue seeds left in there. Now assess your sauce. Is it already the consistency you desire? If so, you are ready to can, freeze or use it. If it’s still a little thin then you want to reduce it. Reduce is a word that the meaning of which eluded me the first time I made sauce. What reduce means, in the cooking world, is to bring your sauce to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer, and let the sauce simmer for some time until the amount of sauce has decreased. What happens during this time is that the juice evaporates, and the overall quality of the sauce thickens. Depending on the type of tomatoes you use, sometimes you need to reduce your sauce by half! (Meaning, you will get 2 quarts instead of 4!) Try not to let this discourage you, as it did me at first. You will be much happier with a thicker sauce when the time comes to use it, and even though it seems frustrating to “lose” half your sauce, you really want a nice, thick sauce in the end.
So anyway, if you need to reduce your sauce, do it now. This might take an hour, so be patient. Keep the heat on simmer and stir occasionally. I usually need to reduce my sauce by a third, using the 3-4 kinds of tomatoes that I use, and it takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
Your finished product is a pure, no-additives, nice, thick tomato sauce from scratch! At this point, you can use it, transfer it to freezer-safe jars or bags (you should let it cool first!), or you can can it.
Step 5 – Clean your kitchen! Messy stuff, eh?
Canning Tomato Sauce
How much sauce you will yield will depend on how many pounds of tomatoes you started with, and how much you needed to reduce your sauce. It’s highly variable. I usually get about 3 quarts out of a full large stockpot of quartered tomatoes. You will really have to play it by ear and hold off on preparing your jars and lids until your sauce is done so you can eyeball it and see how many jars you will need.
See the canning process for a boiling-water canner here, (you can also pressure can tomato sauce…more on that at a later date!) adding these steps:
- Tomato products need bottled lemon juice added. Add 1 tablespoon to pints and 2 tablespoons to quarts.
- Process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes.
Condensed Tomato Soup
Makes 4 pints.
In my quest to rid my cupboards of Campbell’s (*sniff* I love Campbell’s!), I needed to come up with a condensed tomato soup version. I could just make a delicious tomato soup and freeze it like a normal person, but normal people think ahead and pull stuff out of the freezer the day before they want it. I never know I want tomato soup until about 10 minutes before I HAVE to have it, so freezer soup isn’t gonna cut it! There’s also that tricky problem that you’re not really supposed to can anything with thickeners or dairy due to heat’s inability to penetrate those types of fat for safe consumption. SO, I’m shooting for a product very similar to Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup. Open jar, add milk, microwave. Yum. Here’s what I came up with, and it’s shockingly easy.
What you need:
- 8 cups tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar (more or less to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon salt
- bottled lemon juice
1. Bring sauce to a boil, add sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint. Follow these basic steps for canning with a boiling-water canner, and process pints for 35 minutes.
2. When ready to use, open jar and dump into bowl. Add half a pint (1 cup) of milk, and warm on stove or in microwave. I usually add shredded cheese to my soup (I like a lot of cheese. Like, a ridiculous handful. And I wonder why I’m chubby.) Serve alone or with grilled cheese sandwiches! (No, the grilled cheese sandwiches do not always replace the insane amount of cheese I put in my soup. I have problems.)
It tastes very similar to Campbell’s! It’s a little more tangy, which I like. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to have the convenience of canned soup that tastes almost exactly like the real thing without all the cons – BPA, high fructose corn syrup, etc. It’s a keeper!