My husband and I have been trying to learn more about storing food (stemming off our attempts to learn more about gardening), so when some friends said they were learning how to make and can tomato sauce (from their visiting Italian mother, no less), we jumped at the invitation to join in.
The first hurdle for all of us, though, was an obvious lack of tomatoes. I only grew one tomato plant this year, which didn't do very well. We started calling local farms, none of which had ripe red tomatoes yet. As we learned, you need super red ripe tomatoes for the sauce- no orange or yellow spots.
With no time to wait, we found a Whole Foods with a huge shipment of perfectly red tomatoes. Off I went feeling a bit like a crazy person asking for 100 pounds of roma tomatoes. They gave us a 10% discount for buying by the case, but that didn't take the sting out of the big store sticker price.
In case you're wondering what 100 pounds of tomatoes looks like, here they are loaded in the trunk of my car...
Our first step for canning was to wash, halve, and core all the tomatoes. Us girls got to work on that while the men set up the cook pot and crushing machine.
In an enormous cook pot over a propane burner, we boiled water and added red onion, celery, and the tomatoes. Because we had about 180 pounds of tomatoes between us and our friends, this was done in three batches.
Here is my husband stirring the giant pot of tomatoes...
This is what it looked like cooking...
Looks good, right?
After cooking them, we strained them as best we could by hand then ran them through a machine that crushed them. It spit the seeds and gunk out of the side while dribbling the sauce and juice out of the front. We collected the sauce and juice in a pot (that is what gets canned). We put the gunk back through the machine another 2-3 times until it felt quite dry coming out (almost like sun-dried tomatoes).
Because we were working in batches, while crushing the cooked tomatoes, we started another round of tomatoes cooking.
Once we finished cooking our last batch of tomatoes, we cleaned the giant pot and boiled water to sterilize the jars. Because it was such a large pot of water, it took quite a while to boil, so there was a little down time to start cleaning up.
After that it was just a matter of filling the jars. We put a basil leaf in the bottom of each jar, added the tomato sauce, then threw another basil leaf on top, and closed the jar. (I had picked the basil from my garden that morning- hooray for added homegrown goodness!)
The jars went back into the boiling water to seal them shut and that was it. (Ok, I know I say "that was it" flippantly like it was quick and easy, when really what I mean is "Woohoo! We were finally done.")
Where we came in with 100 pounds of ripe tomatoes, we walked out with 3 dozen jars of tomato sauce.
It's going to be great to have homemade sauce for a while to come. I can't wait to try it. When we cook it we will need to add a little tomato paste to thicken it up or simmer off the excess liquid. And, because it's a basic marinara, we can add anything we want to it- spices, vegetables, meat.
So, if this were a business meeting recap, there would be take aways. What did we take away?
- 3 dozen cans of tomato sauce (2 dozen quart size, 1 dozen pint size) - Ok, this is not a lesson. This is literally what we took away.
- Making tomato sauce is not cost effective (unless you have grown your own tomatoes and, therefore, need to use them or lose them). You are doing this for the experience and the taste.
- Grow your own tomatoes or buy them directly from a farm to keep your costs lower.
- Have ready a lot of pots, buckets, deep baking dishes, whatever you can use to hold cut tomatoes and sauce. They fill up fast.
- Clear your schedule for a day. By the time we got started, it was about 11:00 a.m. We were going strong until 6:00 p.m. This is an all day process, particularly if you are doing large quantities like we did (and if you're going to make sauce and get all the equipment out anyway, you may as well make a lot).
- You could certainly do this on a smaller scale on the stove. Our friends had the enormous pot, so we used that.
- It's more fun with friends, so combine your tomatoes and split the sauce.
- Learning a new skill is fun, especially if that skill results in something you can eat.
Now I'm hungry.
What new skill have you learned recently?