There is something wonderful that happens when you harvest fruits and veggies from your garden that you have spent months loving and tending, bring them inside and turn them into yumminess. There’s something reassuring when you know exactly what was used to help make them grow. Last summer I had the joyful job of learning how to make my own mater sauce and can. For what ever reason I had this thought in my head that canning and turning tomatoes into sauce was this daunting task. It certainly wasn’t the herculean quest I thought it would be, but definitely a process.
I learned a few things.
1. You don’t necessarily have to do the whole water bath thing. Run the mason jars and lids through the dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle with heat dry and try to time it so that the dishwasher ends when the sauce is ready. As long as the jars/lids and the sauce are nice and hot, they should pop on their own without having to do the water bath mess. If the tops don’t pop then you might have to do some water bathing. I only had to do this for 1 of about 30 jars we did last year. You can also just put the jars and lids in boiling water, pull them and fill. Same concept, works just as well.
2. Avoid putting herbs/garlic/onions in with your sauce. As they sit in the sauce they can make it bitter and taste funny.
3. You don’t need anything but tomatoes if that be your desire.
4. The longer you cook the tomato puree, the thicker it gets and the more like tomato paste or marinara it becomes. There’s a sweet spot.
SO, now that that is all out of the way, time for the actual sauce making process.
Pluck your maters! I found that for about every 30 medium tomatoes I would get 2 quart jars of sauce. We used a combination of heirlooms and romas.
Phase I. Line up your work station. As much as I hate having an electric stove, the flat top can double as extra counter space now and again. Left to right I have a pot of boiling water on the far burner. Next to that on a cool part of the stove I have a bowl full of ice water. On the counter I have a bowl for scraps, my cutting board, and another bowl to put the processed tomatoes.
1. To remove the skins, place a few in the boiling water for 10 seconds to a minute. Some skins break and start to release almost automatically. Some need a wee bit more time. Once you do it for a while you kind know what they feel like when the skin has separated, and obviously you can visibly see when it splits.
2. Place the maters in an ice bath so that they are cool enough to handle.
3. Peal the skins off of the maters and put the skins in bowl #1. With your hands or a knife split the tomato into smaller pieces/chunks. Remove as much of the seeds as you can now and throw them in your scraps bowl.
4. The tomato chunks go into bowl two to await their next step.
Repeat until all of the tomatoes you harvested have gone through this process. When you’re done, clean it all up but leave out your bowl of maters and your scrap bowl. Get out a large pitcher or another bowl and your blender. You are now ready for Phase II.
Fill your blender about 1/2 full of the tomato chunks and blend until smooth. Feel free to leave a few chunks if you’re into that kind of sauce. Pour your puree into your bowl/pitcher. Repeat until all of your chunks have been blended.
Place a big pot on a front burner of your stove on medium-low heat. Place a relatively fine sifter/screen over the top of your pot. Pour the tomato puree through and stir to help the sauce through the screens. This removes the seeds that are still there and any chunks. You can choose to reblend them for smooth sauce or pull them out, make sure they don’t have seeds stuck to them and throw them in the pot. This is the longest part of the whole process and would be much easier with a food mill. Which we haven’t invested in yet.
To the very runny, kinda pink, not very tomato-saucey stuff in your pot I add about 1 cup- 1 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar. Again, this depends on how much sauce you are making. I also added about 3 tablespoons or so of salt. I leave the pot on medium heat for about 3 hours. Check and stir every 20-30 minutes to avoid the bottom burning. This also helps you gauge about when to start your dishwasher if you are using that method.
Again, the longer you cook it down, the thicker and more paste like it becomes. When I use a jar, I like to simmer it on the stove with a crushed garlic clove, fresh minced onion and herbs so I keep my sauce a bit on the thin side to accommodate for my cooking style.
The beginning of the cooking process
When the sauce is ready, my mom, dad and I tag teamed to make the process quick. I laid down a dishtowel on the counter. Mom pre-washed the brand new jars and lids. Dad boiled the jars, rings and lids because I think it is easier than the dishwasher for small batches. Dad pulled them, I fill with sauce, screw the tops on and repeat until the sauce is gone or I don’t have enough for a jar and have to put them in freezer containers. If the jar tops haven’t popped in about an hour, you should submerge it in boiling water to make sure that happens.
This particular batch took about 3 hours to cook down to the consistency that we wanted. We got 5 24oz jars! 😀
Mom is obviously SUPER excited that she FINALLY has sauce from her garden tomatoes!