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Barbara Pleasant: Homemade Tomato Sauce

homemade tomato sauce
When canning tomatoes, I vary the recipe from one batch to another. Diced tomatoes are versatile for cooking, but when the peppers start ripening I make salsa and pasta sauces, too. Recipes are included in Homegrown Pantry. 


Hello, fellow gardeners and food preservers. Over the past few tomato canning seasons, I’ve stumbled into a novel way to make homemade tomato sauce that saves nutrients, energy and time.


Traditionally, you make tomato sauce by slowly simmering crushed tomatoes, or tomatoes that have been through a food mill, until enough liquid evaporates to thicken the sauce. In place of long cooking times (which destroy nutrients), my method for removing excess tomato liquid involves putting half-made tomato sauce into the refrigerator for a day or two – time enough for a couple of inches of clear juice to rise to the top, where it is easily removed. This simple step saves about two hours of cooking time in a hot kitchen, and makes it easy to save up small batches of tomato sauce for canning purposes. When you are canning tomatoes, a big batch is always more satisfying than a small one.  


Step by step, here’s how to make tomato sauce with less cooking.


1. Place any amount of cleaned, halved tomatoes (with bad spots cut away) in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir and smash with a large spoon until the mixture comes to a simmer. Turn off the heat, put on the lid, and allow to cool. If you’re working with small batches, you can save up several quarts of barely-stewed tomatoes in the fridge before going on to the next step.


2. Use a food mill or sieve if you have one to remove skins and some seeds, or place the stewed tomatoes in a large pot and mash them well with a potato masher, and pick out skins with clean hands. If you like, you can use a blender to de-chunk part or all of an unmilled tomato sauce mixture. Ladle the sauce into clean quart jars, and put it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, but no more than 3 days.


 Use a turkey baster or drinking straw to remove the clear juice that rises to the top of the sauce. Yes, you can drink it! Measure how much sauce you have, place it a large pot, and slowly bring it to a simmer. Now you are ready to launch into an actual recipe. In addition to canning tomato sauce straight-up for winter use, you can make tomato sauce laced with basil, peppers, onions and garlic for pasta and pizza.


As the sauce slowly bubbles on a back burner, you can prepare your jars and other canning equipment, and double check your tomato canning, relish or ketchup recipe for processing times and other important safety details (like adding lemon juice or salt). Or, take the easy way and simply store your homemade tomato sauce in the freezer.  


Hopefully, your tomato canning season just got a little easier!

If you're new to food preserving, my new book, Homegrown Pantry, is a great guide to growing what you want to eat, and then preserving what you grow to eat year round.  

Opalka canning tomato
Which Tomatoes to Grow?

I like to grow four or five different tomato varieties every year. The cherry tomatoes and big slicers go into the dehydrator, and I stick with paste varieties when canning tomatoes. There are many great varieties to try! 'Amish Paste' and 'Opalka' (at right) are great heirloom varieties, but if you need top disease resistance look at 'Plum Regal'.
Try drying tomatoes, too.

Drying tomatoes in a dehydrator saves time and nutrients, because the sliced tomatoes are dried raw, seeds, skins and all. I dry a lot of 'Stupice' tomatoes (shown here), as well as cherry tomatoes, which are cut in to halves or quarters before they go into the dehydrator.
Smoked Tomatoes
Any pizza or pasta dish gets a spunky flavor lift from half-dried, smoked tomatoes. After drying small tomato halves for a few hours, until they collapse, I cold smoke them in the Weber with apple wood, and then store them in the freezer in vacuum-sealed bags. When fresh tomato season is over, they disappear fast! 
You can make tomato sauce from a wide variety of tomatoes, but fleshy paste varieties produce a thicker sauce, with more solids and less thin juice. 

A day or two of chilling time allows thin juice to rise to the top of homemade tomato sauce. The juice taken from the top is a cool, refreshing drink for the cook!

My new book, coming in May 2017!
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