Canning 101: Basic Tomato Sauce

Canning season is in full swing in this household. Last year I started slow with just applesauce and apple butter, but this year I have much more ambitious plans. One project that was definitely on my to do list was a basic tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is essentially a blank canvas, and we go through a ton of it between spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and tomato soup. Fueled by my desire to completely ban any commercially canned tomato products from my home (due to BPA, among other reasons), I knew I was going to need to can A LOT of tomatoes to make it through the winter.

We have a great local farm where I buy most of my canning produce from. To reduce costs, they allow you to pick your own produce straight from the field. A bushel of roma tomatoes were only $10 if you pick them yourself. You can’t beat that! I spent a good hour and a half picking tons and tons of tomatoes, and by the end of it I was pretty sweaty and muddy, but very pleased with my bounty. I (barely) managed to lug the 54 pounds of tomatoes home, and then got to work!

A bushel of tomatoes – all clean and ready to be made into sauce!

If you are doing as many tomatoes as I did, I highly suggest setting aside two full days to can. The first day, I washed, cored, peeled and seeded all my tomatoes. Then the second day, I just purred them, cooked the sauce down, then canned it all. My kitchen was a disaster, I had tomato juice everywhere and had a sink full of dishes, but it was so worth it! From the bushel of tomatoes, I was able to produce 12 quarts of sauce and 10 pints of salsa. I’m hoping that will be able to us through winter, if not I will have to reevaluate how much I make next summer.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Yields: 35 pounds of tomatoes = About 7 quarts of sauce

Roma tomatoes, cored and peeled
Bottled lemon juice*
Salt (optional)

*This is not the time to use fresh lemon juice. Using bottled lemon juice will keep a consist pH level, which is very important in canning.

Wash all your tomatoes, then remove the core. To peel your tomatoes, cut an X in the bottom of the tomato. Drop the tomatoes, a few at a time into boiling water for 60 seconds. Remove from the boiling water, and drop into an ice water bath. When the tomatoes have cooled enough to handle, gently peel back the skin. If they don’t peel off easily, drop back into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the seeds using a small spoon. Set the tomatoes aside. (Peeling and seeing your tomatoes is totally optional. I prefer a smooth sauce with no chunks or seeds, so I make my life much harder by seeing and peeling my tomatoes)

Working in small batches, puree your tomatoes using a food processor, blender or immersion blender. Pour your puree into a large stockpot, and bring to a boil. Once the sauce reaches a roaring boil, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook until the sauce reduces by 1/3. For a thicker sauce, allow it to reduce by 1/2.

Prepare you canner, jars and lids.

Before filling your hot jars with sauce, add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to the bottom of the jars. Add your sauce, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Remove the air bubbles, wipe the rim, and add you lid. Tighten the ring onto the jar.

Place the jars into the canner, bring to a boil, cover and process for 40 minutes. Remove the lid, wait 5 minutes then remove the jars from the canner. Let them cool overnight, then store in a cool, dark place.

Source: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, page 362.

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  1. Tracy says

    I’m hoping you can tell me where this “great local farm” is?! I think I’m near you and would love to get that many tomatoes!!!

    • says

      Do you mean canning tomato sauce made from previously (commercially) canned tomatoes?

      From what I’ve read, some people frown upon re-canning tomatoes, as it can affect their flavor since they are essentially processed twice. If you choose to re-can tomatoes, just be sure to follow the proper guidelines to ensure safe canning. Or, you can always freeze tomato sauce. Hope that helps! :)

  2. Rhonda says

    Crissy, if you are turning your tomatoes into tomato sauce why are you going through such a labor intensive method of peeling, seeding, coring and puree-ing your tomatoes? There is a much easier way than what you outlined-if you have freezer. Freeze your tomatoes solid in a single layer. Once frozen, you can store multiple tomatoes in freezer bags until you are ready to make and can your sauce. To make your sauce, simply take your tomatoes out of the freezer. Thaw them in a sink or large bowl-make sure there are no split skins. Once the tomatoes are thawed, carefully lift the very fragile balloon of tomato juice that used to be a tomato out of the bowl/sink. Holding the tomato balloon over a clean bowl or large pot, slit the skin with a knife. Once the tomato juice has drained out, put the tomato skin into a sieve. After you have several skins in the sieve, mash/rub the skins in the sieve to remove the last of the tomato pulp. The sieve will collect the skins, seeds, cores and stems. No boiling water to burn yourself on, no cut fingers, no waiting for tomatoes to cool before you can peel them, no frustrations with tomatoes that won’t peel. Best of all, you can do your canning when its conevenient for you, not when tomato season happens, and bonus–your kitchen is a whole lot cleaner!! Extra bonus-you are not exhausted after canning your sauce.

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