September is here and it’s that time of year again where I take a deep, deep breath and make my yearly supply of tomato sauce. With the farmers’ markets overflowing with fresh Roma tomatoes I swing over and buy 4 bushels (3 for us and 1 for my mom who graciously schleps into town to help me out). Processing and pressure canning over 200 pounds of tomatoes may seem crazy but if you knew how full our table gets you’d understand how we get through that much sauce in a year.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of what it takes to can that much sauce in about a day, a little history on why I make and can my own sauce. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that it was completely ridiculous to be using aluminum cans, even if they were destined to be recycled. It will be a subject for another post but suffice it to say that I wanted to reduce what went into my recycle bin and I felt I could do without all that extra BPA in my diet. As I already make most things from scratch it wasn’t that difficult to eliminate cans from our pantry. The biggest culprits were beans, corn, peas, black olives (love black olives) and, of course, tomatoes. Beans we now use only dry ones. Corn and peas we get frozen. Black olives (did I mention we love black olives?) we buy in bulk and store in mason jars. And once a year I turn a few bushels of tomatoes into sauce !
What I’d like to share with you most is my technique, refined over the years, to get everything done in about a day. Whether you are insane like us and do 4+ bushels or simply want to start off small with 1 it is very easy to be inefficient and waste time making a 1 day project into 2. The key is to have a plan and to take into account cook times and canning times in order to never find yourself twiddling your thumbs. (yes this happened to us the first years)
Step 1: Cheat !
You will have to buy the tomatoes a day in advance in most cases anyways so the night before you will plunge into sauce making take the time to get a leg up. Get your kitchen counter spotless and make sure all dishes are done. If you are only doing a small amount of tomatoes you can skip washing your tomatoes the night before but if you plan on being insane like us washing (and drying) those bushels will save you time when you’re in the heat of battle. This year it took us an hour to wash the 4 bushels and I figure it must have saved us 2 hours the next day. Also washing your mason jars by throwing them through a dishwasher cycle is never a bad idea considering everything you will be doing on sauce day.
Step 2: Skinning
The thing that will take the longest overall is the actual canning process. To see how to pressure can click here. Your main objective then is to get to the point of canning as quickly as possible. To get the skins off of your tomatoes you will need to blanch them in boiling water, transfer to cold water, and then pull those skins off. Get as many pots boiling at once. While they are coming up to a boil begin cutting the tops off of the tomatoes (makes it easier to remove the skins) and get a good supply before you start blanching. The multiple pots boiling at once will become apparent now. In the first pot put about 10 tomatoes in for a couple minutes and then transfer to your cold water. Your water in that first pot will probably not be boiling again yet so now put 10 or so tomatoes in the second boiling pot. While those tomatoes are in the hot water slip the skins off the ones in the cold water. Repeat these steps rotating through all your pots as they heat up. With fast hands you can fly through tomatoes quite quickly!
Step 3: Getting sauce
Now if you happen to be lucky enough to be a 2 person team like we are one of you is taking those skinned tomatoes and chopping them up and filling a pot up with them. If not, you will have to switch gears at some point and do it. To make my sauce I will blitz up a bunch of tomatoes in the Vitamix (blender or food processor will do) . I will also make a pesto of basil, garlic, salt and pepper to season the sauce. I keep it simple so that I can add it to any recipe I make throughout the year but you can make anything you want that works with your routine. As soon as is humanly possible get that first pot of sauce cooking. Yes, you will have to sacrifice a burner but it’s necessary. As I’ve stated getting to the canning stage as early as possible is key. While your first sauce cooks keep skinning those tomatoes like your life depended on it.
Step 4: Yes you Can Can Can !
When your first sauce is done fill up your mason jars, add your lids, and screw down the bands. Fill up your canner and follow the instructions to the letter. Botulism sucks! The key now is to simply stay ahead of the canner by having sauce ready the moment you remove a batch of jars and then lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t worry if you end up with a back log of filled jars waiting to go into the canner. This is a good thing. This year we had all the tomatoes skinned and cut up before 3pm. Then it was just a matter of letting sauce bubble away and can, can, can!
Enjoy the rewards…
Canning your own sauce can be incredibly rewarding especially when you know exactly what went into it. The time we spend once a year making sauce is easily gained back every time we can make a simple meal in no time flat by simply opening a jar of homemade sauce. The fact that every time I use my sauce I know I’m avoiding another aluminum can also makes me incredibly happy. And after all that hard work, yes, you have the right to get sauced !