I have always wanted to learn how to make jars of fresh tomato sauce. Each summer when the tomatoes are at their peak, I fantasize about filling my cupboards with the most amazing sauce ever created (yes I am a food nerd). I even went so far as to buy a bushel of tomatoes a few years back and set about peeling, seeding, blanching, chopping and sterilizing….until the whole thing just got so overwhelming that I shoved my half-assed attempt at sauce into bags and popped it all in the freezer. Massive red ice-cube blobs that I eventually thawed and dumped. Pathetic.
The biggest stumbling block for me (and it’s the same story for homemade jam btw) is sterilizing the dang jars. Whenever I start reading the instructions for the sterilization process I end up breaking into a cold sweat as I imagine my dinner guests doubled over with acute food poisoning. I just can’t handle the pressure!
So you can imagine my delight when I mentioned my tomato-sauce ineptitude to a couple of my closest girlfriends and they said “Hey – it’s not hard at all. We’ve done it lots of times. We can teach you how to make it.” Woohoo! I quickly roped them into committing to a date and anxiously awaited my sauce-making lesson.
The day before our cooking extravaganza, one of my girlfriends dropped off a bushel of the most beautiful bright red tomatoes at my door. “Wash them and set them out on a flat surface to dry” she instructed. Looked easy enough until I realized that a bushel of tomatoes is freakin’ heavy! She helped me load them into my son’s wagon and I rolled them gently into the backyard. After an hour scrubbing them and lining them up on a bed sheet outside, I stood back to admire my work (and then promptly hopped into a hot bath to soak my aching back….bending over the hose is tough work).
The next day, my friends arrived bright and early armed with boxes of jars, more tomatoes and tons of cooking supplies. One of the girls had miraculously discovered that chopping and putting the tomatoes right into our high-powered blenders would cut down hours of the tedious work of grinding the tomatoes by hand but I wanted to try one batch the old-school way. The girls just looked at each other and rolled their eyes but indulged me and passed me the tomato grinder.
As they happily whirred up the tomatoes in the blender, I hand cranked the chopped tomatoes through a stainless steel grinder. Much more difficult and as it turns out – the sauce from my efforts didn’t taste any different from their blended sauce. After 1 batch, I also switched to the blender method and in no time at all we had a few pots of sauce boiling away on the oven.
Although I was expecting to make full-blown pasta sauce (ala Ragu), the girls told me that it’s much better to simply jar the boiled tomato sauce mixed with a little sea salt. This keeps the tomatoes fresher and you can add the garlic, basil and any other ingredients of choice when you open your jars and are ready to eat the sauce. (And let me tell you, just the simple boiled tomatoes and sea salt tasted amazing.)
It turns out that my fear over the jar sterilization was overblown. The girls simply popped the jars into the dishwasher on high heat and placed the lids into a pot of boiling water on the stove. They handled the jars carefully so as not to touch the lip and used tongs to place the lids on each one. Then they set them upside down on a table for a few minutes to make sure they weren’t leaking and turned them over to wait for the “pop” of the lids that indicates a good seal. Voila!
So here are the biggest lessons I learned about jarring fresh tomato sauce:
– tomato sauce tastes 100% better when you make it yourself
– when you are a rookie sauce maker in the kitchen with experts- it’s best to stick to watching, listening and doing the dishes
– sterilizing doesn’t have to be scary
– the taste is wonderful and fresh and it makes the house smell amazing (the kids even said it was the best sauce they’d ever had)
– I’m so lucky to have friends who are willing to share their knowledge and the workload (and it didn’t hurt that I had a couple of bottles of Italian wine on hand to keep them happy ; )
– it’s not so hard – just go for it!
My wish has come true – my pantry is all stocked up with tomato sauce. Thanks to my friends, I conquered my fear and learned a great new skill. Next stop….jam!
Fresh Tomato Sauce
1 bushel ripe tomatoes
Sea salt (to taste, approx. 1 tbsp. per large batch)
Mason jars (we used large and medium-sized jars)
Wash tomatoes and lay them on a flat surface to dry for 24 hours.
Sterilize jars on high heat in the dishwasher.
Quarter tomatoes and place them into a high-powered blender. Whir for 1-2 minutes until blended. Place mixture into a large pot on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil continuously for 1 hour, adding sea salt to taste.
Place jar lids and rims into a large pot of boiling water on the stove.
After 1 hour, scoop sauce into a sterilized jar, leaving at least 1-inch of space at the top of the jar. Use tongs to place a lid on the jar and seal with a rim. Place jar on the table upside down for a minute or 2 to ensure there is no leaking. After a couple of minutes, flip the jar right side up and listen for the “pop” of the lid that will let you know that the jar is properly sealed.
*Lori’s Suggestion: When you are ready to eat your sauce – put a tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet and heat on medium-high. Add a minced clove of garlic, a sprinkle of sea salt and a dash of red pepper flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in your sauce and heat through. Scoop over hot pasta and enjoy!