I spent the last Saturday of summer the same way my grandmother did 70 years ago – canning thick tomato sauce out of heirloom organic tomatoes.
Six hours of roasting, skinning, crushing and carefully pouring into sterilized mason jars. The process is almost as enjoyable as the rich sauce it produces – as is the sense of accomplishment, watching full jars line the counter top.
My grandmother canned tomato’s from the bounty of the garden when she was a child. A fire pit in the backyard heated a cauldron of boiling water, where she’d sterilize jars wrapped in old newspaper. She remembered it as a chore–forced to stomp tomatoes on Saturdays in August while her younger sister played next door with the Clementelli’s.
Canning is now something people do because they enjoy the process. It evolved from a strategy to survive fruitless winters to a mode of expressing culinary creativity. People still do it to conserve, but canning doesn’t have the economical impact of the past, nor is it as inexpensive to accomplish. We made 30 pints of sauce for an average of $4.85 per jar. I wouldn’t call that exuberant, but I doubt my grandmother would have to give up her Saturdays for such a price point.
We purchased 60 pounds of organic tomatoes from Happy Girl Kitchen (who gets them from Pinnacle Farms) for $90. We could have found them cheaper, but not much. Pint-sized jars cost $11.50 per dozen. Onions and garlic from Avalos Farm cost $10 and olive oil was about $6.
Maybe one day we’ll own property large enough for a fire pit and a decent garden. But for now, I’m happy to know some aspects of my life are the same as they were for my grandmother so many years ago.
How to Can Crushed Organic Tomato Sauce
(This is more of a guide than a specific recipe. Feel free to experiment with proportions, herbs and spices)
60 pounds of organic heirloom tomatoes
3.5 pounds of onions, diced
1 pound garlic, peeled and chopped
Fresh basil, chopped
salt, fresh black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Equipment: 30 mason jars, large pot for boiling water, tongs
Makes 30 pints of sauce and 6 quarts of tomato stock
Preheat the oven to 400F. Core the tomatoes and if very large, cut in half. Place in a large roasting pan. Scatter onions and garlic around the tomatoes. Add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil (this will vary depending on the size of your pan) and salt. Roast for about 10 minutes.
Heirloom tomatoes are very juicy, and much of the liquid will release into the pan while roasting. be sure to choose a pan with sides that are high enough to accommodate the juices. Remove tomatoes from the oven and carefully remove the skins. As you de-skin the tomatoes, crush and place in a large pot. Use a slotted spoon to pick up onions and garlic to add to the pot as well. Reserve the juices to use for stock.
Repeat with remaining tomatoes. When the pot of sauce is almost full, place on the stove and heat until bubbling. Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss in some basil. If you want your sauce to have a consistent texture and less “chunk”, blend it in a food processor.
Preparing the jars:
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Fully emerge jars and lids in water and boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars with tongs.
Fill each jar with sauce, leaving 1/2 inch of space on top. Secure the lids in place. Place jars back in boiling water for 30 minutes to sterilize.
When jars cool, you’ll hear the lids pop. If they don’t pop, refrigerate jars and use within one week.
A note about ph: To be safe, add 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid or 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint. This will prevent scary things like botulism from growing in your jars. We didn’t add it because we found the citrus to be too tart for the sauce. If you decide the same, boil your sauce for at least 10 minutes when using, or you can check the ph of your sauce with a ph meter.
Where I Shopped:
Organic Heirloom Tomatoes: Happy Girl Kitchen (Pinnacle Farm)
Organic onions and garlic: Avalos Farm, Berkeley Farmers’ Market
Fresh Basil: Erin and Uri’s backyard
Mason Jars: Longs drugstore