No store bought tomato sauce compares with the flavor of homemade. Capture summer in a jar with this seasoned tomato sauce recipe for home canning.
I talk about canning tomato sauce a lot here at Grow a Good Life, especially this year as I faced the challenge of preserving a bumper crop. It seems I constantly had baskets of ripe tomatoes to work through for the last two months. Now that the last tomato harvest is simmering on the stove, I thought it was time to share the tomato sauce recipe and method I use to preserve the majority of my homegrown tomato harvest.
Growing up in an Italian household, the only tomato sauce we were aware of was the homemade kind made from tinned or fresh tomatoes in season. There were no jars of purchased tomato sauce in our pantry. As an adult, I continued the tradition cooking up large batches of homemade tomato sauce and freezing it for future meals.
When I began growing a garden of my own, one of the first things I learned to can was tomato sauce from homegrown tomatoes. Eventually, I made it my yearly goal to grow enough tomatoes to provide a sufficient amount of canned tomato sauce to last us until the following season.
Tips for Canning Tomato Sauce
Follow a Safe Canning Recipe: If you are canning tomato sauce, is important to use recipes that are formulated and tested for safe home canning. When I make tomato sauce for canning, I follow the tomato sauce recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for “Seasoned Tomato Sauce.” This is the closest to the homemade tomato sauce I grew up with.
The only differences between the recipe below and the Ball Seasoned Tomato Sauce is this recipe is cut in half. The ratio of ingredients is the same. I just find working with 22.5 pounds of tomatoes is much easier to manage since I only have two large pots to cook down the sauce.
I also reduce the sauce by slow cooking it over low heat for a longer period to preserve flavor rather than cooling over medium-high heat as indicated in the Ball recipe. Sometimes this takes all day, but the flavor is worth the effort.
Prevent Botulinum: When canning tomatoes, an acid must be added to your jars before filling to prevent the growth of C. Botulinum bacteria, which causes botulism. I’ve used bottled lemon juice in the past, but now find it easier to use Citric acid. Citric acid also doesn’t change the flavor like lemon juice can.
Select meaty, plum type tomatoes for a thick and flavorful sauce. My favorites are Amish Paste, Juliet, Roma, and San Marzano. Paste tomatoes are meaty with thick walls and have very little water content. You can still use other types of tomatoes, but it will take longer for the extra water to cook out.
Initially cooking your tomatoes with the skins and seeds aids in extracting the natural pectin that will help thicken the sauce. After the tomatoes have softened, I run them though a through a food strainer or food mill to remove skins, seeds, and to smooth out the sauce. Then return the pots to the stove, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer on low heat until the sauce is reduced by half.
The way I do the initial cooking depends on the temperature. If it is hot outside, I fill my largest pots with sliced tomatoes and cook them on the stovetop until they soften and reduce their juices. If the weather is cooler, I turn on my oven I fill my roasting pans with sliced tomatoes and roast them in the 325°F/ 177°C oven for about an hour or until they are soft. Roasting helps to reduce the extra moisture and adds a lovely, deep tomato flavor to the finished sauce.
- Water Bath Canner
- 8 pint jars or 5 quart jars
- Lids and bands
- Food strainer or food mill, or sieve
- Lids and bands
- Canning tools: lid lifter, jar lifter, canning ladle, funnel, and bubble popper
Plus basic kitchen supplies such as a large sauce pot, large bowl, small pot, towels, knife, large spoon, potato masher, and a cutting board.
Prepare your tomatoes by washing in plain water. Cut them in half or quarters and add to your sauce pots.
Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft, then add to the saucepans.
Remove skins and seeds. As the tomatoes simmer, they will release their juices. After the tomatoes and the vegetables are soft, turn off the heat and allow the sauce to cool. Run the cooled tomato sauce through a food strainer or food mill to remove skins, seeds, and to smooth out the sauce. Return the sauce to the stove, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer until the sauce is thickened.
- 22.5 pounds paste tomatoes
- 3 cups chopped onions about 3 large onions
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 3 dried bay leaf
- 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 4 1/2 teaspoons cane sugar
- 1 teaspoons red pepper flakes optional
- citric acid or bottled lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
Prepare your tomatoes by washing in plain water. Cut them in half or quarters and add to your saucepots.
In a large frying pan, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add to the saucepans with the prepared tomatoes. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally so to prevent sticking.
As the tomatoes simmer, they will release their juices. After the tomatoes and the vegetables are soft, turn off the heat and allow the sauce to cool.
Run the cooled tomato sauce through Food Strainer or Food Mill to remove skins, seeds, and to smooth out the sauce.
Return the strained tomato sauce to the saucepan(s) to cook down further to thicken the sauce. Add oregano, bay leaves, pepper, sugar, and crushed red pepper. If you are using multiple pots, roughly divide the ingredients for each pot. All the ingredients will be combined into one pot as the sauce cooks down. Simmer over low heat with the cover vented so the excess moisture evaporates. As the sauce reduces, combine it into one pot. Use your ladle to avoid splashing.
Once the volume is reduced by half, your tomato sauce should be nice and thick. Use a clean spoon and taste the sauce. Add salt and stir in. Taste again. Add more salt if needed. Keep the sauce warm over low heat.
Prepare your jars and lids by washing in warm, soapy water and rinsing thoroughly. Place jar rack into water bath canner, set jars in the canner, add water, and boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize. Warm your lids in a small pot over low heat. Keep jars and lids warm until ready to use.
Spread a kitchen towel on the counter. Use your jar lifter to remove warm jars from canner, drain, and line up on the towel. Add citric acid or bottled lemon juice to each jar. For pints, add 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid or 1 Tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each jar. For quarts, add 1/2 teaspoon citric acid or 2 Tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each jar.
Use your canning ladle and funnel and add tomato sauce to warm jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the rims. Use your magnetic lid lifter to lift lids out of the warm water, center lid on the jar, and screw on band until it is fingertip tight.
Using a jar lifter, place jars carefully into canner leaving space in between them. Once jars are all in canner, adjust the water level so it is at least one inch above the jar tops. Add more boiling water if needed so the water level is at least one inch above the jar tops. When adding water, use the hot water from the small pot your lids were in. Pour the water around the jars and not directly onto them.
Cover the canner and bring to boil over high heat. Once water boils vigorously, process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. (adjust processing time for your altitude if necessary).
When processing time is complete, turn off heat and allow the canner to cool down and settle for about 10 minutes. Spread a kitchen towel on the counter; remove the cover by tilting lid away from you so that steam does not burn your face. Use a jar lifter to lift jars carefully from canner and place on the towel. Allow the jars to cool for 12 to 24-hours. You should hear the satisfactory “ping” of the jar lids sealing.
After 12 to 24-hours, check to be sure jar lids have sealed by pushing on the center of the lid. The lid should not pop up. If the lid flexes up and down, it did not seal. Refrigerate jar and use up within a few days.
Remove the screw on bands and wash the jars. Label and date the jars. Store your jars in a cool, dark place and use within 12 months. Yields about 6-7 pint jars or 3-4 quarts depending on how much the sauce reduces.
Additional Canning Information:
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