Tomatoes: A sweet trial of patience in canning

You say tomay-toe.  I say tomah-toe.  Tomay-toe.  Tomah-toe.  Let’s call this whole thing yummy.  Whatever you say – dozens of tomatoes makes for lots of work and a delicious batch of tomato sauce.  If you recall my post that was fondly titled “Admission of a Wannabe Homemaker” one of my pledges was to can tomatoes and make a basic, starter sauce.  My goal was to have this be the first step in homemade spaghetti, lasagna, soup or chili meals.

Tomatoes have been a constant fixture in my vegetable garden since its early roots.  This year the bushes moved from the backyard to the front and out of Beckett’s reach because of the deadly nature of their leaves (look up “nightshade family”), but the three bushes seemed to love their new home.  The sun exposure was perfect.  The protection from wind was ideal.  And, the rain was just enough to grow healthy, juicy, bulbous tomatoes.

One week I got two tomatoes.

Then, ten the next week.

And, a dry spell of none for three weeks.

There would be an onslaught on Monday, but nary a ripe tomato in sight for the days following.

Needless to say – the harvest was unpredictable.  And, I’m more than okay with that, except when it comes to canning.

You can’t can a tomato here or there.  Canning is all about volume and slaving over the stove one time, one day.  My kind of harvesting schedule is perfect for slicing and enjoying on the dinner table and fresh from the garden.  So, I bought ‘em…

When I first approached my husband about canning tomatoes he was all for it with ONE stipulation.  I expressed my desire to pack our pantry to jars of homemade sauce instead of resorting to endless grocery trips and he countered that the sauce must be THICK.  No runny, watery, separating, drippy noodle sauce.  Thick.  Hearty.  Deep-red tomato sauce.  I whole-heartedly agreed and set about figuring out the best way to get this end result.  I narrowed my search to canning recipes that used a boiling water bath because I don’t have a pressure canner to call my own (gift idea!).

I checked out my oh-so-favorite “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” from the library (another gift idea!) and got to work finding a supply of bulk tomatoes.  I got my local farmer lined up.  I had my supplies ready.  The recipe was in hand.  We were good to go.  Romas were the tomato of choice because they have less juice, are denser and require less cooking time (relatively speaking…) to reduce from mushie-smoothie to thick sauce.

So, here goes…


Look at those red lovelies!


Twenty-pounds of organic Roma tomatoes: $50.00

Additional quart-size canning jars that weren’t really needed because I used pints instead, but now I have extra quarts (a blessing or a waste of cupboard space? I’m not sure): $5.00

My time and effort: $bazillions

Total expenses: $55.00

Keep scrolling if you were looking for the final product tally or the end result.  It’s a little embarrassing, especially when I take into account the bazillions of dollars my time is worth…

Making Tomato Sauce in only THIRTY steps!

Step one: Enlist the help of your spouse.  Hold his cheeks between your palms, look him straight in the eye and with dramatic emphasis on the correct syllables say “You are now watching Beckett. Officially.”  Plan ahead, start earlier rather than later.  I started at 6:00pm…

Step two: Wash your tomatoes.  Get your supplies ready and assembled on the counter.  Open your book up to the recipe page.


My eyes, when it came to the jars, were MUCH bigger than the tomatoes we had...

Step three: Begin cutting tomatoes in quarters and adding to the pot as you go.  I cut the harder, tough top section of the tomato out, too.  This took care of this part of the core and the stem (if it was still there).

Step four: Place pot on stove, bring to a boil over medium-high and start letting the tomatoes cook down.

Step five: Alternate between cutting and adding and stirring with a potato masher.  Decide that a ten-foot span is too far between the stovetop and the counter where the tomatoes are being disassembled.  Move your entire workstation to the counter directly next to the pot and cram all of your supplies into this miniscule space.

Step six through eleventeen (a.k.a. Continue with the cutting, adding and stirring until you are done with all two-thousand tomatoes.

Step twelve: Stir until the tomatoes have reduced to mush and the pot is boiling at a good clip.  Boil for 10 minutes.

Step thirteen: Get ready to separate and remove the skin and seeds.  Pull out a strainer for this activity because that’s what the “official recipe recommends.

Step fourteen through sixteen: Make multiple attempts to fit ten-pounds of s&*# in a five pound bag – otherwise known as relatively large chunks of tomatoes through a pin-hole screen.  Toss aside the strainer.

Step seventeen: Think of at least five or six different options for separating seed and skin from pulp before…

Steps eighteen through twenty-one: Call your aunt down the street, beg to use her food mill (it’d be a gift idea, but I already snagged one on eBay) and trade off child-watching duties while your hubby drives to pick it up because “down the street” in country terms is really two-plus miles.

Step twenty-two: Check out the clock and realize you are only a third of the way through this project and it’s quickly approaching Beckett’s bedtime.  Waste a bit more time eating the ridiculously good coffee cake your hubby picked up along with the food mill.

Lookie-loo! It seems that when you bring out "power tools" the man is willing to help!

Step twenty-three: Run the entire pot of tomato slurry through the food mill.  Marvel at how incredibly well it does its job and leaves you with a clean pile of “sauce” and a bowl of unwanted seeds and skins.

Note the time: 8:44pm

Step twenty-four: Bring all the cleaned sauce back to your pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Make sure that there are bubbles.  No bubbles, huh?  Check the temperature knob and notice that it got bumped and is now at level “low-low-low”.  Set back to medium-high.

Next check: 8:57pm

Step twenty-five: Reduce heat to medium/high and cook the sauce down until it reaches your desired consistency.  Watch the line on the edge of the pot to see if it is actually cooking because you can’t believe how long its taking.  Stir often enough to keep the sauce from burning. it's 9:22pm

Step twenty-six: Take a bathroom break.  Ask your husband to relieve you stove-side.

And, the angels sang when the clock finally stroked 9:46pm!

Step twenty-seven: Get your sauce ready to take a dip in the boiling water bath.

  • Assemble your clean, pre-warmed jars
  • Pull out your sterilized lids and rings
  • Check your giant pot of boiling water to make it’s still bubbling – I mean you started it four hours ago…
  • Pull out your lemon juice and any other savory additions you want to add.  We added a dash of garlic powder, a sprinkle of dried basil and a pinch of dried oregano.  Don’t even think about adding other non-dried veggies.  It’s not safe with a boiling water bath method.
  • Get your lemon juice or citric acid ready; you will need 1 tablespoon lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon citric acid for pints and 2 tablespoon lemon juice or ½ teaspoon citric acid for quarts.

Step 1: Lemon juice


Step twenty-eight: Add your spices and lemon juice to each jar.  Prepare one jar at a time.  Ladle your sauce into the jar – leaving ½-inch headspace.  Tighten ring to fingertip tight.

Step 2: Spices!


Step 3: Ladle it in, get that lid on and get 'er ready for a bath!

Step twenty-nine: Boil your jars for 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.  Make sure the water covers the jars by at least two inches and don’t start the time until the water is back to a rolling boil.

Step thirty: Remove your jars from the boiling water bath.  Allow them to cool on the countertop overnight.  Transfer to pantry.

That's just the first batch - don't you worry I DID get more than SIX!

And, now, step back and count your jars.  What?!  There are only TEN jars!  Yes, I admittedly spent $55 dollars on the tomato sauce and yielded a total of ten jars.  That leaves me with a cost of $5.50+ per jar…

Does it taste delicious?  Heck yes, it does.

Is it thick, beautiful red tomato sauce?  Eh – well – thick enough.  But, cry-kee, I cooked it for two plus hours…

Would I do it again?  Maybe.

Would I do it again if could grow my own tomatoes and literally have it be “free”? Most definitely.

Do I know how to grow enough tomatoes and harvest them in a timeframe that works for canning? Um, no.

Would I recommend it?  Yes, yes, yes!

This entry was posted in home & hearth, nice & natural, supper & sustenance. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tomatoes: A sweet trial of patience in canning

  1. Jenny says:

    Love! I wanted to do this this year but the tomatoes were just too expensive where I went. I did do pickles though and they turned out well. 🙂 Next time!

  2. Thanks so much for this post. I happen to live in a community where tomatoes are grown by almost everyone but me. I usually end up with many from various friend’s gardens so this is very helpful for me to learn from your experience with making canned tomato sauce.

    Nothing like home grown tomatoes, the taste is in the sauce as well. Yum!

  3. Pingback: dave’s gourmet: bringing italian goodness to any meal (review & giveaway) | The Sacred Bee's Blog

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