home canning: tomato sauce

November 1st, 2006


This is a jar of tomato sauce I canned last night. It somehow escaped the shelf near the stove and took a scenic photo of itself in the garden. I don’t know how it managed to carry my camera.

Everyone’s been canning tomatoes lately, and I’ve been meaning to can some sauce for a couple of months now. It always seems like such a scary, convoluted, exhausting process such that the thought of home canning is much more attractive than the canning itself. Unlike ordinary cooking, there’s no instant gratification. In fact there’s a danger of no gratification at all. If you don’t seal and process everything just so, you may wind up with several jars of wildly partying bacteria. Let’s hear it for botulism!

But last Saturday I saw the most beautiful early girl tomatoes at the farmer’s market. Again. How could I pass them up? They smelled like summer, and tasted vaguely of honey. They were firm and bright and small. They were perfect. How could I not preserve some of these beauties for winter?

I bought about three pounds, which resulted in a little more than 1.5 pints of thick-ish sauce. I didn’t bother skinning or de-seeding the tomatoes. I like a chunky tomato sauce, and I find that the skin adds a little texture. The tomatoes are very sweet, so a little extra acidity from the seeds doesn’t make much difference.

Here is my recipe for a very simple tomato sauce, which is by no means definitive. My goal was to make a plain, yet flavorful, base sauce to which other ingredients may be added after opening a jar, such as fresh herbs, cheese, or ground meat.

very simple tomato sauce

2-3 TBS butter
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 lb quartered early girl tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
dried herbs

  • Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan on a low-medium flame.
  • Add the chopped garlic to the pan and stir.
  • When the butter begins to bubble and the garlic has started to turn golden, add the tomatoes.
  • Simmer and stir.
  • Crumble in dried herbs to taste (I used at least a dozen sprigs of thyme, dropping the leaves into the pot by running the sprigs between my thumb and forefinger).
  • Continue simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove from flame when the sauce has reached the consistency you like.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.

That’s it. Once you’ve prepared the sauce, you’re halfway done. The canning part isn’t quite as complicated as it seems, especially considering that homemakers have been doing it for hundreds of years. That thought reassured me.

A few tips from a home canning novice:

  • Read about home canning before you try it. Specifically, read about how to can the specific food you’ll be working with. You can get a book from the library, or just do a web search.
  • The National Center for Home Canning is a good resource. Andrea’s Recipe Box is another. (Such detailed instructions! You can tell she’s an instructional designer.)
  • Wash several jars and lids before you begin. You can wash them in the dishwasher, then boil the jars (not the lids) to sterilize them. I don’t have a jar lifter, so I sterilize a set of tongs along with the jars. I then use the tongs to remove the sterilized jars from the canning pot.
  • Prepare more jars than you think you will need, so that you don’t run out.
  • Get a jar of citric acid. According to the National Center for Home Canning, citric acid is useful for canning foods that require a little extra acidity.
  • Read, re-read, and re-re-read the canning instructions before commencing canning. Print out instructions and have them with you in the kitchen for reference. I just noticed a few steps I skipped (oops).
  • If it doesn’t work out, there’s always next year. But you can freeze a small batch just in case.

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