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you saucy thing

Recipe: tomato sauce (canning)

See that? THAT is my litmus stand of aspens. When it turns, it’s nearly time for me to hit the road. Thing is, it’s early this year by about ten days. So I’m scrambling to finish a ton of work before I head out into the golden yonder for the fall shoot. It’s like having dinner guests show up early when you aren’t ready to receive them. Thanks for that, Nature!


despite the push in schedule, the colors are lookin’ good



As promised, I’ve got another (a last) tomato recipe for you. Folks were asking about it and I have been doing it – canning tomato sauce. Next to diced tomatoes, I go through a good bit of tomato sauce in the winter months (October through May). There are so many ways you could make your tomato sauce, but I found Marisa‘s recipe to be the best for my preferences. I like a smooth, even, and slightly thickened sauce. The one thing I really recommend getting your hands on is a food mill of some sort. Borrow one if you must, but get a food mill.

start with lots of lovely tomatoes, duh!

and bottled lemon juice



Just like the diced tomatoes, the only ingredients you need are tomatoes and bottled lemon juice. Yes, bottled lemon juice. I prefer fresh squeezed lemon juice over bottled any day except this day. This day, we fight! No wait… this day we use bottled lemon juice because it has a consistent acidity level which you want so you can avoid things like botulism. Do that.

stem the tomatoes

dice the tomatoes



The nice thing about tomato sauce is that you don’t have to core the tomatoes like you do for diced tomatoes. Nor do you have to peel them like you would when canning diced tomatoes. It’s terrific and it goes quickly. Marisa’s instructions have you dice a handful of tomatoes and place them in a stock pot to boil while you crush them with a spoon. I use a potato masher because it gets my aggressions out better. The crushing also helps to keep the sauce from separating into liquids and solids in the jars. Add some more diced tomatoes and keep crushing until all of the tomatoes are done.

i crush you

bring it to a boil



All of that labor you avoided earlier by not having to core or peel the tomatoes? This is when it comes back to bite you. In batches, run your tomatoes through a food mill to separate the skin and seeds from the sauce. The resulting sauce is truly beautiful, but you have to work for it. For ten pounds of tomatoes, I can typically get it all done in four batches (clearing the food mill out four times – that’s time consuming!). Then you simmer the sauce down by about a third of its initial volume. Ten pounds of toms will yield me about six pints of tomato sauce.

my trusty food mill (thanks, perez!)

simmer it down



When the sauce is to your desired consistency (remember, the thicker you make it, the less volume you will get), ready your jars with a tablespoon of lemon juice in each pint jar. Ladle the sauce into the jars (1/2 inch headspace) and process them according to the jar manufacturer’s instructions. I’m super excited that my cabinet full of empty jars is now a cabinet full of jars of pickles, tomatoes, sauces, jams, and boozy infusions. Yay!!

divvy up the lemon juice

pour the hot tomato sauce into the jars



Unless I totally luck out and source more tomatoes when I return from the fall shoot, I think that’s pretty much it for the season for me. 100+ lbs. of tomatoes done and done! Feels good. And it will be especially wonderful when there is snow on the ground and a hot stew, chili, or soup bubbling away on the stove after a good hard day of skiing. Bring it!

i’m a canner!



Basic Tomato Sauce
[print recipe]
from Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

8 lbs. (3.6 kg) Roma or paste tomatoes (I used organic slicing tomatoes from a local farm stand)
1/4 cup (60 ml) bottled lemon juice, divided
4 basil leaves (optional)

Notes: I have made this recipe using only Weck jars. The Weck site has some nice canning instructions if you are using their jars, which differ slightly from the standard instructions for canning with Ball-style jars. I canned 4 1-pint Weck jars from this recipe. Also, use bottled lemon juice rather than fresh lemon juice, because the acidity varies from lemon to lemon, but bottled juice has a more consistent acidity which is necessary for safety reasons in this recipe.

Prepare the tomato sauce: Remove the stems from your tomatoes and give the tomatoes a wash. Cut away any rotten sections. Cut the tomatoes into a large dice (it’s all going to get mushed, so make them large enough to save yourself some time, but small enough that they won’t hurt your wrist when you try to mash them). You can either chop as you cook or chop them all and just add them when needed – I prefer to chop them all at once. Place a quarter or a fifth of the tomatoes in a large stock pot over high heat. When the tomatoes begin to boil, start crushing them with a large spoon or a potato masher (this works nicely). The point of this is to keep your sauce from separating in the jars. Add another quarter or fifth and continue to crush the tomatoes over high heat. When you’re done crushing everything, let the tomatoes come to a boil for a good five minutes. Set a food mill (or sieve, but that’s just a world of hate right there) over a large bowl and ladle the hot crushed tomatoes into the mill and press it through. Do this in batches according to the capacity of your food mill (or sieve, you poor thing). I like the press the hell out of the tomatoes to get every last drop. Discard the peels and seeds. Return the sauce to the stock pot and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 40-50 minutes or until the volume has reduced by a third.

Canning the tomato sauce: Ready the boiling water bath and the clean (washed with soap and water) jars you plan to use for canning. Check your jars and lids for nicks or cracks – don’t use them if they have any because it could jeopardize creating a good seal. If using standard Ball or similar style jars, it helps to put them in the pot you plan to use for canning and fill them (and the pot) with water, then bring to a boil. Keep the jars at a simmer (180°F) until they are ready to use. Place the lids in a small saucepan with enough water to cover them and set to a simmer over low heat (high heat can compromise the gummy seal material). If using Weck jars, you only need to sterilize your jars and glass lids if they will be processed for less than 10 minutes. Place the rubber rings in a small saucepan of water and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes then leave them in the hot water until you are ready to use them.

Place 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in each pint jar. Fill each jar with hot tomato sauce, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. If you want to add a basil leaf to each jar, do so now.

Use a cloth to wipe the rims clean and apply the lids and rings of the Ball-style jars to fingertip tight (just tightened with fingertips – not super tight). If using Weck jars, place the rubber rings on the glass lids and set them on the jars. Secure the lids with two canning clamps for each jar – 180° from each other (across from each other). Set the jars in your canning bath (either on a jar rack or a makeshift cooling rack – just be sure they are not set directly on the bottom of the pot) and check that there is at least 1-2 inches of water above the lids of the jars – if not, add more water. Once the pot has returned to a boil, process for 35 minutes if you are at an altitude of sea-level to 1,000 feet above sea level (asl). For 1,001 to 3,000 feet asl, add another 5 minutes to the 35 minute processing time. For 3,001 to 6,000 feet asl, add 10 minutes to the 35 minute processing time. For 6,001 to 8,000 feet asl, add another 15 minutes to the 35 minute processing time. And finally, for 8,001 to 10,000 feet asl (that’s me!) add an additional 20 minutes to the 35 minute processing time for a total of 55 minutes.

When the sauce is done processing, remove the jars from the canning bath and place them on a towel-lined countertop to let them cool. Don’t mess with them! For the metal lids, you may hear the “ping” of the seals forming as the center of the lid gets sucked down. There will be no pinging of the Weck lids, but you may notice the tongue of the rubber band pointing down (this is good). Let the jars cool for 24 hours. Remove the bands or clamps and lift the jar an inch or so off your work surface (carefully – in case the seal is bad and breaks) by the lid. If the seal is good, it should hold. If a seal fails, you can always reprocess the tomatoes in a clean jar with new lid (Ball) or new gasket (Weck)! Also, any jar with a bad seal can be stored in the refrigerator. Store the jars in a cool, dark location for up to a year (take the clamps and rings off).

14 nibbles at “you saucy thing”

  1. Kitt says:

    Yum! Ive been processing boatloads of tomatoes, too, but I still haven’t been able to work up the motivation to can. I freeze my slow-roasted tomato sauce instead. One of these years I’ll do it your way, I swear!

  2. Kellan says:

    Thanks for posting these canning posts using the Weck jars. I recently discovered them and have been looking for blog posts about using them.

  3. Linda says:

    I just canned 20 pints of salsa and 8 quarts of marinara from tomatoes from my garden and ordered 50 lbs. of organic Amish Paste tomatoes from the local CSA to put up this week. I love canning. I do lust after your beautiful Weck jars. Alas…my mother gave me all her canning jars before she moved to Florida, so there is no way I could justify buying more.

  4. Eileen says:

    Yay, tomato sauce! I got all excited hearing that you don’t skin the tomatoes–but it came back to bite me, because we don’t have a food mill. Although it does sound like it may be time for me to get one! :)

  5. Jill says:

    I love that you are so organized to get this all done…and go for a fall photo shoot…and spend a week in Maine…and, and and! You amaze me. Our house is chaos from one end to the other with a bathroom remodel. That’s what I do all day! hugs.

  6. Leah says:

    What kind of canning jars are those?

  7. Fran says:

    The brand is Weck.

  8. April was in CT now CA says:

    I hope that one day I’ll have the space to can lots of things. For some reason since we move every 4 years I can’t bring myself to buy the items needed for it because I never know what my storage space will be in the kitchen and I’ve already got SO much. Most likely this is just my own brain block. :o) Yesterday I created a murder scene in my kitchen coring, peeling and dicing tomatoes for the freezer and although I have no idea if I did it right, it was a lot of fun and hopefully I’ll have ‘maters for soups, stews and chili for the cooler seasons coming up. My grandparents had an entire “barn” (it was air conditioned and nice) delegated to the storing of all the bounty they put up from their two gardens. I never fully appreciated all of their hard work until I got older and I sure do miss having access to it. Love, love those Weck jars!

  9. Margie says:

    I’m so missing my canning equipment…and the bumper crop of cherry tomatoes I was blessed with each fall. I never owned a food mill, but my neighbor eagerly offered up her cone ricer for the annual event…she got a bit of the kitchens proceeds in exchange…not the composted part. ;)

    This winter, opening cans, I’ll be thinking of you and your tomatoes.

    I am green with envy!

  10. farmerpam says:

    I spent today organizing my root cellar. Nothing is more beautiful to me then to see all of those jars lined up. All the colors and textures. I feel like I’ve captured summer.

  11. Melora says:

    13 lbs of misc. garden tomatoes = 7.5 pints of lovely sauce. Thanks so much for sharing Marisa’s recipe. Those sparkling jars are sooooo satisfying!

  12. jenyu says:

    Kitt – If I would get off my bum and buy a chest freezer, I’d freeze tomatoes too!

    Kellan – they’re so great, I LOVE them!! :)

    Linda – nice job on all those tomatoes! I can never hang on to my Ball jars (I keep giving stuff away!) so it’s good for me to can in Weck jars – that way, I keep some for myself ;)

    Eileen – you can find a decent Oxo at Amazon for not outrageous amounts of cash.

    Jill – awww, I would be in a tizzy if any part of the house were in remodel (maybe that’s why we never get anything done around the house except simple IKEA assembly).

    Leah – Weck.

    April – oh, I’m so envious of your grandparents’ barn. What a lovely idea. I sure hope you get to canning some day, I just love it!

    Margie – I’m feeling like I’ve been missing out for the past 40 years ;)

    farmerpam – nice!

    Melora – yay!!

  13. L. says:

    I was very curious about the Weck jars because I’d not heard of them and I know the USDA and the famous canning book Putting Food By have some pretty strict recommendations on canning jar types. I read they are, however, approved in Canada or popular in Europe, and it appears that many/most canners consider them safe as long as you follow the Weck instructions for canning safely. For other readers that are curious, I thought this comment thread was balanced and useful: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/harvest/msg1223080219777.html

    I also appreciate learning about your canning technique for tomatoes because, although I’ve canned a lot of jams and jellies, tomatoes are new for me and I’d spent some time this year wondering about their acidity and the need to add lemon juice, whether one should skin/core them, etc. This year I settled on cutting the tomatoes into eighths, coring them, cooking down for 10 minutes, lightly chopping in the food processor, and freezing, with the intent to process them a bit more if I use them as sauce. Maybe next year I’ll branch out to sauce and/or canning!

    So–thanks for expanding my world a bit today!

  14. Montavilla Farmers Market | Preserving the Harvest: One Pot Tomato Sauce says:

    [...] for my favorite tomato sauce recipe, I use this recipe from Use Real Butter. As I said before, it’s extremely simple. I only make one major [...]

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