Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making tomato sauce

We butchered four animals last Monday, so I was tasked with cleaning out one of the chest freezers in anticipation of the estimated 1400 lbs. of meat which will be returning (and which, fortunately, we're not all keeping).

One of the items to clean out was the bags of frozen tomato purée I had saved up from the garden's bounty over the summer.

I wanted to turn the tomato purée into tomato sauce. I'd never done this before (mostly because prior to this I'd never had such beautiful purée, thanks to the use of a food strainer), so this was new territory for me.

The basic premise in making tomato sauce is to get rid of a lot of the water which occurs naturally in the purée by cooking it off (some people "bake" it out by baking purée in an oven at low temps). Since we had the wood cookstove going anyway, I simply nested two large pots and set them on the stove. I fit about half the frozen purée into the inside pot.

The idea behind nesting the pots is to make a double boiler. The outer pot is filled with enough water to surround the inner pot, up to the level of the contents. The water boils, which heats the contents of the inner pot but doesn't burn it. I've burned enough stuff in my career to welcome the gentle, consistent heat of a double boiler setup.

The rest of the frozen purée I put in large bowls on the table to defrost.

All night long the purée sat on the cookstove, slowly defrosting and then heating. It stayed thin and runny and I despaired of ever making sauce.

In fact, it stayed on the cookstove for three days (as in, 72 straight hours). Periodically I added water to the outer pot (so it wouldn't boil dry) and wondered if I was wasting my time.

And then something magical happened: it cooked down into the most beautiful smooth tomato sauce you ever saw. Somehow I couldn't believe it, but it was true.

Meanwhile, the frozen bagged purée I had put in bowls to defrost had one beneficial side effect I hadn't anticipated: a lot of the watery portions leaked out of the bags, leaving the more solid portions inside. I simply poured off the watery leakage.

When it came time to take the first batch off the stove and put this second batch on, it cooked down much faster. I'll do this with all of it next time. Live and learn!

By the time I was done, the sauce was magnificent.

At this point I could have flavored the sauce any number of ways, but I didn't for two reasons: One, I wanted the sauce to be suitable as a foundation for any number of dishes, so bland is best; and two, adding additional ingredients (onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc.) would mean I would have to pressure-can it instead of water-bath can it. So I kept it plain.

Time to can. I washed the jars...

...and ladled in the sauce. It came to 21 pints.

See how beautiful it is? Like jars of rubies. I'm always tickled when a new project works.

Before canning the sauce, I added a tablespoon of vinegar to each jar as an acidifier. Modern tomatoes, even "heirloom" or non-hybrid, have a lot less acid than their ancestral forebears. It never hurts to add a bit more acid just to play it safe.

I was too cowardly, however, to do the actual canning on the wood cookstove (another frontier I will have to conquer at some point). I canned it on the propane stove.

Now that I understand how to make sauce from purée, I will probably sauce the vast majority of tomatoes I get in the garden next year. Nothing beats having sauce on hand for any number of pasta dishes, casseroles, soups, etc.


  1. Congrats. They look red and Christmasy.

  2. Another trick...put the tomatoes (unfrozen) in the refrigerator overnight. All the pulp will be on top and water on bottom and you can scoop off the pulp to make the sauce.

  3. When I make tomato sauce, I cut the tomatoes in half and cook them prior to running them through a food mill. I would normally cover a baking sheet in the cut tomatoes, sprinkle a little salt, and cook them at 350 for about an hour before processing them. That gets rid of quite a bit of moisture, and you don't have to boil anything down afterwards. They go straight from the pan to the food mill to the jar.

    And the smell when you pop open one of those cans in January of February brings you right back to the garden. Pure heaven.

  4. Beautiful sauce.
    Beef and tomatoes in one post; now I'm very hungry!
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Well done!

    Abundance abounds in the Lewis kitchen.

    I thought of you yesterday as I opened a jar of my home made apple butter. Soooo yummy!

    A. McSp

  6. Wow, that looks great!!! I can't wait to give it a try on my wood stove:)

  7. I have found when I pour off the juicy stuff, it is not nearly as flavorful.

  8. They look lovely! I haven't had nearly enough tomatoes in the past few years, so I've just dehydrated them (which I love too, actually). When I have had an abundance, I've put them through the mill (on my kitchenaid - it spits out the skins, which you can also dehydrate, or give to the chickens). Then, I simmer for a bit and then pour them through a sieve (the type with a fine screen. You would think that the thin sauce would come through, but for me it has been clear! The sieve has tomato puree in it. I finish heating and canning the thick puree, and use the slightly tinted tomato water for other things (like in rice). The sieve really works for me and I hope might keep more nutrients from boiling away.
    Glad the family nanny can be home for Christmas. My daughter nanny is due home at dawn tomorrow :)

  9. Beautiful! I have used my canner more in the last month than I have the whole time I've had it. (5 years maybe?)

  10. I use a Blendtec blender, skins and all, tap juice button, pour in 5gal bucket till full, let settle over night in spare frig, dip out puree on top to large pot, place on trivet on wood stove w/o lid stir occasionally, jar and Tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt and water bath. Use what is left in bucket for juice, can it also if desired.. Nothing is faster than a Blendtec. I came up with this method two years ago. My wife and I can 12 to 15 cases of sauce, juice and whole tomatoes plus salsa each, every season. Time savings is huge. Merry Christmas from Quincy MI.

  11. Merry Christmas to the Lewis family!

  12. Lovely! It is so satisfying to look at the jars of food we put up ourselves isn't it? Merry Christmas from the bottom half of the state!

  13. I seldom buy large containers of Heinz "Apple Cider" vinegar any more. Notice the text on the label? It's FLAVORED 'distilled' vinegar now. You can still buy the real deal from other brands, and I always look now. The first time I noticed this on the Heinz container, I felt like they were trying to pull a fast one on us. It might not make a bit of difference, but I'm funny I guess.

  14. I have been making tomato sauce for about 30 years. I agree with the other gal on the flavor. That thin watery juice adds a great deal of flavor to the sauce. I drew it off one year from some frozen tomatoes, and I was disapointed every time I used the product. I never did it again. I also go right from the SqueeZo to the boil down and then into the jars. I have not used the wood cook stove, but you could if you stoked the fire up and got a good boil going on it. The double boiler method is what probably made it take so long. Good job on it Patrice for a first timer!
    Judy, from Idaho, in AZ for the winter.

  15. beautiful sauce , and so many ideas to try. I'm thinking I could boil down the tomato water because I wouldn't have to worry about that burning..and double boiler the thick stuff maybe hang it in cheesecloth to separate? and then add it all back together when everything has thickened .Lots of things to try next summer !!Karen

  16. Not to waste the heat you already have on the wood stove but I've had great success by completely filling my large crockpot, heat on high to get warm and then turn to low overnight - leave the top off and when you get up, it's DONE, hot and ready to can. I use one of the solar circuits, so there's no electricity cost.
    Merry Christmas! Jan in NWGA

  17. I'm curious about the beef. I assume you trucked the cattle to a butcher, who did the job. How long does the meat have to age before being ready to eat? I guess I just want to know what happens behind the scenes.

    1. Susan, if you look at the list of key words on the left-hand side of the blog, you'll see an entry for "butchering." Click on that and you'll see many posts on the process. Warning, the photos can be a bit graphic.

      - Patrice

  18. Patrice, I just did the same thing! I cooked my tomatoes (halved and frozen from the summer) in a big stockpot and cooked them until they created a nice bright red sauce! It also took mine a couple days, a long process but very worth it. Yours is gorgeous!