Here is where it starts! Out in the garden, we planted about eight Roma tomato plants, some beefsteak and yellow tomatoes this year and they are falling over with the weight of their bounty! This year was especially good because we took two great ideas from friends and combined them. After we planted the tomatoes, we put down newspaper, then put straw on top of the newspaper. We have had no weeds! That's right! No weeds and when the tomatoes fall down onto the straw, they are still as intact as if they were on the bush...no bruising, no grubs, no bugs eating them. We'll be doing this every year from now on and you all should too! It truly makes life easy when you don't have to weed. For me, weeding is a huge undertaking and I never last very long at it before I have to go stretch out, so it becomes a vicious circle because by the time I finish weeding something, I'm starting over on the new ones that sprouted!
This method is just going to floor you with how easy it is to can your tomatoes! Bring them into the house and cut the tops (stems) off of them after you wash them. We used Roma's this year only for the sauce. There's something about them that just makes a nicer pasta sauce. Get a large pot of boiling water going on the stove and blanch the tomatoes in batches until the skins start to split. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the batches to a colander sitting on top of a bowl to catch the liquids. If you do this in batches you can be working on the tomatoes you just pressed and be boiling the next batch for the press procedure. In other years, after the tomatoes were lifted out of the boiling water, we used to peel them. This was not a fun job at all. Hot, messy, icky! but this year we thought, why bother taking the skins off because alot of the really great pulp is under that skin, so we didn't!
Place the tomatoes into your tomato press and crank it around and around and around. What we found was that the round sieve disk with the smallest holes works great. That's at the bottom of the press and all the tomato has to pass through that before you get the good pulpy stuff shown here in the lower pot. This is where not peeling them or de-seeding the tomatoes worked out great for us. Oh, a little tiny bit of the skins managed to get through the sieve, but not much by any means and most all the seeds were caught in the press as well. We were amazed at the pulpier texture of the sauce when we didn't bother peeling them first. Who knew? Probably everyone else except us....always the last to know! Hahaha! Transfer the pressed tomato mixture to the stove now to thicken up your sauce.
Pictured to the left here are two pots of tomato sauce and the reason we have two is because my husband likes it HOT! The tomato sauce....of course! So, we added a couple of the dried red chili peppers to the smaller pot of sauce. After the tomatoes come to a boil, you want to simmer them on a medium-low heat for awhile and reduce the liquid by about a third. You'll be able to tell if it's the texture you want it to be. It should be like a thin porridge? or hey...it should look like your tomato sauce looks coming out of a can! Duh! Why didn't I think of that? This reducing takes a few hours of simmering. When it is the consistency you like, then add your dried spices to it. Now, this is a different process from what alot of other people do as well. Many people add their herbs and spices into each jar they make when they pour the sauce into the jars.
We like to add the spices right into the pot and cook them in and taste test (the best part) to see if it needs anything else? This year was different for us, like I said and we didn't add onions or garlic or salt to the sauce. Into the one sauce I should say...lets not forget about the hot chili peppers in the other pot! All we added were some different dried herbs like basil, oregano, herbs de provence, celery salt and although I didn't see Dan spice his hot sauce...I'm betting he put in cayenne!
We wanted this sauce to be somewhat bland, in that other years we've added onions, fresh garlic, celery, etc..., but this year we decided it would be more versatile a batch if we could just add fresh what we wanted in it at the time of cooking. Unlike other years as well, this year, we decided to hot-bath jars. Most years we freeze the sauce in plastic sealed containers. So, we dug out our hot bath canning pot and the cookbooks to see how long to water bath the jars for and then....had an epiphany! We remembered my daughter Alana and her man, Mark go to his Nonna's every year and make tomato sauce. It's a big family fest where Mark's family spends all day making sauce and everyone takes some home! Sounds like so much fun! Did I mention Mark's Italian? Who better to give advise on tomato sauce? We called Alana & Mark and asked about their method of finishing off the sauce because we recalled they didn't use a hot bath canner. Oh, it's so simple. Fill your HOT, sterilized (we use our dishwasher for this) jars with HOT sauce brought back to a boil. Using a funnel made for canning makes this part easier. Fill to within 1/4 inch of the top and make sure there is no sauce on the lip of the jar...if there is wipe it off, with a clean cloth or paper towel, and dry it. Put the sealers (hot and sterilized as well) on and turn them upside down on your counter overnight. No hot water bath, no burning your fingers (if your name is Wendy that is), no heating up your kitchen! Yay! I'm not sure if this will work on anything else you would do in a hot-water bath and am not willing to take the risk of not doing that last step for other types of foods, but if tomato sauce goes bad, you know as soon as you open the jar, so don't worry!
This is such an easy method that even beginners who are daunted by all the equipment required to can tomatoes need only buy a tomato press of any sort and some jars! I like knowing that our sauce originates from our own organically grown tomatoes!
Further to this post: Since making this sauce, I've been surfing the web for more info and it appears that although this sauce "may" and "most likely is" safe if done in a clean, sterile manner, it's possible that some bacterial organisms could still be prevalent. We are taking the precaution of refrigerating our jars done in this manner. Although Mark has never said if anyone was ever sick from his Nonna's recipe, I'm still a little leary, so better safe than sorry! Hot Pressure Canning is apparently best for tomato sauce, then water bath canning. Just an FYI