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August 6, 2012

How To Can Tomato Sauce

If you've been hesitant to get into canning now is the perfect time to take that leap! Making and canning your own tomato sauce is a great way to dip your toe into the world of food preservation.

How fun is this? Home canned tomato sauce ready for action!

To be sure I was a canning-ninny for the longest time. I didn't trust it. I was afraid of it. Didn't want to take that chance. I was fine with just freezing everything, thankyouverymuch. Wow what a mistake! Once I got over my fears and found out how easy it is to do my own canning, my home food preservation took off like a shot and I've never looked back.

Come on along and I'll show you how easy and fun it is to make and can your own tomato sauce. To be sure the best online reference for canning is Pick Your Own. Its easy, fun, and approachable with lots of pictures. And of course you should run right out and get a copy of the indomitable Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. With these references you should have the confidence to give home canning a try.

First step to making and canning tomato sauce:  Go get your maters!  Run right out in the yard and pick a whole bucket of ruby goodness. Or head on over to your local farm stand and ask them for a bargain like I showed you in this post from last summer.

Just scoop out the seeds and you are all set!

Next step, clean them bad boys. Some people are more particular than I am about cleaning maters. I don't have time to remove every seed or peel off the skins. I just cut off the tops, cut them length wise in such a way that the seeds are visible, use my knife to slide out the seeds, then cut the maters into chunks and drop them in a big kettle. Easy peasy. Turn the heat on low to medium, add some salt, take the scraps out to the chickens, and then sit around and wait until that sauce has cooked down.

Chunks of maters waiting to be cooked down into terrific sauce.

After a while I'll use a hand blender to make it more of a puree. How long do I cook it? Until its done. Its just not that complicated. Sometimes I'll cook it for hours for a thicker sauce destined for pizza, or just about 45 minutes for more pasta-y applications. I don't add spices or anything else. You can but I don't because I like to have the flexibility to use the sauce for different things. And, you need to be careful to follow a canning-approved recipe so that its safe. Don't just make up your own recipe when you are canning.

Plain sauce is just so much easier. For instance I can open a jar and use half of it one day for a sweet and sour Asian-inspired pork stir fry...and then use the rest of the sauce on a pizza the next night. Or use the whole jar as a base for a low cooked roast. Or for a fabulous meat ball bake.

Beautiful, thick sauce ready to can.

There are so many uses for home canned tomato sauce. One of the biggest lies in the grocery store is that you need to buy their expensive, fake-Italian-named pasta sauce. Don't do that. Fresh tomato sauce that you can yourself is delicious enough to stand up on its own, even plain. And you don't have to taste the stupid corn sweetener that is rampant in a lot of jarred products. Want to fancy it up? Then do it when you are making dinner. Add garlic and/or onions to a pan, saute a bit, add some wine, then the sauce then cook it for a few minutes and voila! Easy peasy.

Jars are in the water bath ready to be simmered.

While you are cooking down your sauce get your jars ready. Use your pressure canner or the biggest, deepest stock pot you have. Fill it with water and your jars - make sure the water level is above the jars and bring the whole thing up to a simmering boil. I let them simmer in there at least 10 minutes.

All my tools ready for canning. I do the same thing, the same way every time.

Got your jars simmering? Got your sauce simmering?  OK, now fill the jars - but first make sure you add lemon juice!  Why? It has to do with keeping the sauce acidic enough so that bacteria wont grow in it. I get bored with the scientific explanation so read about it in your book or on the Pick Your Own site - but just don't skip this step! How much you add depends on how big your jars are. Follow the directions given in your reference.

I don't like to can with a lot of confusion going on and I like to make sure its done safely and methodically. So I don't have the TV on or over-interested cats underfoot... I have my workspace arranged so its the most efficient and most effective. I fill the jars the same way every time so I don't forget any steps.

Make sure you follow the directions for how full to fill the jars, and also how to do the lids and rings. They need to be hot in order to seal properly. Wipe down the jar top, add the lid, and tighten.

Use a jar holder to put the filled jars into the boiling water. You need to make sure that the water level is above the jars. Then let that baby boil for the recommended amount of time. How long you boil, or "process," the jars depends on how big the jars are or if you live at an altitude.  So be sure to follow the instructions to the letter.

You can pressure can tomato sauce but for my money its easier just to use this "water bath" method. I don't find that pressure canning saves much time and I like to remove the jars and dump the hot water as soon as I can. Having a huge hot pot of water sitting there just keeps the kitchen hot and in the summer who wants that?

The jars will merrily start plinking soon after they are removed from the water - that's the sign they are properly sealed. Just let them sit there over night so they can cool. Then remove the rings and check to make extra sure that they sealed - just try and remove the lid with your hands. Doesn't budge? Then you are set. Use a wet towel to wipe down the jar, label it with the date and contents, and sit back and congratulate yourself! You did it!

See? Isn't that fun and easy? You can do it.. come on... give this a try and you'll get your confidence up to try something else!

Happy Monday everyone! Now get out there and can your own tomato sauce!