The year 2020 has been a big year for learning how to garden. If you planted a vegetable garden this year you may be wondering what you can do with all of your extra vegetables. Food preservation and making meals from the garden is something that is near to my heart, and recently most of our social media content has revolved around it.
If you’re looking for something to do with an overabundance of tomatoes, or if you’ve always wanted to try but never got around to doing it, I suggest you try making homemade tomato sauce! While it can be quite time consuming, it isn’t difficult to do and it can be enjoyable for the whole family to help. Plus, if you can your tomato sauce you can enjoy it later in the year when you no longer have fresh tomatoes from the garden.
So if you’re interested in learning how to make tomato sauce, I’ll teach you how below.
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What You Need to Make Tomato Sauce
What You Need for Basic Tomato Sauce (No Extra Ingredients)
Tomatoes: You don’t need a specific amount of tomatoes but if you only have a few, you won’t end up with very much tomato sauce. I would recommend having around 15-30 tomatoes (depending on size and type of tomato) to make a good-sized pot of tomato sauce. You’d need quite a bit more if you’re planning on canning them.
Tomato Strainer or food mill: We lucked out and got a Victorio Strainer second hand. It was a BIG TIME game changer. I will discuss another way that you can peel tomatoes without a strainer, but if you think making homemade tomato sauce is something you’d like to add to your life, a strainer or food mill is well worth it.
Medium to large pot: If you use a giant stockpot you will have to be very careful not to let the bottom burn. With any tomato sauce recipe, you’ll have to stir often, but it’s a bit easier if the pot isn’t too large. That’s why I suggest a medium to large pot for a single meal of tomato sauce. For those that are canning a large batch of tomato sauce, a large stockpot is probably more useful, but you will have to be very diligent with stirring.
You can also make the tomato sauce by cooking it down in a crockpot. With this process, you would have to make sure to vent the crockpot to release moisture. You’ll still have to stir occasionally, but you won’t have to stir as often as you would on the stove.
Bowls: Nice big metal mixing bowls are really helpful for this process. One bowl to hold your tomatoes and one to put tomato scraps in.
Time: Making tomato sauce is a fairly lengthy process so don’t expect to be done in an hour. It takes time to cook down the tomatoes into a sauce consistency, especially if you like thick pasta sauce.
What You Need to Can Tomato Sauce
If you’re planning on canning your tomato sauce, you’ll need a few extra items. Here are the canning items I recommend:
- Water bath canner these are a little hard to come by right now, but I would expect they’ll make a comeback in the Springtime.
- Canning jars everything related to canning is hard to find at the moment, but I have heard some people have had luck with Uline.
- Canning lids
- Canning rings
- Lemon juice (to raise acidity)
- Jar Lifter
- A tomato sauce canning recipe
If you’re just starting out canning, a canning kit can be very useful. They contain several items that make it easier to can. I am linking to one on Amazon here, but you can search for others you might like better. I have a set that I purchased a long time ago and is not listed on Amazon currently.
If you can’t find canning supplies online, you can always search yard sales, auctions, and flea markets. You may also be able to locate some on your Facebook fleamarket page or through friends or family who have an abundance of canning supplies.
What You Need to Make Tomato Sauce With Extra Ingredients
If I’m *not* planning on canning the tomato sauce, I like to add extra ingredients including:
- Peppers (bell peppers or even hot peppers if you like spicy)
- Salt and Pepper
- Blender or Food Processor
Why Use a Different Recipe for Canning?
If you haven’t already entered the wonderful world of canning and food preservation, you may be wondering why I’m using a different recipe for canning vs. eating fresh. When it comes to canning, you should always use a recipe that’s safe and from a reputable source.
Why does this matter?
It matters because improper canning practices (not using scientifically tested recipes) could lead to things like foodborne illness or spoilage. The big concern you’ll hear about when it comes to canning is botulism. While botulism is rare, it can lead to paralysis or even death. Even more concerning, you can’t see, smell, or taste botulism. In other words, you won’t know that the food has gone bad.
This disclaimer is not meant to scare anyone away from learning how to can, but rather to show why it’s so important to find a scientifically tested recipe as opposed to a random one that you might find on the internet.
If you want a recipe that uses plain tomato sauce (no additional ingredients added) the National Center for Home Preservation has a good one. This recipe only requires tomatoes and lemon juice or citric acid, and the method I’m showing here will show you how to strain the tomatoes and cook it down into a sauce.
Step 1: Select The Right Tomatoes
If you’re a gardener, then really ANY tomato can be used to make homemade tomato sauce. I gathered up a bunch of tomatoes from my garden and my parent’s garden and turned it into tomato sauce.
With that being said, if you can get your hands on some kind of paste tomato, you’ll save yourself a lot of time. Paste tomatoes like the Amish paste or Roma tomatoes that we grow here are much meatier than the standard tomato. That means that you won’t have to cook them down as long or use as many tomatoes to get a nice thick sauce.
This is what it looks like:
This is what it looks like cut open. Meatier and less watery than many other varieties of tomatoes.
Step 2: Wash the Tomatoes
Tomatoes from the garden can be dirty, especially if the vines are on the ground. To clean the tomatoes fill your sink with water and put the tomatoes in the water. Let them soak for a little while and make sure that all the dirt is removed from the outside of the tomatoes.
Step 3: Remove the Tomato Skins and Seeds
When you’re making tomato sauce it’s usually preferable to remove the skins of the tomato. For one thing, the tomato skins tend to be noticeable in a sauce. They’re not the best texture. Also, if you’re planning on canning your tomatoes the skins need to be removed. This is the safest way to ensure that you’re not canning bacteria commonly found on the outside of tomatoes.
Some people leave the tomato skins on when they make tomato sauce, especially if they roast the tomatoes first. Just know that this isn’t the recommended method for canning.
Here I’ll show you two ways to peel a tomato.
How to Peel a Tomato Without Any Special Tools or Devices
You can peel a tomato without any special kitchen tools. You just need a pot, a knife, a slotted spoon, ice, and a bowl.
To get started first cut an X in the top of the tomato:
Turn on your stove and get a pot of water boiling.
Add the tomato (or tomatoes) to the pot and let boil for about 30 to 60 seconds. Once you see the peel start to loose from the tomato you can take it out with a slotted spoon.
Put the tomato in very cold water or in an ice-water bath. Once the tomato has cooled down you can remove the tomato skin from the tomato easily.
To remove most of the seeds, you can cut the tomato in half and squeeze the tomato to release the seeds and excess water.
So that’s the first method that doesn’t require any special equipment. It works well, but it’s messy and considerably more time consuming than the second method I’m about to show you. The second method uses a Victorio Strainer which I’ll explain next.
How to Peel Tomatoes Using a Victorio Strainer
We got our Victorio Strainer second hand, and if you like to go to auctions, flea markets, or yard sales, you may very well luck out in getting a used one as well. Thankfully ours had all the parts and had been kept very clean and well maintained.
First step in using the Victorio Strainer is to cut any bad parts off the tomatoes. I used a tomato corer to remove the top of the tomato, and I removed and parts that didn’t look nice.
*NOTE* do not use rotten tomatoes, moldy tomatoes, or tomatoes that seem questionable to make your sauce. If it isn’t a good tomato going in, it won’t be a good tomato sauce coming out. If they’re funny shaped but otherwise healthy, they’re perfectly OK to use.
I think it’s easier to feed the tomatoes through the strainer if they’ve been cut up, so that’s what I did.
You don’t have to remove the seeds or the skin from the tomatoes. The Victorio Strainer does all that for you — and it’s a beautiful thing.
To set up your Victorio Strainer, follow the directions in the pamphlet provided.
Here are all the pieces that came as a part of our strainer:
Once the strainer is assembled, you will have to find a location to clamp it to. We were able to use the edge of our counter. Other people could use a table end. The main idea is it has to be securely mounted in place. A rounded edge surface will not work correctly, and the clamp must be completely pushed in to place. If you’re worried about it damaging your surface, you can put a piece of paper between the clamp and your counter.
Here it is fully assembled. You have a bowl put on the left side to collect the discarded tomato parts and the pot on the right to collect the good tomato juice separated from the skins and seeds.
Fill the hopper half full with your cut up tomatoes– the instructions say half full but we filled ours a little too much I guess. (The hopper is the white funnel looking thing on top)
Use the food pusher to gently push the tomatoes down into the body of the strainer. At the same time, crank the handle clockwise. The instructions suggest not forcing the food down because it’ll cause it to leak. You can use two people to do this job if you want — that’s what the kids did 🙂
This is what the tomato juice looks like without seeds or skins:
Here’s the waste end:
Once you put the tomatoes through the strainer, you can put them through again. It’s often that some pulp remains on the tomatoes and it’s worth it to strain them again.
I started with four grocery bags full of tomatoes and ended up with 8 quarts of tomato juice after running it through the first time. When I ran it through the second time, I got an additional 1.5 pints.
You can compost your scraps or feed them to your chickens as we did. They loved it! Just makes sure you’re not feeding your chickens moldy or rotten tomatoes!
When you get the tomatoes skinned and the seeds removed, you’re ready for the next step.
Step 4: Cook Down the Tomatoes Into a Sauce
OK now that the harder work is done, it’s time to work on your patience. The next step is to cook the tomato juice down until it gets to the consistency that you like. Obviously, for a thinner sauce you’ll end up with more and it’ll take less time to cook. But if you want that really rich tasting thick sauce, it’s going to take some time and some stirring.
Allow your sauce to simmer until it reaches the thickness you desire. You’ll need to stir occasionally at the beginning when the sauce is still watery, but much more frequently as it thickens.
If you’re making a large quantity of sauce in a deep pot you’ll have to be very careful the bottom doesn’t burn. I would recommend stirring the sauce even more frequently in a big pot.
Step 5: Can the Tomato Sauce
If you’re thinking of canning tomato sauce, this is the time to do it! It’s simply pure tomato sauce but you can add additional ingredients later when you open the jar.
If you want the recipe including canning time and instructions, here is the one from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Here are some general tips for canning from Ball/Kerr that teach you how can properly.
Step 6: Add Extra Ingredients
If you’re skipping the canning and just want to make homemade tomato sauce for dinner, then I suggest adding extra ingredients to make the tomato sauce more vibrant and tasty!
I like to add:
- Fresh basil (can use dried herbs if you don’t have fresh)
- Fresh oregano (can use dried herbs if you don’t have fresh)
- One Bell pepper
- One medium onion
- Several cloves of garlic (we love garlic so we put in extra)
- Salt and pepper to taste
The first step is to cut up all the vegetables. Onions can be cut into wedges. Peppers can be cut into large slices, and the garlic just needs to be cut and peeled open.
After the veggies are cut, put them on an aluminum foil-lined cookie sheet. Coat evenly with olive oil and put it in the oven on broil. Cook veggies until they’re soft and starting to brown. Start with five minutes on one side and flip over for another five minutes. The idea is to brown but not burn the vegetables.
While the vegetables are cooking, dice up some fresh basil and oregano.
When the vegetables are done roasting, put them in a blender or food processor. Add chopped up herbs and about 2 cups of the tomato sauce you’re cooking on the stove. Blend until everything is incorporated.
Put the blended veggies back into the tomato sauce and cook down until the desired thickness. Enjoy over your favorite pasta!
You’ll End Up With Less Than You Started
One thing to know about making tomato sauce is that you need a LOT of tomatoes to make the sauce. I started out with four plastic grocery bags of tomatoes.
After straining it, I had 8 quarts 1.5 pints of tomato juice.
After cooking it down into a sauce, I ended up with 5 pints + dinner for 8 people. Or, in other words — probably about 4 quarts total.
Don’t let this discourage you. This is just something to know about making tomato sauce. Believe me, you’re going to love the taste of freshly made tomato sauce. It’s a longer process than buying a jar of sauce at the store, but it really does taste better in my opinion. Just make sure you start with a good number of tomatoes, especially if you’re planning on canning.
What’s Your Favorite Tomato Sauce Recipe?
So that’s how we make tomato sauce at our house. What is your favorite tomato sauce recipe? What are some little tricks and tips that make your sauce recipe stand out from the rest?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Let us know what you think of our recipe. If this was your first time making homemade tomato sauce, I hope you enjoyed it! It’s a really fun process and the results are even more fun!