Thursday, September 16, 2010

You say tomato. I say “Aaargh!

Tomato season is waning but my neighbor’s last-minute generosity spooked me into high gear: What am I going to do with all these extra love fruits (which I love)? And I’m supposed to be going away next weekend?!? Aaargh!! But I survived the onslaught of cherry, plum and Big Boy tommies and our larder is all the richer for it. (It’s just the rest of the house and life that took a back seat for a while.)

In the past week, I taught myself how to make and can spaghetti sauce, I made tomato “junk” – just roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic sautéed in olive oil, then frozen in quart bags -- and I oven dried tomatoes. Of course, we ate some, too. (I must amend: I ate some. My husband, who loves spaghetti, pizza, lasagna and all kinds of red-sauced Italian dishes, does not like fresh tomatoes. Incredible.)

It all started when my neighbor Dude said, “I’m done gardening, Rosie. Had enough. Take what you want. I’m done.” He’d shown me his pantry, his root cellar and his freezer. Yes, indeed, he was ready for anything. He had spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, plain ol’ tomatoes. And he had carrots, beans, hot peppers, corn, pickles of all kinds, and some various and sundry vegetable mixes for which he had no name. “Just stuff I threw together.” Now my 70’s-something widower neighbor didn’t do this ALL himself; his daughter Amy was his primary accomplice. (And I also learned just last evening when I saw another of Dude’s daughters, Jeannie, and her husband Tom, that they usually spend a couple days each year making 170 quarts of sauce. “Why didn’t you get my recipe!?” he asked. )

But I was on my own. Dude loaned me his “Squeezo.” That’s not a clown’s name. It’s his handy-dandy Victorio strainer that, operating something like a grinder, squeezes the juice and pulp from the tomato out one end, and discards the skin and seeds, from the other. (Again, I must my amend: my husband helped; he loved running the Squeezo!)

Dude’s son-in-law Tommy humbly disagrees with the methodology: “No, no, no. Grind first, then strain. The flavor’s in the skin!” My instinct tells me he’s right. Next time, another try. When I’m not feeling quite so lazy about it.

This is the recipe I followed (pretty much) for my first batch – 10 pints. Confidence bolstered by my first effort, I winged it the second time. With great success, I must add. Because I wanted a smoother, marinara-like sauce, I eliminated the vegetables the second time around and beefed up the spices, using dried basil, thyme, oregano, about1/4 cup total, and bay leaves –for the 30 pounds of tomatoes, which yielded 6 quarts. If I sat down and did the math about the cost of things – considering time and labor -- I’d probably have to charge about $5 a quart! But the satisfaction of “I made that and it tastes great and I know where everything came from” is priceless, for sure.

Tomato Sauce
(to can or freeze)
from Stocking Up III

5 pounds Italian plum tomatoes, about 25
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
Pepper, to taste
¼ cup lemon juice, if canning

Loosen tomato skins by plunging tomatoes into boiling water for 1 minute, then under cold running water. Remove skins. Cut tomatoes into chunks.

Alternatively, you can just wash and core the tomatoes and puree them in a food processor. Although a bit messy, you save yourself the bother of skinning – and you save some of the tomatoes’ nutrients, which are found in and right beneath the skin.  (Or you can use "Squeezo!")

Heat the oil in a large enamel or stainless steel kettle and sauté onion and garlic. Stir in peppers, carrots, celery, and tomatoes; add parsley, oregano, bay leaf and pepper. Simmer, uncovered until thickened, about 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf.

To can, add the lemon juice and pour into hot, scaled pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

To freeze, pour into freezer containers.

Yield: 2 pints

Freezing sounds a whole lot simpler, doesn’t it.
First taste of new sauce


  1. Timely, because this is my first tomato harvest. I started late, and the cloudy summer here has slowed things down.

  2. Ahhh don't you just love tomatoes :) Your tomato sauce sounds very delicious.

  3. SweetsSuccessBaking -- It was a whole lot easier, really, and a lot more fun than I expected! Have fun! (And thanks for following!)

    Gitte -- I sure do love tomatoes. Once my sister and I -- at ages 5 and 7 -- sat down and ate a whole peck of them!

  4. Even though this probably took a lot of time...the end result is worth it! You will so enjoy eating sauce that you prepared with your own hand. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  5. Isn't it one of the coolest things in the world to have your own, homemade sauce packed in the pantry/

  6. Thanks for visiting my blog. I, for the first time, canned tomatoes with my Dad! I do agree about the freezing being much easier! My dad said that my mom used the skins and seeds to make tomato paste... I have to do some research on that one.


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