Gardening Wednesday & Fresh Tomato Sauce

Wednesday IS Sauce Day!

To our horticulturist Dawn Gerlica who has lead us with her Victory Gardening Series, when faced with that first flush of tomatoes from the garden, it means it’s time to take a day to make spaghetti sauce. Although there are as many ways as there are recipes to make sauce, this blog post will focus on the time-honored traditions Ifollow to go from a pile of tomatoes to pressure-canned sauce to feed my family for the next year.

The first thing I advise is, if you are planning to do any home canning, read the USDA Guide to Home Canning. You can access it online for free at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website here: There have been many changes to the advised temperatures, pressures and timing over the generations and you will find the current guidelines in this publication to keep your food safe.

So, you have this pile of tomatoes. Now what? First, wash them, remove stems and cut them into smaller pieces. Put the pieces into a pot and heat carefully to help them break down.

Some recipes tell you to put each tomato in hot water to loosen and remove the skins, but I inherited my mother’s Victorio Strainer to avoid that step. I personally do not like chunks of tomato in my sauce – I find them a bit slimy. My son agrees. I put the heated softened tomatoes through the strainer and the combination of auger and screen pushes juice and tomato solids out on direction and the seeds and skins out another to throw away. With a little hand cranking, I get seedless, skinless smooth sauce. As you can see, I work outside on the patio for easy hose cleanup rather than mess up my kitchen.

Skins and seeds come out one end for disposal, or as some of my chickens call it, snack time!

Once you have this strained sauce, it’s time to add more flavors. I add onions, garlic, celery, and herbs also grown in my own garden. Everyone has their own choices for what to throw in their sauce, but this is when I refer to the USDA guidelines. If you are planning to can, too many extra vegetables can make your sauce go from acidic to neutral. For safely preserving food over time, it should remain acidic. You should add lemon juice to each jar anyway and it doesn’t really change the flavor, but also be aware of how many extra vegetables you are adding. If you’re not going to can your sauce – go crazy and add what you want. If you are canning, maybe add some extra vegetables when you open the jar to heat it up and use it.

Once the sauce has all the extra ingredients and it is cooked to your desired consistency, you are ready to preserve it. Clean, sanitized, canning jars are filled to the proper fullness, clean canning lids are placed on top and rings tighten everything down to seal. All jars are placed in another of my ‘inherited from Mom’ pieces of equipment – the pressure canner. There are different makes and models out there, but they all use a combination of pressure and external heat over time to cause the food within the jars to heat above boiling to kill off any bad microrganisms.

Once you’re processed all your jars and they’ve come out of the canner and cooled, they should be sealed. If one hasn’t sealed, that should be refrigerated and eaten immediately. The ones that did seal, can be kept on a shelf at room temperature for up to 18 months.