The busy parent’s guide to canning tomato sauce

img_1905Wow, fall sure is a busy time of year (at least at our household).

As a farming family, our work schedule during this part of the season is relentless. Add on top of that the start of the school year, the beginning of all those fun after school activities, the first round of colds and fevers (Yes, already!) and it feels near impossible to get all of the daily chores completed much less anything extra, like canning.

Unfortunately, if you miss this short window, any goals a person may have for putting aside food must wait through the turning of the seasons until the end of summer arrives yet again. So it really is a “now or never situation.” Fortunately, at least for tomatoes, there is some give and take when it comes to squeezing in some time for making sauce.

This summer we have had a bumper crop of tomatoes. A side effect of owning an organic farm is that there are no shortages of culls. These are the fruits that are either too funky looking, blemished or cracked to be suitable for sale. Sometimes it might be 20 lbs worth of tomatoes and sometimes it might be 80 lbs… Either way, it can mean a mountain of work. However, at our house we use a method we refer to as the ‘lazy-man’s’ tomato sauce. The great part about this style of cooking is that it still turns out delicious.

Since there are probably others who are in the same boat as us, I thought I would pass along our technique and then maybe (just maybe) you’ll be able to get a few jars canned too and won’t be over-run with guilt for having to toss all of those hard-won tomatoes into the compost pile because you ran out of time to deal with them.

All types of tomatoes work for this sauce so don’t be afraid to mix varieties. Our sauce is usually a mix of at least 4 different kinds of tomatoes, both slicers and romas alike.

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First off, this method does require that you take about 20 minutes to process the fruit. For us, this means cutting off the rough spots where the skin may have cracked and re-formed….essentially the scar tissue. Also, you will need to remove the stem and core. A small serrated knife works great for both of these jobs. No need to be gentle, just dig right in. Lop off any bruises or rotten sections and call it “Good Enough.” Perfection is not the goal, making a good tasting sauce IS.

After removing these rough areas, course chop the remainder of the tomato into very large chunks. When I say large chunks, this means cut the tomato into halves or quarters.

There’s no need to make them any smaller. Take these big chunks and toss them directly into a roasting pan. When the pan is mounded high (it can be higher than the rim as long as the tomato chunks aren’t falling out and spilling everywhere) put it into the oven. You will set the temperature to somewhere between 170 F and 200 F depending on how fast you want the tomatoes to cook down. Then, here is the beautiful part…..just walk away. Don’t even think about the tomatoes for at least a day or two. Yes, you will leave the oven on the entire time. Don’t worry. If you want, you can stir the tomatoes once in a while but otherwise, you don’t do anything.

The tomatoes will begin to soften and will start to melt down into each other. Eventually, they will turn into a watery, soupy concoction. Continue to ignore the tomatoes for another day and allow them to dry down a bit. If you are feeling ambitious, stir them. If you are feeling really ambitious, add some oregano and chopped peppers and onions. Otherwise, continue to ignore your tomatoes until they have cooked down to a consistency that you like. For our family, we usually make several different ‘styles’ of sauce. Some is soupy (for soup!) and some is incredibly thick (for paste). You really can’t screw this up. Allow the tomatoes to cook until you have time in your schedule to deal with them. You can even add more tomatoes to the mix as space allows. Simply stir them in. If your sauce is getting thicker than you like, add a couple of cups of water and stir. You can now go back to ignoring the sauce for another day until you have time to process.

Sometimes, if you have let your sauce sit too long without peeking on it, it may develop a blackened crust on the surface. This is not a problem. Stir the crust under and into the sauce. It adds a deepness of flavor that is incredibly pleasant.

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When you are ready to process your tomatoes, run them through a food mill to remove any skins and seeds. Once milled, you are ready to can. Canning isn’t very complicated. All you need is some lemon juice, some clean jars and lids a large stock pot or canning pot and about an hour of time for processing. If you are a novice, follow the directions in the Ball Blue Book of canning. This reference book is an essential canning tool, costs about $8 and is easy to find.

So relax! Canning tomatoes isn’t so daunting. You can do it even if you are running to and from soccer practice four times a week. Good luck and Happy Canning!

 

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