What a busy few weeks we have had. Among the many things we have been doing (some of which will become future blog posts) we have been harvesting and preserving a very bountiful tomato crop.
At this point I’d estimate that my husband has harvested between 600 and 700 pounds of tomatoes. Our main goal is in growing tomatoes is preserve enough to get us through the year, with excess being offered to family and friends. This years crop has more than exceeded our goal.
Now when I say preserving I don’t just mean canning tomatoes or making juice. Our tomatoes get turned into tomato sauce and then combined with (mostly homegrown) herbs to make spaghetti sauce. This is what we use, so this is what I make. Turning tomatoes into sauce takes a lot longer than canning whole tomatoes or juice. The tomatoes have been coming in so fast that I haven’t been able to keep up, so I have cut up a lot of them and froze them in gallon bags. They will be turned into sauce at a later date. I have also froze some of the tomato sauce and saved it until I have enough to fill up my seven quart canner.
I have a couple of people ask me about making sauce, so while I am no expert, I will share some things I have learned about making tomato sauce.
First of all it is best to start with a meaty tomato. The Amish paste tomatoes that we have been growing for a couple of years are a great variety for making sauce, as they are a large tomato and have more pulp inside than juice.
Next there are many ways of separating the skins and seeds from the rest of the tomato. In the past I have attempted removing seeds by cutting them out, blanching tomatoes to remove skins then blending tomatoes in the blender and leaving seeds in, and using a $20 food mill that I bought at a big box store. None of these methods are wrong, but the easiest way I have found is to use this tomato juicer that was given to me by my father-in-law. While it is an old piece of equipment, it is a good one.
I discover that our (modern) counter tops would not accommodate the clamp that this (old) piece of equipment uses to secure it in place. Fortunately I had a small shelf that would work. When I use the juicer I remove the core of the tomato, then cut them in fairly small (1-2″) pieces. I fill the bowl, or hopper, on the top and as I turn the crank the pieces feed down inside where the juice and pulp are squeezed out. I have my largest kettle placed below the tray to catch the goodies. The skin and seeds continue out the end and will be enjoyed later by the chickens. Usually I stop when I run out of tomatoes or I fill up this (14 quart I think) kettle.
Sunday, in an effort to get more done, I decided to pull out all the stops, or should I say pull out all the pots, and cook as much as I could at one time. The goal in making a nice sauce is to cook the water out of it. I have found that to get a thick sauce I have to reduce the amount in the pan by nearly 2/3rds. So if I start with 12 quarts of juice I will end up with 4 quarts of sauce. This is a long process and takes patience. I start with the heat up on a medium-high setting but as the water cooks off I gradually reduce the heat since it is more likely to scorch when it is thicker.
Fortunately once the sauce is cooking it does not need constant attention, so while I would not leave home with it cooking on the stove, I can still accomplish other things while the sauce is cooking. The sauce needs to be stirred every once in a while and this is how I measure it’s progress. Before I stir it I look at the top to observe the top layer. It will look like water. If this layer is more than 1/4 inch I will probably keep cooking. Then as I stir I observe how thick the sauce is. Judging when the sauce is done is really about personal preference. If you like a thinner sauce that will be absorbed into undercooked pasta or rice then reducing the sauce by just over 1/2 the amount you begin with might be more appropriate, but to get a thick sauce that will sit on top of a pile of pasta you will probably need to reduce it to 1/3 of what you start with.
One thing to be aware of is that all this cooking with produce a lot of heat and steam, so on a cool day cooking up the sauce might help heat up the house, but on a hot summer day it can turn the place into a sauna. Making tomato sauce with the air conditioning on just doesn’t happen at our house.
Beyond the necessity of having the room to cook up all the sauce, pulling out all the pots taught me something. While the big kettle took over seven hours to cook down to my satisfaction, each of the smaller pots took only 3 1/2 hours. So doing several small batches at the same time is a major time saver.
Once the sauce is done there are several things to do with it. It can be used immediately in any recipe; it can be refrigerated for a couple of days to use in recipes; it can be frozen (make sure you leave room for expansion in the freezer container); or it can be canned. I’m not going to give the instructions for canning, but instead I will refer you to ball canning website since their recipes and instructions have been safety tested. http://www.freshpreserving.com/basic-tomato-sauce—ball-auto-canner-recipes-br1402.html