Sunday, August 14, 2011


It's been a wonderful year for produce.  Every crop seems to be generous this year, except the poor green beans that were infested with Mexican bean beetles.  The tomatoes are exploding (figuratively, as well as literally, since some are rotting on the vine).  The flowers are lush and bright.  The squash are growing so fast it's hard to keep up with them.  We've had good weather and adequate water, and the plants are doing exactly what they do best.

Most of a bushel of tomatoes before they were turned into sauce.

Abundance brings the exquisite dilemma of what to do with too much food.  I've accepted the challenge of helping to preserve the amazing overflow of tomatoes we have in Middle Tennessee this year.  We've been eating all the extra tomatoes I get from the farm, mostly as tomato peach salad, which is the single most delicious food item I have ever experienced (thanks to the farm owner for this idea!).  I also rescued about a gallon of split sungold cherry tomatoes last week and dried them in my food dehydrator, resulting in hundreds of little sweet/tart tomato bombs for my salads and pizzas.

The best use of the tomato abundance has been my tomato sauce.  For this, I bought tomatoes from the farmer's market, as we don't have quite enough rescues from the farm to make all the sauce I want.  I've processed and canned bushels of tomatoes, and I have it down to a fairly streamlined and straightforward process.  Still, you'll need about 2.5-3 hours from start to go from tomatoes to sterile jars of sauce.

A pint of liquid summer.
Here's how to do it:

1. Wash your jars in the dishwasher, with hot water.  Right before using them, dip brand new lids and any old (or new) bands in almost boiling water to reduce bacteria.  Lids can't be reused!
2. Make the sauce (see below) and keep it hot.
3. Add 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid to each pint jar or  1/2 teaspoon to each quart jar.  This reduces acidity in the jars so they are less likely to spoil.
4. Boil water in a giant pot.  Boil enough that the water will be 1" over the tops of the jars after you put them in.  This is a little tricky the first time, but you'll get the hang of it.  You can always boil a little more in the microwave and add it to the pot if you don't boil enough.
5. Fill jars leaving 1/2" of space at the top of the jar, wipe off any mess at the tops of the jars, and close the lids on them just to finger tight.
6. Immerse the sealed jars in boiling water (covered by 1" of water) for 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.  Start timing when the water returns to a boil after adding the jars to the water.
7. Set the jars on a counter over night to cool without disturbing them.  They make cute little pinging noises as they cool.
8. Write the date on the lid (it can't be used again, so just go ahead and write it), and put it in the cabinet for later. 
9. This sauce works great on pizzas, pastas, lasagnas, eggplant parmesan or anything of that sort.

Now for the recipe.......

Since you're using citric acid, there's a little leeway on proportions of ingredients, but you don't want to use much besides tomatoes.  Tomatoes are acidic, and acid helps preserve the sauce, so you don't want to dilute the acid too much.  Just multiply the ingredients to match the amount of tomatoes you have.  I actually usually use more tomatoes than the recipe calls for - it's flexible as long as you don't use less tomatoes.

Tomato Sauce
2 T olive oil
1/2 onion
1 small carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 T fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 T fresh basil
12 medium tomatoes
1 t tomato paste
salt and pepper

1. Wash the tomatoes, and only use the ones in good shape.  Cut out the stem area and slice the tomatoes in half across the middle horizontally.  Squeeze out the liquid and many of the seeds by squeezing each half of the tomatoes.  Save hours by not peeling them.  It's totally not necessary, dude.
2. Heat the olive oil in a big pot, and add the onion, carrot, celery and parsley.  Saute a bit, then cover and heat on low for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time.
3. Add the garlic and increase heat to medium.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, salt and pepper, and heat to boiling.  Use scissors to chop up the tomatoes into smaller chunks - right in the pot!  This is really fun.
4. Simmer uncovered until thick.  Use an immersion blender to make the sauce fairly smooth.  Can the sauce while it's still boiling according to the directions above.

It's a very straightforward process, and this is a great one to try for new or experienced canners.  If you follow my instructions exactly, it's hard to go wrong.  If you deviate from the instructions, it is important that you take precautions because improperly canned food can be deadly.  You have two options:  (1) freeze the sauce, or (2) do more research on the Internet to see if your deviations from canning protocol are acceptable.  I encourage you to try it - you'll be really glad to have the taste of real tomatoes in January.

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