This blog post is a supplement to my previous blog documenting my own personal process. The purpose is to help the reader sort out how they can best do canned tomatoes. You may be doing it for the first time, or it could be something you have tried before. This article is intended to help you plan it out.
How much you do depends largely on the equipment you have, what your needs are, and to a lesser extent how much you want to spend.
Here in Ontario, Canada, you should be able to buy conventional tomatoes for about $20 (cdn) per bushel and about $40 for organic, if you can get them. One bushel yields between 18-22 L, depending on the juciness and how much you have reduced them. Flats are about half a bushel, or approximately 10 Litres. Add in the costs of garlic, onions, herbs and spices, and propane/electricity, and you are making a litre of homemade organic tomato sauce for approximately $1.50 a jar for conventional tomatoes, $3.50/jar for organic.
The next consideration is the equipment. If you decide to put up multiple bushels such as is described here, you are going to need some specialized equipment. If you are doing a single flat – 10 or so jars, you could do this with your biggest pot, no specialized equipment, and in your (albeit hot) kitchen. You may wish to consider doing this with friends, where each of you purchases the burners, presses, and large pots.
Alternatives to a tomato press
Tomato presses separate the seeds and skin from the flesh of the tomato. If you think about great tomato sauces you have tasted, you may recall there are no seeds or skin bits floating around in the mix. If you are trying this for the first time and unsure about the investment, one alternative is to blanch each tomato to loosen the skins, manually take each off, and then once the sauce is cooking, put it through a strainer. As you can imagine this is going to be a thankless task. You could also put up with the seeds and skins in your mix. If you go in this direction, I’d suggest pureeing the tomatoes before cooking them. If you wish to invest in a press, check out cooking equipment stores or hardware stores in neighbourhoods where preserving is part of life.
Alternatives to the burners:
I use a 60k btu outdoor propane burner . Its a massive unit that puts out a lot of heat. You could use it for other purposes – a huge stew for 20 people, a community corn roast – but most of us don’t need this, nor have the space to store it. I started with one, moved to 2 and recently got a third. If you are doing lesser quantities and have a BBQ with a side burner, you can use the side burner to boil the jars, and remove the grills and use the BBQ to boil the sauce. You could also do it inside …… which could work for a single flat, but would get tedious beyond that.
Here are 3 recipes – the only difference being their volume. The process remains the same for each, so its noted only once.
One flat (approximately 10L)
- 1 flat of tomatoes
- 10 medium large onions, cut fine
- 2 garlic bulbs, minced
- 50g salt (and taste for more before you can them)
- ¼ tsp pepper (& to taste)
- 1 tbs each basil, oregano, and thyme (& to taste)
- 1-2 bay leaves
- enough oil to cook the mash
Bushel (2 flats yields @20L)
- 1 bushel (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
- 2 pints large onions
- 3-4 large bulbs garlic
- approximately 2tbs each of basil, oregano thyme
- 5-6 or so bay leaves
- enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a 1/4 cup or so.
- 3/4 tbs pepper
- 100g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later (+1 tbs/bushel at end of cooking)
- 4 bushels (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
- 8 pints large onions
- 10 large bulbs garlic
- approximately 1/2 cup each of basil, oregano thyme
- 20 or so bay leaves
- enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a cup or so.
- 2 tbs pepper
- 400g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later
- a good food processor
- 2-3 full bbq tanks
- 1-2 large boiling pots
- 1-2 large cooking pots
- 2-3 outdoor 60k btu burners
- 2 -3 small tables
- containers to transport finished sauce
- 1 large spoon (i.e. 1m in length)
- 80 L of jars – 1 L, 1.5 l sizes
- 2 tongs – canning tongs and bbq tongs
- 4 l measuring cup
- sharp knife
- hose and water
- metal collander
- oven mits
- matches or BBQ lighter
- tomato press
- canning funnel
- Cut onions, garlic – food processor with slicing attachment used
- Add in spices and oil
- Cook mash until onions are translucent
- Divide mash into bowls according to how many batches of sauce you have
- Set up: make sure the grinding operation and burners form a triangle around you.
- The grinder must be on a firm surface with space. There needs to be a place for the seeds to fall, and a surface for the sauce to drop. There needs to be a place for the breadboard and knife to the right of the grinder, a pot of rinse water beside it, and a platform for the bushel basket to sit on above the pot.
- Fill the canning pot half way up with water, heat it up until boiling
- Prepare jars, separating lids, tops and jars. Discard any questionable lids. Place lids in a collander that can be easily inserted then removed from boiling water.
- Pour one batch of herb mash in the cooking pot, and begin grinding the tomatoes, adding to the mash. Light the burner once the first bowl of tomato juice has been prepared. Keep on a high boil, stirring frequently. (This is the key to a thick and reduced sauce). Once the bushel has been ground and is cooking, taste and adjust for salt.
- Reduce the sauce – full boil while stirring for about 30 minutes
- Shortly before canning, put the bottles and lids in the waterbath for a few minutes. Remove them and set yourself up for filling: lids and caps separate, canning funnel and pouring jar ready.
- Taste to see if you need more salt
- Fill leaving 1/4″ at top. Tighten the lids before immersing them in the waterbath. (If you need to add more water, DO NOT add cold water if the jars are already in the waterbath. They will crack and break – guaranteed. Take all the jars out, add the water, put the hot jars back in.)
- Put on a rolling boil for 25 minutes.
- Let cool, make sure all the lids have popped down. Lids that have not popped down indicate an air leak. Use these jars first, and refrigerate them until use.
Good luck! I hope you do feel inspired to do this. You will never look back!