How To Cook and Can Large Batch Tomato Basil Sauce

A long time ago I wrote this post about making your own tomato sauce. I have been making sauce every summer for years now and I only use the following recipe so I thought I would share it with you. Its just an upgraded and multiplied version of the Chunky Tomato Basil Sauce plus the Northwest Edibles method for turning the skins and cores into plain tomato sauce.

Making Tomato Sauce

20 lbs roma tomatoes (do not use field tomatoes!!!) – in Vancouver I get mine from Norman’s Produce on Commercial Drive

Making Tomato Sauce

5 cups chopped yellow or white onion (about 5-6 small onions or 2-3 big ones)
1 and 1/2 heads garlic, minced
750mL of red wine (1 bottle), I use cab sav, cab merlot, cab shiraz or plain blended table wine
1 cup red wine vinegar
2-3 nice big market bunches of basil, chopped roughly (go to the farmer’s market or go to Norman’s)

Making Tomato Sauce

1/2 bunch of parsley, chopped fine
1 tbsp fleur de sel (or use double the amount of coarse salt)
1 tbsp sugar
2 or more 370ml cans of tomato paste

Preferred Supplies
Mason or other jars with lids and screwbands for approximately 18 to 24 pints of sauce, divided however you choose (quarts? pints? half-pints?)
Jar lifter suitable for your jars
Stainless ladle, jar funnel, slotted lifter and tongs
Really tall spoon for stirring in a giant pot
Hot water canning pot and rack
Giant pot (14 to 16 quart)
Large pot (6 to 8 quart)
Medium pot (4 to 6 quart)
Small pot (1 quart)
Paper towels
Kitchen towels that you don’t mind getting stained with tomatoes
Blender (regular or immersion)
Food mill or fine mesh sieve
Lemon juice for the plain sauce (keep reading to learn more!)
Cutting board with a moat around the edge (typically used for carving meat)
Knifes and other utensils as required

Making Tomato Sauce

1. Start early in the day. This will take HOURS. Fill the medium pot half way with water and bring to a boil. Clean out a sink and fill it with cold water.

2. Do this next part in batches. Wash a manageable batch of tomatoes (about 1/4 or 1/5 of them). See the NW Edibles post about possibly adding a bit of bleach to the wash if preferred. When the water is boiling, put the tomatoes in the water just until the skins visibly split then plunge them into the cold water. Remove from the cold water as soon as they are cold enough to touch and remove excess water. Cut out the cores and remove the skins and put both in the large pot. Cut the tomato from top to bottom to make two halves then cut each half again from top to bottom to make quarters. Use your bare hand to scrape and squeeze the excess juice and seeds into the large pot (trust me, this cuts down on simmering time greatly). Don’t worry about mangling the tomatoes when you do this – they will get mangled in the pot soon enough. Cut up the wrung-out tomatoes roughly and put into the giant pot. (This is where the cutting board with the moat makes things slightly less messy.)

BlanchingQuarteredSqueezed outChopped

3. Once you are through about half the tomatoes you can start heating up the chunky sauce. Turn the heat on enough to get the tomatoes just barely simmering.

4. After you are done the tomatoes, prep all the other ingredients and add to the giant pot. Start with two of the big cans of tomato paste. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer uncovered for what will probably be a few hours. Whenever I cut this step short I end up with watery, runny sauce. Stir often to prevent scorching. You can add more paste to help the sauce thicken up but simmering is the best way to do this. The sauce level in my pot usually goes down two inches or more before I am satisfied with the consistency.

Evaporated Sauce

5. Meanwhile follow the NW Edibles method for processing the skins into a plain sauce. I use my regular blender and I remove the plug from the middle of the lid and cover it with paper towels and kitchen towels. Hold the lid down while blending. Fill the blender half way only – 3 cups of hot sauce turns into 6 when you start blending!! I blend for about 15 seconds and then transfer to the medium pot. Longer blending time will totally emulsify the seeds and give the sauce a grainier texture. I then put the food mill on top of the large pot (now empty!) and strain back into the large pot. The only thing I add to the strained sauce is some salt and pepper and a small can of tomato paste if it looks too runny. This will depend on how much of the water and seeds you squeezed in from the tomatoes. Again simmer until the desired consistency is reached, probably another hour at least.

Skins Etc.Hot blendingMilling out the skinsLeftovers

6. The two sauces will likely be ready near the same time. Start processing whichever reaches the desired consistency first. Keep the sauce simmering until you put it in the jar. If you put lukewarm sauce into a jar it will expand in the boiling water and force the lid off. The only accurate way to know how much volume the sauce takes up is to keep it HOT. Inevitably this means that the jars you fill first will be runnier and the last jar will be thicker but who cares!!

7. Fill the hot water canner and bring it to a boil. Fill the small pot with water and set to medium heat. Put the empty jars in the canner and the lids (or rubber rings, etc) in the small pot to soften. After about 5 minutes the jars will be totally heated. Pull the jars from the canner and place them on a towel near the pots of hot sauce. Fill them to the shoulders with sauce using the ladle and the jar funnel. If you are pouring out the plain tomato sauce made from skins then remember to add the lemon juice as per Erika’s instructions. Clean the rims with a paper towel dipped in boiling water. Center the rings or lids on the jars and finger-tighten the screw bands. DO NOT OVER-TIGHTEN SCREW BANDS. Seriously. Put the jars in the water bath, ensuring that the tallest jar is covered by at least 1″ of boiling water. Put the lid on.

Filling to the shoulders

8. Process 40 minutes for quarts and 35 minutes for pints or half-pints.

9. Five minutes before your jars are done processing, fill the kettle and boil it.

10. Remove full jars and place on a towel on a counter somewhere where they can sit for 24 hours and not be moved and be free from draught.

11. Start the jar-filling cycle again. If necessary add boiling water to the canner so that the empty jars will be covered by water while heating up. You may then have to remove water when you load the full jars (I use a glass measuring cup for this).

12. Check the seals a few hours after you finish processing. Un-sealed jars can be put in the fridge for immediate consumption or you can re-heat the contents in a smaller pot, re-heat the lid (or use a fresh one) and process the jar again. Do not just put the un-sealed jar back in the water bath without removing the lid to investigate why the seal didn’t form. In my experience this NEVER works.

12. Remove the screw-bands before storing. This prevents the bands from rusting in the case that there is water trapped underneath. If you give your canning away as gifts you can put a screw band back on. Just don’t store them immediately after canning with the band on.

Common mistakes (mine and other people’s):

  • forgetting to add lemon juice to the plain sauce. D’oh!
  • working too slowly after the empty hot jars are pulled from the canner, resulting in cold jars. This causes the jars to break when you put them back in the boiling water bath. If you are new and slow, only do a few jars at a time to avoid this.
  • over-filling the jars. This will cause the sauce to boil up between the jar rim and the lid and the jar won’t seal.
  • over-tightening the screw-bands. This will cause the air in the jar to be trapped and either the lid will buckle out with the pressure (causing the seal to fail) or the jar will explode in the canner. Messy!
  • canning runny sauce. Don’t do it. You cannot simmer it later when you open the jar because later you will be hungry and want dinner, not to have to simmer the god^&%#n sauce because it’s so watery.
  • cutting down on processing time. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

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