Saturday I was really looking forward to canning tomato sauce: the weather was unseasonably cool, meaning that a vat of boiling water didn't render my kitchen a sweltering sauna. There was that nip in the air that reminds us that the tomatoes that are so prolific right now won't be available six months from now and opening one of these jars of packed-at-its-peak tomato sauce will be a welcome reminder of summer's bounty. As I began filling jars with tomato sauce after a good three hours of boiling it down, though, I wasn't exactly looking forward to repeating the whole process the next day with the remaining tomatoes. But making two separate batches has it's advantages. The second day I was familiar enough with the process that I didn't have to reread the directions over and over. Saturday's experience also lent the foresight to plan a dinner that did not require use of the stove top on Sunday. And making two separate batches means that the finished result can serve two separate purposes.
Saturday's batch was a simple tomato sauce: tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. I will be able to use it in any recipe calling for "one 14 oz can of tomato sauce." (Yes, I know that a pint is 16 ounces, but for some reason commercial tomato sauce is usually available in 14 ounce cans, so recipes are usually written for that amount.)
Being a tinkerer, Sunday I did a seasoned tomato sauce. Don't worry, it was from an approved recipe in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving via Home and Garden Dailies. Seasoned with garlic, onion, oregano, bay leaf, salt, pepper and just enough red pepper flakes to make it zesty, this is the perfect sauce to pour over browned ground beef and serve over spaghetti.
Twenty pounds of tomatoes yielded 12 pints of tomato sauce (seven of the plain batch and five of the seasoned batch, which I cooked down longer for a thicker finished product). Was it worth it? Since I already had the jars and rings, and the lids were on sale for $2 (lids should be brand new to ensure a proper seal), my total output was $22. That's less than $2 per pint. Sure, I could probably find generic tomato sauce in the supermarket cheaper, but I like to think that the quality of a homemade sauce is closer to that of, say, Muir Glen Organics Tomatoes, which I always feel like I am paying an arm and a leg for. But when you experience all the time and the sheer bulk of tomatoes (almost a full pound per pint of finished sauce) that go into a can of tomato sauce, the price you pay for good quality seems justified.
And in midwinter, be assured I'm not going to waste any of these jars of sauce on some Super Saver Value-Pack ground beef. No, this is quality sauce, and anything that accompanies this sauce in a meal is going to have to 'step up to the plate' so to speak. Something about making my own, about knowing from whence my food came, about putting so much time into a sauce, inspires me to prepare a meal to be savored. And for me, savoring a meal means savoring life.
Food safety is serious business. Because it is so important to use an approved recipe when canning, at this time I have opted not to post "adapted" versions. Links to the recipes I use are available in the post. If you haven't canned before, and are considering it, but you aren't committed enough to the idea to buy a book, The National Center for Food Preservation's website has all the information that you'll need, and it is kept up-to-date. Also, while it would feel pleasantly quaint to use Grandma's recipe for Tomato Sauce, but I must advise against it. This is an area where you want up-to-date resources.