If we can simplify the process of making our own tomato sauce, there will be more people making their own; that's just simple common sense. When you start talking about canning and preserving, it seems intimidating. The idea of whiling away a precious Saturday off by working in a hot kitchen all day isn't very attractive. We can buy tomato sauce, marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce--where's the problem?
One relatively-minor problem is the taste that cans impart to tomatoes. You can tell if a sauce was made from canned tomatoes or fresh. That is an inescapable side-effect of the canning process. You can get organic canned tomatoes and sauces of all kinds, but the canned taste is a constant, not a variable, as the scientists say.
Okay, but preserving takes time. That's the other factor in making your own. Another issue is equipment: canning pots come with a rack to prevent glass jars from touching the bottom, which you must do or your jars can crack. So there you are, looking at a large thingin the supermarket that looks like a soup pot, and wondering if it is worth its price.
Well, here's some good news. You are only going to use the canning equipment for that one task--boiling water--and so you don't have to worry about things like high-carbon stainless steel, pancake bottoms or the other characteristics that make stovetop cooking equipment pricey. You can get a nostalgic spattered-enamel canning pot with a little rack inside and rest easy because all it is going to do is sit on the burner, boiling water. You don't have to fall back on it to make soup or spaghetti sauce or whatever. And don't forget to pick up a few quart jars and lids while you are at the canning section of the supermarket.
Now we go from the canning pots over to the produce section and buy a load of organic tomatoes. A good place to look for them is Safeway in Tucson, where you will find a clearly-marked organic produce subsection in the store. Once you have a few glass canning jars and lid sets, and the canning pot, go for a few more tomatoes than you think will fill up the jars; they will shrink as they cook.
At home, fill the canning pot with enough water to cover the canning jars and bring it to a boil. Immerse all the empty jars in the boiling water, along with the tongs you will be using to handle the hot jars. Boil them for five minutes, turn off the heat and drop in the lids for 1 minute. Then take everything out and place them on a clean work surface that has a clean kitchen towel on it. Place the jars mouth-down.
Prepare the tomatoes by getting out a large mixing bowl. Take each tomato and cut it across, and then squeeze out the seeds and the gel that the tomatoes have inside. Remove any stems and place the tomato halves in the mixing bowl until you have cut them all in half.
Taking the jars one at a time, fill each one with tomato halves, nesting them as you go. Add one teaspoon of salt per quart--that is, half a teaspoon in a one-pint jar. Fill the jars to about 1 inch of the top. Place the lids on the jars and fasten them firmly but not tightly. Replace each filled jar on the work surface until all are filled.
When all the jars are filled and watertight, replace them in the hot water (they will sink) and turn the heat back on. Boil the jars full of tomatoes for 30 minutes and then turn off the heat again. Let the whole pot cool on top of the stove until the heat is no longer hazardous. Take out the tomatoes, dry the jars, tighten down the lids and store them in a cool dark place.
Laura Calder, the host of the program French Food At Home, places a slice of onion and a bay leaf in each jar. You can certainly do this; if you are using pint jars, make it half a bay leaf. But generally I would get quart jars, which you can see in the photo above. You can also see the tomato seeds clearly in the photo, which would not be in the sauce that I make. Your sauce will taste better if you just take that one step of seeding the tomatoes.
But even if you don't, this glass-prepared tomato sauce will be so good that you will be amazed at the difference. Besides that, it will be healthier than sauces that contain additives. Check the ingredients label before you buy another can of tomato sauce and then consider making several jars of sauce to last you for quite awhile and make this worth your time. It doesn't take much longer to make six quarts of tomato sauce than to make just one, remember. When you open a jar, you can make crushed tomatoes by running it in a food processor, or you can chop the tomatoes (reserving the juice) and create diced tomatoes.