It’s prime tomato season now and that means we need to save the flavor of the season. Andy purchased so many tomatoes last year from one farmer at the Murfreesboro Farmers Market that he remembered Andy. This year Andy got a good deal on tomatoes and was even able to gather some “ugly” ones for free. Since he planned on making sauce the beauty of the tomatoes didn’t matter. They may not have been pretty but the scent of the tomatoes was heavenly, like the smell of summer sunshine captured for one sweet, brief moment.
Summer used to be one of my favorite holidays. Minnesota had such fleeting good weather that you had to be out in it all the time to try and soak it all in before it disappeared. My most favorite thing about summer was (and is) the tomatoes. My parents had a vegetable garden where they grew green beans, peppers, chives, pumpkins and most importantly- tomatoes. I’d like to say that I helped with the vegetable garden; but honestly I mostly supervised via the hammock down the hill. There was only one thing that concerned me in the vegetable garden: tomatoes. The point in summer when red globes of tomatoes adorned the tall vining plants was like Christmas in July. I relished the hunt, peering through the branches for that special red ball at just the right time. At some point during summer days you could find me sitting somewhere with a salt shaker in one hand, a tomato in the other and juice running down my face.
Now summers are a bit less dreamy, mostly due to this oppressive southern heat and the lack of summer vacation. To preserve this tomato harvest for the non-summer times Andy took the sauce making duties upon himself. My role was to help fill jars and then make dinner. The process for making tomato sauce is fairly straightforward. You first chop up the tomatoes and cut out the stem end. Andy cooked them for a little bit to soften them up for the food mill. The food mill is a great investment for making tomato sauce (and applesauce too!), it takes the skins and the stem bits and (as Andy says) “poops” them out one end and keeps the juicy pulpy goodness pure. Then the tomato juice is put back into the stock pot to boil for a good long while to reduce and concentrate the flavors.
This looks like a bit of a process but it's not that complicated. The slightly cooked tomatoes are in the big stock pot. They're ladled into the top of the food mill attached to the mixer. The mill "juices" the tomatoes and squirts all the seeds and skins out front. The pulp and juice comes out the middle where you can see the bowl catching it.
Once you feel good about where your sauce it at (and you’ve prepared your jars) it’s time to fill jars and process. Prior to filling, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar. Then leave ½ inch head space, add your lid and screw band to finger tip tight and then process for 30 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes in the water and then pull the jars out and wait for the delightful “pop!” sound of the seals being formed.
In our canner there was only enough room for 10 jars of sauce at a time, so we made one extra jar to use within the week and I cooked dinner with the sauce leftover from that. It smelled so good and was probably one of the freshest sauces I’ve ever had. I love making pasta sauce because you can readily improvise and use what you have on hand. There’s something satisfying with using up ingredients in the fridge.