How to Make & Can Tomato Sauce

How to Make & Can Tomato Sauce

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Making and canning your own tomato sauce is a great way to preserve those delicious tomatoes from your garden to enjoy all winter long. Not only is it a budget-friendly way to stock your pantry, but you also get to control the ingredients and adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste. Plus, home canned tomato sauce makes a great gift! Here’s a step by step guide to canning tomato sauce, complete with tips and tricks for success.

Choosing Homemade Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Homemade tomato sauce starts with high quality tomatoes – preferably a “paste” variety that has a lot of flesh and fewer seeds (like Roma, San Marzano, or Amish Paste). If you don’t grow tomatoes yourself, check with local farms and markets to see if they sell paste tomatoes by the box or bushel. This is a great way to purchase at a discount.

This recipe does not use herbs, though you can add dried herbs safely to tomato sauce to make the flavor unique. Dried basil, oregano, or thyme are all good choices (or a combination). Add about a half teaspoon to each jar when you are adding the salt in this recipe. To avoid potential contamination, avoid adding herbs with moisture to the sauce, as that can change the Ph. Only do this if you are following a specific recipe that has been tested for canning.

You will also need to add a bit of lemon juice to each jar before canning to ensure that the Ph is the right level for safe canning. This recipe uses 1 Tbsp of lemon juice per pint container.

Salt is an optional ingredient in this recipe, but does help to bring out the the flavor of your sauce.

If you have never canned before, read our detailed introduction to canning to get an idea of what you’ll need and how the process works.

Our self-directed online course in Food Preservation is a great option for folks looking to be more self-reliant. Click here for info!

Canning Tomato Sauce – Instructions:

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

You’ll need:

  • about 35 pounds of ripe paste tomatoes
  • a large stockpot
  • a food mill, blender, or immersion blender (see step 3)
  • canning jars (we prefer pint jars for this purpose, you’ll need about 6-8 depending on how thick your sauce is at the end)
  • lids and rings
  • a boiling water canner
  • lemon juice
  • salt

Start by washing your tomatoes and removing any blemishes or bad spots. Then, cut out the cores and quarter the tomatoes. You don’t need to peel them! The beauty of this recipe is that you can either strain out the seeds and skin with a food mill (which is also great for applesauce) or just blend them right into your sauce. See step 3 for more information.

cooking homemade tomato sauce

Step 2: Cook the Tomatoes

Now it’s time to cook those tomatoes down into sauce. Add the quartered tomatoes to your stockpot and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

removing skins from tomato sauce with a food mill

Step 3: Puree the Sauce

Once the tomatoes have broken down and you start to see the skins and seeds separate, its time to turn them into a more cohesive sauce. You have two options here: you can run the cooked tomatoes through a food mill to separate out the skins and seeds (and compost them); or you can use a blender or immersion blender to blend the seeds and skins right into your sauce. The first option will remove the seeds and skins entirely and create a smooth but thinner sauce (that you can cook down to thicken). The second option will make a thicker sauce, but you may see seeds and chunks here and there. This is totally a matter of preference!

Step 4: Reduce to Desired Consistency

Once you’ve pureed your sauce, simmer it over low heat stirring occasionally until it reaches the desired consistency. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on how thick or thin you like your tomato sauce. If you want to use your sauce for pizza, we recommend a longer simmer for a thicker sauce.

Step 5: Prepare your Canner & Sterilize your Jars

While your sauce is simmering, prepare your water bath canner. Fill it just about half-way with water, then set it on the stove to come to a boil. Sterilize your canning jars by running them through a dishwasher cycle or boiling them for 10 minutes. You can also set them on the canning rack upside down and bring the water in your canner to a boil to steam them for at least 10 minutes.

pouring tomato sauce into jars for canning

Step 6: Fill & Cap your Jars – Add Lemon Juice (necessary) and Salt (optional)

Now it’s time to can your tomato sauce! Make sure your jars and lids are clean, then put lemon juice and salt in the bottom of each jar. For pint jars, you’ll use 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt. Then carefully ladle the sauce into the jars (using a canning funnel if you have one), leaving about ½ an inch of headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a damp cloth, then place the lids on top and screw on the rings until they’re just finger-tight.

Step 7: Process in a Boiling Water Canner

Place the jars in your canner on a canning rack, then carefully lower the jars into the boiling water canner, making sure they’re covered by at least 1 inch of water. Cover the canner and bring the water back up to a boil. Process for 35 minutes (start the timer once the water is boiling).

Step 4: Let Cool and Store

Remove your canner from the hot burner and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before lifting the rack and removing the jars. Allow your jars of sauce to cool undisturbed for 12-24 hours before checking the seals (the button on top of the lid should be depressed). Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used within 2 weeks. Properly sealed jars can be stored on a cool, dark shelf for up to 1 year. Be sure to label them with the date before storing away!

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Carrie Williams Howe
Blogger & Homesteader at The Happy Hive
Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend. She lives on a small homestead in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a rambunctious border collie. She is a Founder and Editor of Homestead How-To and also blogs about her family's homestead life at The Happy Hive.

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