Tomato Press or Food Mill - Do I really Need One?

john90808(z10 So Cal)January 23, 2008

I plan on growing paste tomatoes this summer so I can "put up" some tomato sauce. My question is regarding the need for a tomato press/mill or a food mill. Do I really need one? I already own a food processor and I probably wont be canning more than six to ten quarts (unless Ma Nature is kind to me and my tomato crop exceeds my expectations ;)

I would like to hear from the experienced tomato canners out there and get their thoughts on using a Food Mill versus a Tomato press or if I really need to spend the money on either one.

Thanks so much!

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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Here, I grow 200 plants at a time. If your only going to can about 6 quarts I say no, you don't need one. But if your hoping to make more than that in the future, as well as any seedless berry jams like raspberry or blackberry, the food strainers do work well. Keep in mind that if your wanting to make a sauce, a food strainer will give you a skinless seedless sauce, compared to one that was just done in a food processor. You could use a Foley food strainer, but they tend to be more laborous and might be fine for a small batch, but when you're dealing with bushels of tomatoes, they are wasted effort. The Villaware design is about the most efficient design there is, and it goes under several other names. You will find many recent threads here that mention this.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 5:09PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I agree with Ken - for that small amount you don't need one. If you process bushels as I do each year then they are an arm/time/peeling/life saver.

But I will add this word of caution...actually two. ;)

1) you can make sauce with ANY tomato, not just paste varieties, and many find they prefer the taste of the sauce with other varieties mixed in, and 2) you may find you will have many, many more tomatoes than you anticipate. Paste varieties generally far outproduce non-paste varieties in #'s of fruit.

Good luck.


PS: I also agree on the Villaware/Vittorio if you decide to get one.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 5:18PM
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john90808(z10 So Cal)

Thanks ksrogers!....and just to clarify, I intend on removing the skin and seeds before making any sauce. I guess I am trying to rationalize the purchase of a food mill or a tomato strainer to accomplish this task. Thanks again for the quick response....

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 5:22PM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)

The food mill makes taking out the seeds and skin into child's play, whereas it's a bit of a job to do it by hand.

But for that amount, it's not terribly onerous. You drop the toms into boiling water for 30 seconds, then scoop 'em out with a slotted spoon and drop 'em into a bowl of cold water. Then you pick each on up and the skin just slips off easily (you may need to start it with a knife prick, or you can put an x in each one before you put it in the hot water). It's amazing how easily they come off, especially with nice, smooth-skinned paste tomatoes.

If you want to take out the seeds too (I don't bother), you halve each tomato and then just scoop out the gel in the middle with fingers or spoon. You'll get not every one but most that way.

So, it doesn't take but a few moments to process each tomato; of course, there will be a lot of them ('cos you will have a great harvest, right?). But it's not unpleasant, especially if you have company, maybe a little music on....

Most paste tomato varieties are determinate, so they'll have their fruit mostly ready over a short period of time, which is handy if you want to make sauce since you can dedicate just a couple of sessions and do them all. (Indeterminate types produce less fruit at a time over a longer period.)

But as has been said, you CAN make sauce out of any kind, and some folks find some of the non-paste types to be more flavourful. Everyone has different tastes! Paste types tend to be 'meatier' and will make a thicker initial sauce; if you use juicier tomatoes you'll get a thinner sauce unless you EITHER remove some liquid (there are various ways) or cook it longer.

As for the food mill, why don't you try it without, if you're hesitant to spend the money, and see how you find it? If you get overwhelmed with harvest, or you find you hate doing the skinning/seeding, then buy one. You can order one on the Internet and have it delivered within a few weeks if there isn't one for sale nearby.

Many folks love the Villaware/Vittorio, and I've seen it -- it's a great machine. But there are also less expensive models that will do the job just fine, especially if you only need it to do tomato sauce. I have the one shown in the Amazon link here. When I started out I bought one of similar design but made of plastic, by Moulinex, at Goodwill for $3. I too wasn't sure I could justify a mill just for the amount of canning I did, and wasn't sure I'd like the canning and stick with it.

But I came to love canning, and got caught up in heirloom tomatoes and grew more and more (careful --- both are addictive!), and my food mill's metal plate was rusting. So last year I invested in the new, stainless one. I like this design a lot --- quick and easy to set up and take apart to clean, sits right on top of my pot or bowl, and has other screens; the small-holed one I use for getting most of the seeds out of raspberry puree, and the bigger one I use for tomato sauce and applesauce.

When I make crushed tomatoes or chunky tomato sauce or salsa I still peel the tomatoes by hand, since the food mill doesn't do chunks but only puree. (Here Ken will tell you that the Villaware has a salsa screen with bigger holes to make chunks for salsa, and I will say that I've seen it and the chunks are not nearly big enough for my taste.)

Good luck with your garden and your canning! I hope you'll tell us how it goes when you do the canning.


    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 11:05PM
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steve03234(5 NH)

"I guess I am trying to rationalize the purchase of a food mill or a tomato strainer..."

I'd say, go ahead and get one. You will find many uses for it. I'd suggest the Villaware/Roma type.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 12:50AM
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I second Ken's advice. If you plan to put up just 6-10 quarts, you probably don't need the strainer. I normally put up more than that and took Ken's advice a few years ago. I have a hand-crank Villaware strainer and it has really saved me a lot of work. There are different opinions but I am one who doesn't like seeds in my sauce...I think they impart a bitter or "off" taste in the finished product when you bite on one. Some don't mind the seeds. I would hold off buying one if this is your first try at canning and see how it goes. You may get addicted and decide to plant MORE tomato plants, thus more canning ;) Lori

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 1:12AM
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I agree with some of the other posters that you may be doing such a small amount this year that you needn't worry about getting anything to put them through. I had a mill (Foley) similar to Zabby's at one time only it didn't have separate discs. I really didn't care that much for it, but you will notice that we all have our opinions of what we prefer to use on this forum and there is nothing at all wrong with that. I went out and bought a Victorio Strainer after seeing a neighbor who owned an apple orchard using one for making tons of applesauce to sell. I loved it. Unfortunately, DH put it up somewhere when we moved here over 20 years ago and I have yet to find it. Did tomatoes without it last year and it was a pill. I found one just like the Victorio strainer I had on eBay about a week ago and won it. I look forward to harvest this year because it will make things much easier. Practically dry peels and seeds out one side, pulp and juice out the other. Works for me.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 2:02AM
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mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

If you happen to own a kitchenaid mixer, there is a strainer attachment for it. It only has one size holes, and for the price you could probably get the victorio, but it is an option. Mine came in the attachment set that I've had for ages. I've used it for making applesauce and for raspberries and blackberries. It won't get all those little raspberry seeds, but it gets enough to keep me happy. I bought a cheap foley type food mill and it was a false economy. It doesn't work worth a darn, the food just spins around in the top part without any coming out through the holes. So if you decide to go the food mill route, I'd recommend spending the money to get a decent one. One of these days when I move to where I can actually have a garden, I'll probably spring for the victorio. I can't justify it currently.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 3:30AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Yes, I like to have several varieties of sauce, plum, and paste tomatoes to work with. I start all of mine from seeds in small pots indoors. I never buy tomato plants as most are generally for Big Boy, Early Girl and other common varieties for eating slicing and salads. If you ever want to make a slightly chunky salsa, the larger holed strainer will work well, and can still remove most all the skins and some seeds, but gives you a slightly chunkier product. Because I have red raspberries and can't handle their seeds in jelly, I use the finer holed berry screen, which will remove virtally every seed from red raspberries with very little effort. Because I would grow 200+ plants, I needed a method that frees up my hands for feeding the machine. I went for the motor option and it was very helpful in getting the job done faster. I must say that the Villaware is a multi-faceted achine for those who have several uses for it. Most of my tomato seeds are bought from Totally Tomatoes and Tomato Growers catalogs, have whole sections dedicated to specially bred types that are excellent for making sauce.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 8:22AM
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I like my Foley food mill and use it all the time...but...I got mine at the flea market for about 10 dollars. I had 36 tomato plants and made many jars of hot sauce, pasta sauce, catsup, etc. If the thought of buying secondhand gives you the heebie jeebies I recommend a boiling water bath before use!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 9:44AM
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john90808(z10 So Cal)

I will probably hold off on purchasing anything until I see what kind of 'mater crop I get this year.

Thanks for all of the great responses!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 11:22AM
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I don't own either (but they are still in the back of my mind.) I make about 50 pints of Tomato Basil Sauce (my spaghetti sauce) and a dozen or 2 of Annie's Salsa every year. I use the methods Zabby described for peeling & seeding tomatoes.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2008 at 3:02PM
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dgkritch(Z8 OR)

Start watching for one on ebay, craigslist, freecycle, and garage sales!!

I found my Villaware one at a sale for $5.00. THAT I could justify even if I only use it once or twice a year.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2008 at 6:57PM
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My wife surprised me 2 weeks ago by bringing home 600 to 800 pounds of tomatoes. Wow and what to do with them. Not having a Villaware or Squeezo strainer, I opted for the following alternative in making juice (or sauce). Cook tomatoes until tender and use a pan called a "RICER". It was made by Lustre Craft in the 60's and looks like a double boiler with the top pan having about 3/16 inch holes all over the bottom. It came with a stainless masher and could be used for making applesauce or ricing pototoes or similar vegetables. We first ran the cooked batch through the ricer which removed the peel but allowed the seeds and pulp to go through (they were all cherry tomatoes with very small seeds). After mashing through the 3/16 inch holes, my wife ran everything through a Foley type food mill and removed the seeds. We tried using the Foley for the peels and seeds but it took FOREVER to process a single pot. The peels plugged up the holes in the Foley immediately. The ricer/food mill combo was the answer for using what we had on hand to process such a large amount of tomatoes in a short time. You might try the first step with a stainless steel colander to remove the peels. Something to press them through to remove most of the tomato flesh would be necessary. There were just too many tomatoes to dip a peel (since they were cherry toms) as we also gave that an initial try. Who said no one would be processing tomatoes in Jan. Regards - Jim in So. Calif.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 3:45AM
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I've never had my Foley plug up but when it starts to drain slowly I crank it backwards to scoop the pulp away from the holes.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 8:59AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

With 600- 800 pounds of tomatoes, I would have run out and got the Villaware, along with the motor unit (provided your always going to be dealing with THAT amount of tomatoes. With all the prepping and straining done, the time it takes to strain in the VIllaware would be less than half that. Also, no seeds or skins would be in the final sauce. Using any other method for that amount of tomatoes, is going to be a very labourous effort. The Foley's do plug up with skins, and one way to help loosen them is to crank backawards a few turns every so often, which will lift the skins off teh holes. Some Foley's have a few different sized holes too. Cherry tomatoes for a sauce? Thats about 90% water!

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 12:33PM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)


Wow, I'm so jealous. And in awe!

Ken can dis the sauce for being made from cherries all he wants, I say they're 100% fresh tomatoes when we're under a "flash freeze" warning, and sound WONderful.


    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 9:26PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

I have nothing against cherry tomatoes, but found that some types have very little flavor. Last summer, I thought I had planted all big beef steak types, and found a few of my seedling plants that had a small cherry type and a few with a little larger and elongated grape type. The cherry type, I could use in the compost heap, but the grape type ones were really good. Sometimes, if the tomatoes are fresh, and do have a good freah flavor, its well worth the effort to try and preserve them. I just cant see using a ricer and a Foley to deal with 600 pounds worth though. Guess your not THAT busy and you have the time and patience..

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 8:47AM
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LOL - let's face it folks - surfing Gardenweb isn't exactly efficient time management!! None of us seems to be THAT busy...

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 9:10AM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)

> I have nothing against cherry tomatoes, but found that some types have very little flavor.

That's true of some varieties of all sizes, though. I would agree that on average more cherry types have a less full flavour, but some do, and some others are very tasty in their own right, though milder. Believe me, I've had some tasteless big ones, too. INcluding every one I've bought in the store in winter.

So yeah, I can see taking hte time to process 600 pounds of fresh ones. It's not a question of people not being busy --- it makes me crazy when people assume if you do somethign they wouldn't do that takes a lot of time, that it means you have all the time in the world! ("It must be nice to have the time to..." is a fave declaration of my sister's and it never goes over well... ;-) ). It's a question of priorities, what different people find easy or convenient to do, etc.

I remember your unexpected tomatoes this summer. I suspected an inadvertent cross; most unplanned crosses have poor flavour, though of course there's always the chance of a great discovery that way!


    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 11:00AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

For me, its an 80% computer repair business right now. I'm only here, as I was doing a search for some MOSFET devices to fix a computer board. Soon, that will slow and its back to growing seeds into plants again. The computers that need repair are sitting on the seed starting shelves, so I need to get them finished. I am always busy.

With 600 pounds of tomatoes, and spoilage, you need to be fast in the way they get handled. For those little tasty grape shaped tomatoes, I saved several seeds from some of them. If I were to plant a big crop this year (which I don't plan to), I would be more intent on getting some of the Oxheart type. I must say they were big, meaty and very little liquid. Their flavor was quite mild though, so thats the only strike against them I can see. Usually, I plant several types anyway, just to get more variable flavor.

People always ask me "where do you find the time to do all this". Its not easy, as other things suffer too.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 2:20PM
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john90808(z10 So Cal)

Zabby, to your point: a relative of mine always used to say, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." :)

    Bookmark   January 31, 2008 at 8:08AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

bump - about to fall off and has good info in it

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 9:29PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

And how was this info needed again? I bet you used the SEARCH to find this thread again too!! Some people might think I am insulting, but here on the forum there are some who want everything handed to them on a silver platter and expect to be spoon fed personally. Life isn't always pleasant, or a bed of roses! It does take a small amount or effort to do simple searches. I mentioned neem oil to someone in another web site and they had never heard of it. I simply did a web search for that key word and supplied a link to it. This was so easy to do for the original poster, instead of them asking the question and expecting instant gratification within the forum. There, the forums are not handled the same way, all posts get sent to a moderator and then post public, and that can take a week or more. Consider yourself fortunate when it comes to public info, that some just don't want to read or make any effort.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 12:51PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

And how was this info needed again? I bet you used the SEARCH to find this thread again too!!

No, Ken I just usually keep an eye on the last few pages of the forum and try to catch especially good discussions or discussions on frequently asked questions before they fall off. That is how this one got bumped back up to the front and I let the rest of page 67 just slide on by.

I am sorry you are feeling under-appreciated because you do contribute a great deal of information to the forum. However, many times the way we say something is just as important as what we say.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 3:15PM
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On a whim I registered for a food mill when I got married. I do not can very much each summer at all but I can tell you that it has been SO helpful in so many projects and has saved me so much time. Think of it, just plop the whole tomatoes/berries/apples in the pot, simmer, run through the food mill and voila! Yummy sauce. I got the sunbeam one from Target. It was not pricey and has been worth it.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 3:24PM
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dian57(M-H Valley NY-5)

My friend owns a farm and I try and support her by buying all my fresh vegetables from her stand. When I went there to buy raspberries for Raspberry-Chocolate jam I asked if she sold food grinders. She sells all different kinds of neat domestic things so the question wasn't too crazy.
Turns out she doesn't, but she let me borrow her MIL's big food mill:

I fell in love with it after 10 seconds, did a search here and bought myself a Back to Basics Vittorio food strainer (not having an extra $148 laying around).

It's amazing how much time and effort it saves over doing everything manually and on your feet.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2009 at 2:57PM
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david52 Zone 6

I just made 3 gallons of apple sauce with that Back to Basics. Took 15 minutes to run all the cooked apples through, and I stopped to putter around a few times.

It does come in handy.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2009 at 9:59PM
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David, I also use my Squeezo for apple sauce, it works like a champ.

So the answer, john, is "no", you don't need a food mill or press to make a little tomato sauce. HOWEVER, you can use it for a lot more things, so might want to consider one anyway, depending on which other products you DO process.

It's not the answer to every canning or cooking process, but it IS a multi-tasker and worth the space it takes up in my kitchen.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2009 at 11:44AM
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I see that Johnny's Seeds has a food mill that looks a lot like the Villaware V200 and exactly like the Norpro 1951. I made tomato sauce by hand last year an it took several hours. Looks like I can get those hours back this year by buying a $60 appliance.

I have a strawberry patch and a raspberry patch, so it can do double-duty during jam season.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2009 at 11:34PM
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I'm still getting used to my Norpro (looks like the Back to Basics Vittorio above) - dry skins get stuck in the auger & I have to disassemble to get them out, especially if I use a dry paste tomato.

My grandmother gave me her old "china cap" press with wooden pestle - it seems to be faster than the Vittorio (although you need to cook the tomato first.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 10:23AM
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