How do I make sauce from garden tomatoes?

irish_rose_grower(z7 LI NY)February 28, 2010

HI, I posted a question on the tomato forum and Trudi was nice to respond and said to ask over here goes.

I've been reading about how the canned tomatoes have that white liner that is supposed to be harmful. That being said I want to grow my own tomatoes and make sauce from them. I don't plan on canning but can freeze what I need for the year. What I usually use for a small pot of sauce is 2 cans whole tomatoes(redpak) run thru the blender and 1 can Puree.

So I need to know, what type of tomatoes should I grow -- plum/paste types? And do I need a strainer (I hope not) I was reading thru some old posts and see people use a strainer which I'm hoping I don't need to buy) Do I remove the seeds and gel from the tomaotes (read that too?) Do I bake tomatoes before I freeze them? - Basically what do I have to do to get the consistency of a jar sauce? I've tried to make a tomato sauce once last year and it was really watery after cooking for 2 hours.

I appreciate any tips you can offer:-)



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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Hi Rose - I posted on your other post asking- Do you want to get into canning or freezing sauce or just making fresh eating sauces? but I see you answered that here. ;)

For fresh sauce or for freezing, pre-roasting is one option. It gives the sauce a very different taste but a good one IMO and you can then strain off much of the juice, puree it and freeze.

This recipe is quite good but only for fresh or freezing (not canning):

20 tomatoes, halved and seeded
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup finely diced onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme leaves
1 cup white wine

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In large roasting pan place tomato halves cut side up. Sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper, onion, garlic, and herbs. Bake tomatoes for 2 hours. Check the tomatoes after 1 hour and turn down the heat if they seem to be cooking too quickly. Then turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and process tomatoes through a food mill. Discard skins. Add white wine, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.

Note that removing the seeds and gel first is an option - some do it and some don't. I do because I think leaving the seeds in makes it bitter. But some folks just puree it seeds and all. Try both and see which you prefer.

A tomato mill can make it easier and faster but it isn't required. You might want to check into buying a Foley Food Mill as a less expensive alternative to one such as the Roma/Victorio types that many of us use. Foley Food Mill

Otherwise you can just keep in doing it the way you have been - dip and peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and gel, and run it through the blender. Then cook it down to the desired consistency and pop it in the freezer.

Any variety of tomato will work well. The only reason to use paste types is because they have less juice so cook down faster. But I firmly believe the sauce made from a mix of types and varieties has a much better taste.

We make a lot of sauce using this recipe.


PS: The link below is to the basic sauce directions from NCHFP. It is geared toward canning but you can just freeze it instead. Also check out many of the different online recipes for tomato sauce. Since you will be freezing it their are no safety concerns as there would be with canning.

Here is a link that might be useful: NCHFP - Tomato Sauce

    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 3:25PM
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irish_rose_grower(z7 LI NY)

HI Dave. Thank you so very much for this information.
I will be sure to save this so i can use it during harvest time.

Maybe you can just clarify - what exactly is the purpose of the food mill? Does it separate the skin/gel/seeds from the rest of the tomato?

And i like your recipe you listed, i see most of this is cooked in the oven, it only boils on stove top for 5 minutes? I thought maybe it would be a lot longer? I have to try it, sounds yummy:-)

thanks for all of this very helpful and interesting information.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 4:33PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yes, tomato mills or tomato presses remove the cores, skins and the seeds and puree the rest all at the same time. That's why they are so much faster. You can run cooked tomatoes through them or with the Roma/Victorio models even raw ones.

That recipe MAY require a bit longer cooking time than 5 mins. depending on which tomatoes you use and how thick you want your sauce.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 6:18PM
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zeuspaul(9b SoCal)

Two hours cooking is not long enough for a thick sauce.

I use a machine to remove skins and seeds but it is not necessary.

All you need for a delicious tomato sauce is home grown vine ripened tomatoes of any variety. I prefer a variety of salad tomatoes because I think they have the best flavor. They have more liquid than paste types and require more cooking to thicken.

The easiest way to cook them down is in the oven. Slow cooking in a stockpot requires a lot of stirring.

You can cut a bunch of tomatoes in half and place them in a large stainless baking pan. I use the rectangular ones from chaffing dishes. Then heat them in the oven over night at 180-200 deg F. The next day you can fish through the sauce with a pair of tongues and pull the skins out.

Then back in the oven to thicken some more.

The sauce will be delicious with just tomatoes. I usually add some pureed carrot and onion and basil and the spices Dave mentioned. I like a lot of garlic but usually use just a little.

If you remove the seeds with liquid and gel you are going to remove the flavor of the gel. If you want the seeds out it is best to use a strainer or mill. The sauce may taste better without the seeds, however the difference is subtle and not worth worrying about.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 8:34PM
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Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

I only peel my tomatoes. I leave the rest of the whole tomato in. The peels are like bits of paper, so I remove them.
Paste or Roma tomatoes are thicker, but I do agree, the others seem sweeter.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 10:29PM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)

Hi, Maureen! Good luck with your tomato project!

As others have said, the strainer or food mill is to remove skins and seeds easily.

You can just leave these in if you don't mind them; I sometimes do. The seeds don't bother me at all (though some find them bitter). But little bits of skins sometimes are annoying; they turn up in the final product in little rolled-up shreds.

You can also take the skins off beforehand one at a time. It's faster than you might think -- you get some water boiling in a pot and put a bowl of ice water beside it. Then drop a bunch of tomatoes in the pot, fish them out with a slotted spoon after 30 seconds and drop them in the ice water. The skins slip right off after that (especially if you put a tiny x in each tomato to start with).

And you can scoop out the gel that has the seedsbeforehand. This takes longer, I find, and won't get out every seed but most of them. But I agree with zeuspaul that you waste a lot of good flavour from the gel that way!

I started with a foley-type food mill (like digdirt Dave linked you to) that I found at Goodwill for $3. When I decided I liked that type and was going to keep canning, I ordered a stainless steel one from Amazon for $25 and I like it a lot. It came with three sizes of screen --- I use the smallest one to strain the seeds out of raspberries for jam.

Now, as for the type of tomatoes. You can, as has been said (and as I am sure the good folk a the tomato forum have told you) make sauce out of any kind of homegrown tomatoes. You will love it! You will not want to go back to canned!

BUT it sounds like you would like a thick sauce. You can do a few things to help get a thicker sauce:

-- Plant paste types (anything that is meaty and doesn't have a lot of juice); I love the heirlooms Opalka, Amish Paste (the very wise Carolyn on the tomato forum always says it isn't a true paste type but I find it quite meaty), Yellow Bell (any colour of tomato is fine for sauce, and if you mix colours it preety much comes out red), and a hybrid called Mamma Mia. Romas and San Marzanos are other popular meaty types.

If your main aim is to make sauce in big batches to freeze, you may want to look for meaty types that are also "determinate" --- meaning they ripen mostly over a short period. That will let you pick a bunch at once and make a big pile of sauce. "indeterminate" ones will ripen fewer at a time over a longer period, good if you want to eat them fresh all summer or if you have a LOT of plants.

-- Cook longer. Six hours or more for a typical Italian-style thick sauce. (Personally, I prefer the "fresher" taste of a less-c00ked sacue; individual tastes vary!) Some folks put it in the oven on low to cook all day with less risk of scorching the bottom.

-- Remove some water beforehand. I know two good tricks for this. One is that, when I start cooking the tomatoes, after about 20 minutes or so, the liquid has started to come out of them but the meat hasn't started to break down yet. I end up with soft mushy tomato balls sitting in a very pale, watery juice. I scoop out as much as I can of this juice using a spoon. I usually end up with two or three pints from each big canning batch of sauce --- most of which is water that would have taken hours to boil away. I can (or freeze) it separately and cook with it or drink it.

The other trick is to freeze the tomatoes first. (You may want to do this anyway if you find there are a tonne ripening at once and it's too hot to cook!) Just take off the stems and pop 'em whole in bags and into the freezer. Then when you take them out to defrost, put them in a colander and set it over a bowl. The cells will have burst when they froze, releasing liquid. As they defrost, a clear liquid (looks like water but does have some tomato taste) defrosts first. When you have a bowlful of liquid underneath (or when it starts to turn pink), you can dump it. Then cook the tomatoes that are left; they will have gotten rid of a lot of their liquid already.

If you're freezing, you can put whatever you like into your sauce; once it's been cooked, you can blend it up to be smooth if that's what you want.

Good luck! I suggest trying whatever of the various methods seem easiest to your situation and experiment till you find a method that works best.

Report back and tell us how you did!


    Bookmark   March 1, 2010 at 11:38AM
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zeuspaul(9b SoCal)

Great post Zabby! lots of good info.

As much as I like removing what we generally refer to as water because it saves time and energy, I don't do it anymore. I believe the flavor of my sauce suffered.

I have gone back to thickening the sauce by boiling off the *water*. I have been using the oven but I may try a crockpot too this year.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2010 at 6:20PM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)


There's no doubt that even the totally clear liquid that drips out of previously frozen tomatoes before the solid parts thaw has tomato flavour in it! (MY brother told me he was recently served some made into a fancy tomato consomme at a restaurant.)

So I'm not surprised your expert palate detected a difference in flavour is different if you remove some of it first.

Personally, I prefer the flavour that way to one of a very-long-cooked sauce, which tastes less fresh to me. A chacun son gout, as the French say (to each his taste)!

Let us know how the crockpot version comes out.....


    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 7:52AM
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dgkritch(Z8 OR)

I freeze my tomatoes first as Zabby mentioned and make sauce when the weather is cooler and harvesting slows down.
I catch the "water" when thawing and re-freeze it to use a a soup base later (could be canned too I guess, but I freeze it).

Because I work full time, I have to shorten my harvest and processing tasks as much as possible (while maintaining quality and safety).

My palate is not discerning enough to care! (grinning....).

So, my process is to freeze, thaw, roast, mill, thicken by cooking down more in the oven, can with added lemon juice and salt, if that makes sense.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 12:29PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

If you had a still, you could just deal with "tomato water" that way. Make tomato liquer?


    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 3:50PM
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gardenman101(Z6 Spingfield, Ma)

Quick question, Why remove the skin? Im asking becuase when I have made suace in the past I cooked tomatos in a crockpot for a day or so, then put through a blender (vitamix type) then returned to the crockpot until desired thickness. Cooled and put into freezer containers. I thought it tasted fine. Is there a problem with skins that prevents you from canning the suace? Or is it just a prefrence thing?


    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 12:39AM
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The easiest solution is to add a litte tomato paste to thicken the sauce when you make it. That will solve all problems. then you can use any tomatoes you want.

Tomato paste is made by using vacuum to suck off the water. If you cook your tomatoes to evaporate off the water you will over cook the tomatoes and get a lower quality product. The highest quality product is to add tomato paste to thicken your tomatoes.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 3:14PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Why remove the skin?

It is a preference thing for the most part although an argument can be made that the skin is the primary source of bacteria on the fruit. But the skins and the seeds, if not removed, can impart a bitterness to the sauce that doesn't appeal to many of us. Plus leaving the skins in (not to mention the seeds) really affects the texture and makes it undesirable to many. Most blenders don't chop as fine as your Vitamix might so what you end up with is little red bits of chewy skin in the sauce. Yech! ;)

The highest quality product is to add tomato paste to thicken your tomatoes.

Sorry but I would have to disagree. Granted it would thicken it but so does cooking down. Adding canned commercial tomato paste to my fresh garden tomato sauce would defeat the purpose. I might as well just buy canned sauce.



    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 5:19PM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)


No need to remove skin if you're happy with the results! I don't think I've ever heard of skins imparting a bitter taste, even, though some have said that about the seeds.

I never noticed it myself and don't mind seeds; the reason I put my tomato sauce through a food mill is that otherwise I sometimes have little curled-up bits of skin int he sauce --- imagine pieces of thin, edible paper like the size of a thumbnail, curled into a little tube. They can get stuck in one's teeth.

Not a big deal, and I canned sauce without the food mill for the first few years, but I bought one at Goodwill for $3 and found it was worth it to me to take the extra few minutes to put it through.

Whether the skins are a problem depends not only on how sensitive you are to that kind of thing (I know Annie's Dad used to find even the TINIEST of berry seeds would cause him trouble, for example), but on how long you cook it (I've made a roasted-tomato spread that never gives any problem with skins, prob. 'cos it cooks them at high heat for several hours! but I like to keep my sauce pretty short-cooked).

Even on what kind of tomato. I grow lots of heirloom types, and some have very thin skins (few commercial types are like this because they're hard to ship).

Sounds like cooking and then blending in your Vitamix breaks 'em down enough that they aren't a problem for you! Good stuff!



    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 8:31AM
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Why remove the skin?

I'm going to reiterate what others have said before. Leaving the skin on will dramatically increase the bitterness of the sauce.
This bitterness will increase with storage and processing time. Sauce with the skin in it that tastes sweet when freshly made will taste bitter after the canning process or long storage.
Learn from my fail: I canned over 60lbs of Dry Farmed Tomatoes last fall, and didn't skin them because I didn't think it was worth the trouble. I loved the sauce/salsa that I made with them, why should I worry about the skins? However, after that sauce had been canned and sat a few weeks, you had to pay me to eat it. The skins bitterness became overwhelming and unpalatable.

If you are planning on harvesting your tomato sauce and storing it for the long term, I'd recommend leaving the skins out.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 8:32PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

I remove the skin because scalding in a big pot of boiling water is easy to do, and you don't get curly Qs of skin in the end product. I don't bother taking out seeds. I have not noticed any bad flavor from them after freezing for a year, and the gel often carries the bulk of flavor in many varieties.

Tomato paste overwhelms the unique flavor of many hierlooms so I thicken sauce with corn starch at the last minute. It lightens the color but doesn't affect flavor that I can tell.

I often use a deep 12" skillet to cook down the tomatoes by about half (faster than a deep pot). Starting with a pan full I end up with about a half gallon of reduced tomatoes, which freezes well in a gallon ziplock as a flat "book" that thaws out quickly. It makes enough sauce for a standard package of pasta, with maybe a little extra to put on toast/bagel the next day.

I use good tasting tomatoes rather than paste types. I mix varieties but do try to keep the yellows, blacks and reds/pinks separate to end up with different colors of sauces. I've found that bicolor varieties have a high water content so I don't really like to use them for sauce. The fruity taste of bicolors and some green-when-ripes is OK for spaghetti sauce but makes odd tasting chile.

My easy standard sauce is

1 Thawed out pack of cooked tomatoes
1 lb italian sausage (browned)
1 onion
Italian seasoning is bsil and oregano so you could use that instead)
Bay leaf
cook for a half hour to blend flavors
1 TBS corn starch last minute

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 9:20PM
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jane_in_il5(Central IL, z5)

Hi Irish! Like DigDirt, I prefer the taste of roasted tomatoes for my sauce.

I like to do things quick and easy, especially when it comes to preserving because it seems like everything comes on at once and it's hard to keep up.

Here's the super-easy way I make roasted tomato sauce, which I freeze for use all winter long.

I use Roma (plum) tomatoes for a thicker sauce. No amounts listed in my recipe because it really doesn't matter. I just keep roasting pan-fulls until I've used up the tomatoes.

Jane's Roasted Tomato Sauce

1. Core and halve tomatoes (I run my thumb up the hollows quickly to push out most of the gel/seeds)

2. Put tomatoes in a BIG bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss to coat tomatoes.

3. Place tomatoes CUT SIDE DOWN in large rimmed sheet pan, as big as will fit your oven.

4. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 mins. Tomato skins will begin to shrivel and start to blacken on top, this is good.

5. When sizzley and well-roasted, remove from oven. The tomato skins will be loosened and most of them will slip off the tomato if squeezed lightly with tongs. If you wish to remove skins, go ahead. If not, it's okay too.

6. Place tomatoes in food processor, pulse a few times until thick and chunky consistency (or however you like your sauce). You will probably have to work in batches since the entire pan of tomatoes won't fit in food processor at once.

7. Pour into freezer containers and let cool before placing in freezer.

This makes tomato sauce. I like Italian sauce since that's what I mostly use. So at Step #2 I also cut up some bell peppers and onions into big chunks, put them in bowl with tomatoes and oil. Also a few garlic cloves. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, italian spices. Then place in pan and continue in the same way.

Easy, can do a lot at once. Can do tomatoes ahead and leave the big oily bowl covered in frig a day or two until you find time to roast. Free time while roasting, versus sauce on the stovetop that you have to keep an eye on. There aren't any finicky rules using this method. (I'm usually not good with finicky rules! LOL )


    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 10:40PM
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Has anyone added your previously dried tomatoes to sauce to thicken it? I haven't tried it, but wondered if that would work. The dried tomatoes would in effect do the same as tomato paste but even better thickening. How would that affect canning? Powdering dried tomatoes and adding them to the sauce would be an interesting way to thicken things more. Just wondering about options.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 9:45AM
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cabrita(9b SoCal)

I make sauce with powdered dried tomatoes when I go backpacking. It works well and it is nice to have our own preserved produce in the wilderness. There are not too many options in that situation (cans are too heavy) so it is a no brainer. I have never tried it in tomato sauces I cook at home, but I don't see why not? Not sure about using the powdered dried tomatoes in something we will can though. Would there be a change in the pH or the density? I would want to investigate a bit more and make sure it is safe. Perhaps someone here can answer this. If you are just asking about making sauces that will be consumed right away, it is a good option and it works, also nice to use your own products!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 3:37PM
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jonas302(central mn 4)

I believe Ken use to mention tomatoe powder probly advailible from bulk foods

    Bookmark   April 24, 2010 at 8:46PM
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Zabby, you're right, Dad complained about the seeds in BLUEBERRIES, for crying out loud. He said they got under his dentures and irritated him.

I don't keep the skins because I don't like the texture, as Linda Lou mentioned. I don't use paste tomatoes because I'd rather cook down a little longer and keep the flavor of the old fashioned Rutgers or Bonny Best that grow so well in my area. does that mean you have to peel the tomatoes? Nope, and you don't have to remove the seeds either, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but they have to cook down longer.

I often cook things like tomato sauces or fruit butter in the oven because it doesn't take constant stirring and attention to prevent sticking or scorching. Like Deanna, I work full time plus I try to run the farm so I multi-task like crazy. If the tomato sauce is in the oven I can clean the bathroom, start some bread and arrange my receipts for fence posts and barbed wire for the taxes, LOL.

Tomato powder probably can be purchased commercially, I know someone buys it from The Spice House on line, but I have no experience with that.

So, for the original poster, do you need a strainer? No, you don't. Are they useful and functional? Oh yes, I use mine for apple sauce far more often than I use it for tomatoes!


    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 11:15AM
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Savory Spice Shop also sells tomato powder. I like to keep it around to thicken up canned tomato sauce for pizzas -- doesn't make the crust soggy that way. It's also good for making tomato soup in a pinch.

Freezing tomatoes whole is another good way to remove skins. As they begin to thaw, just cut a slice in the skin and the whole skin will pop off. Like zabby mentioned, you can also remove some of the liquid by freezing. I don't have a food mill, so I just squeeze/scoop most of the seeds out after the tomatoes have thawed.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 2:21PM
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jeroldrburrow(SoCal 10a)

This may sound crazy to some, but I believe adding anchovy fillets makes a big difference in flavor. I saute the anchovies along with the onions at the start of the sauce making -- they kinda melt away. I usually put 2-4 fillets for a pot of sauce. To me it rounds out the taste and gives a depth of flavor that you don't get otherwise. You can't taste/smell the anchovy specifically as it combines really well with the tomato.

If you're feeling adventurous I highly recommend trying it...

    Bookmark   May 12, 2010 at 2:49PM
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