We Canned Tomato Sauce!

Recently my husband and I decided to learn to Do Canning. After reading up on the process and gathering supplies, we took our pup to the local Farmer’s Market, bought 20 damn pounds of tomatoes, brought them home, turned them into sauce, and then canned that. All our jars sealed correctly, which left me feeling like kind of a badass.

So if you’ve been considering canning and want some beginner tips from a fellow first-timer, read on.

Beginner Canning Tip #1: Do Your Research

The main thing I learned when looking into canning was that it’s important to follow modern safety guidelines. Recipes or techniques handed down from older relatives may not line up with current recommendations. Some of this has to do with food safety research, but it’s also related to the fact that some of our ingredients have changed over time. Fresh tomatoes, for example, tended to be more acidic back when our grandparents were growing or buying them. Most tomatoes these days don’t have that same level of acid, so they can’t be safely canned using vintage recipes.

Beginner Canning Tip #2: Pick a Tested Recipe, and Stick to It

Thankfully you don’t have to memorize every little bit of that safety info if you choose a recipe that’s been tested by food scientists. (I got the sauce recipe we used from a recent Ball canning book from my local library.) And once you find a recipe, follow it closely. Since there are several factors that go into canning safety, you may end up with spoiled food if you change the amounts or types of ingredients.

Beginner Canning Tip #3: Have a Strategy for Finding Supplies

Canning is something I’ve been curious about trying for a long time, so of course I waited to do it for the first time during a pandemic when everyone else is also staying home and trying to learn new life skills. This has lead to a nationwide shortage of canning supplies that made finding what we needed tricky.

My best suggestion for finding canning supplies right now is to focus on stores with websites that show whether an item is currently in stock. Those inventory lists don’t update in real time, so someone may grab that last box of canning lids before you get there. It gives you a place to start beyond just driving around town though.

It may be tempting to just shop online, but unfortunately a lot of people are using any sites that allow third-party sellers to price gouge or send counterfeit products that may not work correctly. I’d strongly suggest sticking with brick and mortar places. But don’t limit your search to grocery or big box stores; your local hardware shop or garden center may also have what you need.

For our tomato sauce, we chopped the tomatoes up a bit, roasted them, and then processed them through a food mill, which pureed them while separating out the skins and most of the seeds. Then we cooked the sauce, put it in the jars (following the instructions in the canning book we used), and processed them in boiling water for the amount of time given in the recipe.

It was a good bit of work, and since we bought the tomatoes, the price of ingredients was only a slight savings over our usual jar sauce. But our sauce has no added sugar and no preservatives other than the citric acid we needed to add. It also has a really fresh flavor that worked well as a base for all the tinkering I tend to do with any pasta dish.

So despite all the mess and effort, I’m already trying to figure out how many tomato plants we’ll need to do a couple of similarly sized batches next year.

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