Tomato Season!

I haven't done much posting to this blog lately since my discretionary time has largely been absorbed by gardening and all its related activities: harvesting, cooking, freezing, preserving, drying. The bounty from our vegetable and herb gardens, as well as from our fruit trees and berry bushes, has been great this year.

I decided to grow a lot of "roma" paste tomatoes so I could do some canning this year, as well as having plenty for fresh salsa. I've learned that it's not worth all the work of canning unless I have a big quantity to do at once. After reviewing recipes, I decided to "put up" marinara sauce instead of just canning whole tomatoes. Canning whole tomatoes called for boiling-blanching-peeling, and I figured that would be nearly as much work as making the sauce! I had purchased a food mill (Roma brand) two years ago and I've used it for wonderful tomato juice, apple sauce, pear sauce, grape juice, salsa, and other great foods. This year, I am using it for the tomato sauce and it has made my work so much easier... with delicious results. And you can also freeze the marinara sauce... if you don't just eat it all fresh!

To make the tomato sauce in the food mill, I simply cut up whole uncooked unpeeled tomatoes into quarters, fill the hopper, and let it churn. Out one slot comes pure tomato pulp and juice, out the other comes the seeds, core, and peel. The food mill comes with a hand crank which I used for my first big harvest of tomatoes and it took me two hours! Then I got smart and attached the optional electric motor and it cut the time way down. The waste goes into my compost pile - no wonder I get little tomato plants where ever I spread compost in the spring.

To the bowl of pure tomato puree, I add chopped garlic, loads of chopped fresh basil, chopped onion (all from my garden too), salt, and some of my jalapeno powder. (You can add other ingredients too, but I try to stick with recipes when hot water bath canning so I don't alter the pH. And adding meat requires pressure canning.) Then it all gets "cooked down" to about half the original volume, to thicken the sauce, which I do over medium low heat with the pot uncovered so the moisture can evaporate. It's so hot here that I hate to heat up the house with hot pots on the kitchen stove, so I use a portable gas cooking unit set up on the big porch. Great view of the mountains, so it's not too shabby! Works out great when I am doing a lot of canning too, using the outdoor dining table as my work station.

Caution: canning is LOTS of work! When you figure all your time and what you get out of it, you can only justify it with the fact that you are using wonderful freshly harvested food and your own good ingredients.

So try making your own tomato sauce. We'll be enjoying ours next winter when there are no fresh tomatoes around.