Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Everyone once in a while we take a break from the craziness of our house reno to do something fun. Today we traveled to Port Hope to make tomato sauce with my grandparents (Nonno and Nonna): something I haven’t done in more than 10 years! We want to learn so we can do it ourselves next year!

Hot tip: For best results, use at least one Nonno or Nonna.

Step 1: Cleaning the Tomatoes

This step was already done for us before we arrived because the tomatoes need to be washed and given a day or two to dry completely.

This year the tomato crop wasn’t the best, so about 30% of the tomatoes had “imperfections”. We took a knife and removed any mold or marks on the tomatoes. Some were in really rough shape so we did a scientific “sniff test” to make sure they weren’t rotten.

Step 2: Smushing the Tomatoes

Before he started, Nonno added a sieve to the bucket to capture any excess water. He used an old machine piece (the thing that the pulp is pushed through) which did the trick beautifully! He also had a great setup with a small plastic hose that brought the water from the sieve to a bucket on the ground. Not sophisticated, but effective.

Then the real fun began. My grandparents have a pretty nifty OMRA machine. It’s one of the bigger ones, so the tomatoes can be squished whole (instead of having to be cut up).

Once all the tomatoes were pressed, Nonno then did a second pass through of inside bits (see the white bucket). There was still a lot of good sauce in there to get!

After everything was pressed, it was time to wait for the water to drain. We had already filled one bucket by the time we were done pressing the tomatoes, but there was still a lot of water in the tomato mix. As we waited, the tomato puree and water continued to separate and our little sieve filled up. Nonno started the flow of water by sucking on the little plastic hose until it filled with water and then using gravity to let it fall into the bucket below.

Step 3: Cleaning the Herbs

My grandparents put a few goodies in their sauce. There’s usually a nice handful of celery leaves, basil and parsley. There’s also some hot peppers thrown in there to really give the sauce a kick.

After the puree was made, Nonno went to pick everything from the garden that we needed to shove in the jars. We began by picking off the leaves to manageable sizes to put in the jars.

Then, Nonno used the tomato water to clean the herbs. There was some mention about how tap water is bad for cleaning them, but I’m not sure I believe it. Either way, it’s always best to do what you’re told with these things!  

Meanwhile, we kept our eye on the tomato puree which was still draining water. When there wasn’t any water sitting in the sieve anymore, we removed it from the bucket and were left with nice, red tomato sauce:

Step 4: Preparing the Jars

Another step that was done before we arrived was sterilizing the jars. The jars were washed in the dishwasher, but I think this can also be done by boiling the jars in water. They were nice and dry before we used them (again to avoid any excess water in the sauce).

It’s important to set up the jars before salt is added to the tomatoes because there isn’t a lot of sitting time that can happen between salt and sealing. I don’t know the science behind it, but Nonno really stressed this point and I’ve heard it from others before too. 

We set up all the jars and then filled them with the tomato water-washed herbs and peppers.

The herbs seemed to completely fill the jars!

With the jars prepped, we were ready to salt!

Step 5: Adding Salt

We used big salt!

I’m really not sure how much we used. I was trying to pay attention, but I somehow missed the start so I don’t know for sure. I think 4-5 handfuls…

Then Nonno stirred it all in.

We did a few taste tests and settled on the right amount of salt. You could definitely taste the salt but it wasn’t overbearing.

Step 6: Filling the Jars

One large bin filled about 31 litres worth of jars. We had a combination of large (1L) and small (500mL) jars, so we probably had 45 jars in total.

When filling them, we made sure that they were almost at the top, but not overflowing. When sealed (boiled), they cook down a bit, so there’s no point in leaving too much space.

When the jars were filled, Nonno threw some lids on them and tightened them as much as he could. I then wrote the date and made sure to mention that the sauce was hot!

Step 7: Sealing the Jars

After all the jars were filled, we brought them outside to a large barrel to boil them. The jars were placed on their side and were placed close together so that they didn’t move during the boil. Also, the jars shouldn’t be knocked together or they might burst during the boil!

Once all the jars were placed inside, we filled up the barrel with water. It’s important to make sure the water completely covers the highest jar, so we did the 3-finger test.

Once the barrel was full of water, it was time to start cooking.

Nonno’s setup was pretty good. He used to do this over fire, but an angry neighbour put a stop to that. It’s fine anyways, because we can’t have an open fire in our backyard, so it was good to see that this works.

Nonno then covered the hole thing with a lid.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

After about an hour, the pot started to boil. At that point, Nonno turned off the heat, uncovered the barrel and covered the opening with a damp towel.

Then we ate. A lot.

The jars stayed in the barrel overnight and were removed in the morning when the water had completely cooled. Nonno then stored them in the basement so that they could rest in a cool place. After a few days, they should be ready for transport and can come to Toronto to live in our kitchen!

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