The smell of tomatoes, garlic, and basil simmering away on the stove. Laughter, friendship, and hard work. This was my Saturday and it was a weekend well spent making marinara sauce with my long time best friend Alexa. She’d never done canning before, so naturally I was very excited to share my knowledge.
My grandma passed the tradition of canning down to me when I was young, just as her mother had passed it down to her. The tradition has been going on for generations. Even if you aren’t harvesting crops yourself, the process of canning something delicious from start to finish is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Nothing beats the satisfaction of hearing your jars pop as they seal and seeing them resting on a towel on the kitchen counter.
Alexa and I decided to make marinara sauce. 20 lbs of tomatoes yielded only 4.5 quarts of sauce! But the quantity wasn’t the point. The quality of the sauce was out of this world, and the chance to can with a friend was great. Making marinara was humbling because it put it into perspective for us how much work it takes to produce. I’ll never buy marinara sauce from the store without reflecting on the experience I had of how long it took us to make a few jars of our own.
Passing on the joy of canning to her was delightful. Then again, working together in the kitchen with a friend always is!
Get some tomatoes while they’re still in season and make something with a friend. If you don’t know how to can, find a friend and start! It’s a great activity to do together and lets you utilize fresh ingredients. We used a marinara recipe from America’s Test Kitchen with very few modifications (a little more garlic and basil, strained some of the tomato water off the top during cooking process). Marinara is a tasty, practical use for lots of tomatoes. Be sure to simmer for the full 1 1/2- 2 hours to allow the sauce to thicken properly.
Recipe (from ATK, slightly modified)
20 pounds tomatoes
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (more to taste)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Makes 4 quarts and a little extra
1. Blanch the tomatoes by dropping into boiling water for about 30 seconds, put into ice water, remove, peel the skin, core and quarter them. Process the tomatoes in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer into a large pot.
2. Using a microplane, grate the garlic. Add to pot.
3. Add the tomato paste, basil, salt, and pepper to the pot. Stir thoroughly. Now, you can transfer half of the mixture into another pot to speed up the reduction process, or leave it all in one. It will take much longer if you leave it in one pot.
4. Bring the pot(s) to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, stirring about every seven minutes. As tomato water surfaces, strain it off to speed the process up even more. The mixture will be much thicker by the time it is done.
5. Add sugar and vinegar. Taste, then add more salt or pepper if neccesary.
4. Transfer hot sauce to 4 hot, sterilized quart jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace at top, and process for 15 minutes, or longer if you are at a higher altitude.