Friday, August 27, 2010

Tomato Sauce Tips

Making a thick rich tomato juice with homegrown tomatoes, is always my ideal goal. This tomato juice can then be canned or turned into ketchup or barbecue sauce.

Even on a dry year like we've experienced this summer, tomatoes contain a lot of water and there are several options to thicken watery tomato sauce.
  • Cook the tomatoes down with the lid off to evaporate the water.
  • Add tomato paste to the sauce.
  • Add cornstarch, clear gel, or therm flo to the sauce. (Cornstarch will sometimes separate when used in freezing and canning. Clear gel is better then cornstarch for canning. Therm flo is even better for canning or freezing - if you can find it. I purchase it at a bulk food store.)
None of these options are perfect in my mind. Cooking takes heat and energy. I hate to purchase paste when I'm drowning in tomatoes from the garden. I usually use a thickener like clear gel but it doesn't do anything for flavor.

This year I accidentally found a way to thicken tomato sauce that worked very well.

Since my tomatoes were ripening slowly, I washed, cored, and halved the tomatoes, placed then in containers and large bags and stored them in the freezer. When I acquired a nice amount of tomatoes (in other words, couldn't fit any more tomatoes in the freezer) I pulled then all out and thawed overnight. I was surprised the next morning to find that the tomatoes had all condensed together and a clear liquid surrounded them. I poured off this water, allowed them to sit for an hour, again poured off the liquid and proceeded with my recipe. The resulting sauce was the thickest and richest I have ever made!

I was telling my sister-in-law my discovery and she said that to make pizza sauce, she blends her tomatoes raw (skin on but not the cores) and lets the puree sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, the water has separated to the bottom. She ladles out the thick tomato sauce on top and dumps the water.

Another benefit I found from freezing tomatoes is that they are already soft. I did not cook the tomatoes to make juice. I just put them through the food mill raw. It was so much easier then trying to ladle hot tomatoes.

And my last break through - use the food mill outside! I always had my kitchen splattered from floor to ceiling by the time I finished making tomato juice! I'm not sure why I never thought of doing it out on the deck on the picnic table! The clean up was so simple!

I'd love to hear your tomato tips!

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party
and Kitchen Tip Tuesday.


  1. This is my first year to can tomatoes and garden as well actually! ;o)
    This is a great tip and I will sure be using it next year, as my tomatoes are about done now.
    Thanks so much for sharing!
    Especially working outside to make clean up easier! Love that!
    Here is a tip that may or may not be useful for you.
    Thanks, Kristin

  2. That is a great idea. I often freeze my tomatoes as they come in slowly. I wait for enough to do a big batch. I also like using my food mill outside. I hate all the mess inside. A water hose makes cleanup so easy.

  3. Brilliant! Children cranking the handle, it beats energy, use up their fizzy energy....what a lovely colour too xxx

  4. I have no tips for tomatoes but I did want to saw what lovely pictures those are!

  5. Great tips! Can I rent a few little ones to crank that mill outside!!! I was soaked; through the apron, through my shirt...soaked. And mine has a splash guard...I bet your little Toe Heads had freckles!!! I had the same happen when I was too tired to get the "sauce" canned. So it sat in the frig and separated! Did you use the mill funnel with the smallest holes...I was wondering if I used the next one up if I'd get better results???Probably just more seeds!!!

  6. Diane -
    I used the next size up - not the smallest. It is the one I usually use for tomatoes and applesauce. And I have no problem with seeds!

  7. Great tips, Gina! I hadn't thought to throw out the separated watery liquid (duh) ;-) I do like your sis-in-law and run them through the blender or food processor with skins on ~ so easy/fast and much better for my acid-sensitive skin =)

    Not much garden this year amidst moving, so just need to find tomatoes for our salsa...
    I chop the onions and peppers in the food processor too. And cook it all in a NESCO type roaster =)

  8. How blessed you are to have such good little helpers. And the wonderful news is that good little helpers grow up to be great big helpers. :)

  9. We've always put our tomatoes through the food mill raw, then cooked the sauce down. (We have a Presto brand.)

    A few years ago, my husband decided to line the pan we catch the sauce in with a double thickness of cheesecloth. We scoop it out and put it into the stockpot to cook it, with some of the water already left behind.

    Not as effective as freezing, but I usually don't dirty the food mill until I have enough to process so I'm happy for any time savings.

  10. This is great! OK I have a couple of questions everyone else probably already knows the answers to. :) If you don't have a food mill, can you still make tomato sauce like that? Also, if the sauce is cold, do you heat it up before ladling it into jars and then putting them into the canner?

  11. And I was just going to make sauce today!!! Thanks for sharing your tips for thicker sauce.

  12. What a great tip! Where I live in the PacNW, the tomatoes are coming in too slow and I wanted to can them!

    Quick question - I have never canned tomatoes and I have been reading that you are supposed to skin the tomatoes. With your freezer method, do you take off the skins still? Please respond!! This will determine how my sauce turns out :) LOL

  13. Tauna -

    I use a food mill only for things I want perfectly smooth like tomato juice. For pizza/spaghetti sauce I just run it through the blender or food processor. We don't mind some texture in our sauce.

    I did not heat up my juice before putting it in the jars and canning it. But this is the first time I tried this - so I'm not saying that it was the way to go! I made sure I canned it good and long and all the jars sealed.

    Hope that helps! And if any of you have better answers - please share!

  14. Shannon -
    Whether I skin my tomatoes depends upon what I'm doing with them. I don't skin tomatoes if I'm putting them through a food mill or if I'm blending them into pizza sauce. But if I'm making salsa or just canning diced tomatoes, I do skin them.

    Hope that helps!

  15. Love the idea to freeze to release the liquid! I was wondering how I was going to process such small batches as they trickle in. I always use tomato paste for thickener, but it kills me because I'd rather it be all fresh

    1. Locate some paste tomatoes or seeds (juicy types as well if that's what you want) that are determinate types. They won't ripen in small batches and "trickle in." Determinate tomatoes will bear heavily for a short time, about one month and then peter out. There are Roma seeds that are determinate and some indeterminate (ripen at a moderate rate until frost but not heavily at one time) and there are Rutgers that are determinate and indeterminate. Determinate is a good way to go for canning/processing.

  16. That is brilliant! I actually have a food mill I bought from Lehman's and it says that I can put my tomatoes through there without cooking them so that is what I do. I just wash them and I don't even core them, I just cut them in half (because I use romas) and put them through the mill. BUT this year, I washed them and halved them and then I cooked them on the stove just until they were soft and then I drained the water off and ran them through the food mill and they were more saucy than juicy and I put them in my two Crock pots, with the lids vented, overnight and in the morning I canned the sauce. It worked for me pretty well. I just put the Crock pots on low.

  17. Fantastic post! I love the idea of having them freeze and then thaw... I am definitely going to try it (if I ever get any ripe tomatoes here in Oregon). Ugh!

  18. Fabulous tomato sauce ideas! We are doing all 410 lbs of our tomatoes this weekend and this will save so much time on the sauce!! Thanks!

  19. What a wonderful discovery! Now if I just had enough tomatoes to try making my own sauce...

  20. Looks delicious!! I only made sauce once last year and it was a little runny. I just added more tomato paste when I was ready to use it. Thanks for the tips!

  21. Thanks for this, Gina! I did this with my pizza sauce (with the small amount of tomatoes I had last week) and it was much easier and cut the cooking time in half. Thanks so much for sharing this at the TGP. :-)

  22. I just wanted to come back and thank you for how beautiful my sauce turned out today! I've been trying your freezer trick & there was just a ton of water I poured off. The finished product is thick and beautiful and doesn't have the layer of water sitting on top like my other batches this year. Each one gallon bag yielded about a quart of sauce if that helps anyone else doing this.


  23. I'll have to remember this for next year. We did not grow enough tomatoes to get everything we needed. Sauce is the one thing I did not do. I am still getting tomatoes but I am making spaghetti sauce out of them since my recipe calls for diced. Using the food mill outside, wish I had thought that. Great idea, I'm going to bookmark this post for net year.


I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!


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