Tomato Sauce: an Art and a Process

Robert McKeon Aloe
Nov 3, 2018 · 5 min read

Come autumn, it’s time to make sauce. Not just a little sauce. I make sauce for the entire year in one week. It is work, and the gratification is delayed and spread out over a long period of time, but that’s how most good things in life occur, especially in work. If you’re interested, here is the process I go through each year.

I started making tomato sauce because my wife’s family is Italian, and they make sauce every year. I loved the sauce and the process, so I learned how to do it. Then, when we moved out to California, if we wanted a sauce supply for the year, we were entirely responsible as we could no longer depend on her Nana. I decided I was going to do it, and I quite enjoy it.

Grow and/or Pick and/or Buy

The first year I made sauce, I grew my own tomatoes. The issue is always volume. In California, I don’t have the space for a big garden (read 150 square feet) like in Pennsylvania, so I buy my tomatoes.

I could pick them, and the first year, I did pick them the first time I went. It was hard work, and my hands were covered in a layer of dirt. I also found out that you can buy them cheaper if you buy the overly ripe tomatoes. If you pick them, you need to leave them to ripen for about a week. Overly ripe means a good chunk is ready to be made into sauce.

So I drive to Brentwood to Smith Family Farms. Most years, I buy over 100 lbs of Roma tomatoes. Some people use other varieties, but Roma has the flavor I like. Last year it was 120 lbs, and this year it was only 75 lbs. I had some left over, and in looking at the schedule, I just needed less.

Selection and Washing

I lay them all out on a table, and then I have to select which tomatoes are ripe enough. I do this by slightly squeezing them, and it takes a little bit of time to calibrate, but the aim is that they are not firm. Will they rot by tomorrow? If so, they’re ready for sauce. Usually, it takes me 5 to 7 days, and I spend around 2 hours to produce 4 to 8 liters of sauce.

Then I wash them all. Those fields are dusty!

Trim and Boil

Let’s get the table setup, get the equipment out.

Now, for each tomato, cut off the top and bottom, then slice in half. Discard the top/bottom. Also, cut off mold if any and check the inside for any mold.

Put this pot on the stove, cover, and bring to a boil. I usually fill up two pots halfway so they can start to boil while I cut the other portion of tomatoes. There are many ways to streamline this process like below where I have my waste pot in the middle of a pot (now empty) of washed tomatoes to then get cut and put into the pot to boil.

Food Mill

After the tomatoes are super soft and falling apart from boiling (about 10 minutes of a good boil), put them through a food mill.

After you run a batch through once, run the junk through a second time to get thicker sauce.

If I have more than one pot, I split the sauce output of the first pot into the two pots and the same for the second pot. This causes the sauce to be more homogeneous between pots because the second pot will always be thicker due to the pieces of tomato being run through the mill multiple times.

Then let the sauce cool down.

Clean Up

Tomato remnants on the equipment comes off best when it is wet and warm just after being used.

Storage

My wife’s family jars the sauce, but I don’t have that equipment or time, so I freeze mine. I measure each bag to be 1 kg which should be about 1 liter of sauce. Also, add two leaves of basil to each bag. This means growing or buying basil. I usually grow it. Make sure you label the bags because yo

Ready

Weigh and Bag!

Done for the night, throw it in the freezer!

Frozen

Usage

To use, I have defrost the bag, and then cook it. Usually, this takes 1 to 1.5 hours.

  1. Start with oil and garlic in a pot (optional country ribs or sausage, brown in the pot).
  2. Heat until you can smell the garlic but before it burns.
  3. Add the sauce and some salt.
  4. Bring to a boil, cover.
  5. Reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes
  6. Uncover, reduce to consistence desired, and salt to taste.

The End

Overall, I ended up with about 25 bags of sauce. I may have gotten a little more than 75 lbs; I didn’t weight it out exactly when I bought it. However, I did weigh each stage to give an estimate of weight loss during the process.

Overall, the sauce is delicious every year, and it drives me to continue the process. I think it builds key characteristics like commitment, persistence, and delayed gratification.

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