Canning Homemade Tomato Sauce

I haven’t really canned many tomatoes, mainly because while living in Chicago because the second the tomatoes would take on even a smidgen of that pinkish hue they get before they turn bright red, the squirrels would run up the stems, knock them off, take one bite, and then leave them.  It made me ridiculously angry! In Chicago I could never find tomatoes priced low enough to make my own tomato sauce, so I never did (although I did do salsa – and have no idea where my delicious recipe went). Now we’re back in Michigan and it’s a different story. We went up North for a week long vacation and when I got home on Thursday I had tomatoes galore! OMG so exciting! I ate a ton and still had a ton left. Saturday my husband, the little one and I FINALLY got down to Eastern Market last weekend to explore (the little one got to play a xylophone with this guy, it was amazing!) and buy some stuff – guess what? They had tomatoes galore! I figured I had about 10 pounds at home and decided to buy enough to supplement those and make some homemade tomato sauce. Why? Because I have to try it AND I also want to try a new salsa recipe that calls for tomato sauce. If you don’t feel like canning or have tomatoes that aren’t perfect (with cracks or very minimal damage) you could make this sauce and simply freeze it. I ended up doing that with a batch.

Have you canned before? If not, please read up on what botulism can do to you and be absolutely sure you follow all directions correctly. Also make sure that your recipe sources are legit – I see a TON of people publishing canned salsa recipes, etc that are definitely NOT SAFE! Tomatoes are one of the trickier canned products, mainly because they are acidic but not acidic enough to can by themselves. Because of this, we have to add something acidic to the sauce, like lemon juice. Now, not just any old lemon juice will work (contrary to popular believe) because according to the canning gurus, some lemons are less acidic than others; therefore, you need to use bottled lemon juice. AND just so you know, after further digging I have discovered that not all bottled lemon juice is ok either, they recommend ReaLemon or ReaLime bottled juice because the company keeps the juices at a standard acidity. I made two batches of this sauce, the first using my organic lemon juice from Costco and unfortunately I found out later that it’s acidity is not stable; therefore, I cannot be absolutely, 100% sure that it will keep the icky bacteria/toxins from growing in my canned goods. Because of this, I froze my sauce. Phew…. I know, it sounds ridiculous and honestly, maybe it is. People have been canning for 100’s of years BUT now that I have a little one I’m feeding I just can’t imagine risking it.

For all canning, you’ll need to know the basics such as properly sanitizing your tools and jars and how to water bath can. I would recommend reading this post from Ball on canning basics.  Before you get started make sure you have all of your canning supplies, the products I recommend are available via the following affiliate links. When you click through the link and make a purchase, I make a small commission to help fund my blog (it doesn’t have to be what I’m recommending and you’ll never get charged more). My full disclosure is here. You will need something like I have, this – Granite Ware Canning Kit, 9-Piece that includes the enamel pot and rack, a funnel, a jar grabber, a head space measuring tool, and Ball Pint Mason Jars Wide-Mouth jars with lids and bands (you could use quart size also). For this recipe I would also recommed getting this Victorio VKP250 Food Strainer and Sauce Maker. I just got it to make this sauce and did a lot of research on which one to buy. Apparently this is preferred by the pros so I went with it.

Canned Homemade Tomato Sauce

Makes 6 Quarts of a thicker sauce (for me, may vary) From the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, the actual recipe can be found here

40 lbs Disease Free, Healthy, Fresh Tomatoes

Ball Citric Acid or bottled lemon juice (ReaLemon)

Canning Salt (optional)


Prepare your jars and lids… Here’s how I do it. The jars, I put them in the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle and use them when they’re still warm from there or….if they have already cooled, I place them into the boiling water bath for about 10 or so minutes while I’m preparing whatever I’m canning. I have also taken them out of the dishwasher and set them on a baking sheet in the over at 200 degrees and kept them there until I’m ready to use them. Just don’t forget that they’re hot!

For lids and bands, I was them by hand in soapy water. Then the bands get dried and set aside, the lids get dumped in a small saucepot over the smallest burner I have over the lowest heat possible. This keeps the lids warm enough to activate the sealent on the edges but not too hot (apparently boiling them could lead to seal failure).

Now wash and sort your tomatoes. I got 2 batches, 1 that is good to can because they tomatoes are fresh and good and a second that seems a bit too ripe, some with cracks, some with the beginnings of Antharanse 🙁 . Your fruit should be fresh, free from cracks and disease free. It can be bruised, you just need remove any bruised or discolored parts of the fruit.

Take your first 6 tomatoes, core and quarter them and place them in a large stock pot, let them heat up a bit and crush them with a potato masher to release the juices. Bring this to a vigorous boil, while stirring pretty consistently. Continue chipping and adding quartered tomatoes.

Once all of your tomatoes have been added (I had about 20 lbs for each batch) continue boiling and stirring for 10 minutes to release all of the juices then remove it from the heat.  Time to strain! You’ll probably have to work in a few batches here.  Move your tomatoes near your Victorio strainer and run the tomatoes through it to remove the skins and seeds.  Return the juice and pulp to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to medium high and continue to cook until reduced by 1/3 for a thinner sauce or 1/2 for a thicker sauce.

Before you fill the jars with the sauce you must add your lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon per pint or 2 tablespoons per quart. If you want to add salt, add 1/2 tsp per pint and 1 tsp per quart. Ladle into hot jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Make sure you remove air bubbles and adjust the headspace if needed. Then center the lid and screw on the band, tightening to finger-tip tight.

Process in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes per pint, 40 minutes per quart. Start timing once the water has started boiling.  Turn off heat, remove bath lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove from canner,  and let cool upright for 24 hours. Check your seals.


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