Summer in a jar

A mix of tomatoes skinned and ready to chop for sauce.
A mix of tomatoes skinned and ready to chop for sauce.

Tomato season is in full swing. I love that smell that comes off the leaves and stalks when you pick a tomato. It says summer like almost nothing else.

I didn’t have any in my garden this year because we were away during the crucial weeks, but I had a lovely windfall yesterday, when I received a delivery of several bags of them off my step-dad’s prolific plants in Geelong. There were three kinds: glorious big, fat beefsteaks; romas; and some cherry tomatoes, some of which were getting a little past their best.

I used a whole bunch in my favourite fresh (uncooked) tomato pasta sauce, which I’ve talked about before. I kept a couple of the big beefsteaks aside for the weekend and the rest went into a saucepan to be cooked up and put in jars.

Making tomato sauce can be as complicated or simple as you like. I’ve done (with a friend) the big production line thing with cases full, creating a sauce with oil, onion, garlic, basil and tomatoes. I’ve used those hand-turned processors that remove the skin and seeds and leave you with clear pulp. My sister takes the easiest way of all and puts them whole in bags in the freezer, and she says it works brilliantly (I haven’t tried this yet, haven’t had the freezer space). They’re all wonderful ways to have real, sun-ripened tomatoes at hand in the cooler months.

But today I kept in simple, since I didn’t have a huge amount of produce or a lot of time – just more tomatoes than I would be able to use before they went bad.

Full of seeds, but I don’t care! Still-piping-hot jars of simple tomato sauce.

The simplest tomato sauce

Grab some jars and put the jars and the lids in an oven at 100C. Wash them if you need to, you can put them wet in the oven, but if you do, place them on the shelf upside down, or drain them carefully first of any excess water. You’ll have to leave them long enough to sterilise the jars. And to be hot enough that they won’t crack when you put the hot tomato liquid into them.

Skin your tomatoes. An easy way is to pop them in boiling water for a a couple of minutes, then transfer them to cold water for a minute. The skins should peel off with ease. Leave them in a bowl and discard the water that collects at the bottom.

If  you’re doing this really properly, you’d get rid of the seeds too, but they don’t bother me, so I left them.

Chop the skinned tomatoes into small chunks and place them in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and keep them at a steady boil for about 10 minutes, but if it starts getting too thick you can stop earlier. This is both to thicken the sauce by boiling off excess liquid and to make sure they are thoroughly cooked (and killing any dangerous bacteria). You will have to stir it.

IMG_9026When it’s ready to your satisfaction, grab a jar (carefully) out of the oven and ladle it full of the hot tomato sauce. Don’t let either the sauce or the jars cool down before you fill the jars. Seal with the lid immediately. Continue till it’s all done. As the jars cool, a solid vacuum seal will develop (you’ll usually hear the pop of the lid being sucked down), which helps to keep the food for longer.

This is a really simple method of keeping food and it works best with jams and chutneys where the food is full of other preservatives, like sugar, vinegar, salt. Those will keep for a long time, quite safely.

I wouldn’t trust this method to keep this kind of simple tomato sauce for anywhere near as long as that, because there are no added preservatives to help, but it should still be fine for quite a few weeks.

Timing won’t really be really a problem for me, because I’ll probably be needing them almost as soon as the tomato season is over.

Corinna Hente


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