Tomato Sauce (in Bulk, for Canning)

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

by Cat, Dec 2007 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Homemade Tomato Paste (For Canning, Freezing, Refrigeration)2. Preserving & Using Tomatoes; 3. Basic Meatless Tomato Sauces

Research has revealed that the nutrient value of tomatoes is increased by cooking (but not by overcooking), so indulge in a good tomato sauce frequently.  This is a basic tomato sauce that can be used to create sauces for many different recipes.

If you like to can, and have access to locally grown ripe tomatoes, I suggest making a huge batch and sealing it in glass jars.  This can then be used instead of commercially canned sauces in recipes throughout the winter.

The canning instructions are for hot-bath method, but most sources recommend pressure canning because many tomatoes are not acidic enough to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria when the hot bath method is used. So, if you intend to use the hot bath method, determine the pH of your tomatoes before beginning and add acid until the right pH is reached. OR assume your tomatoes are not acidic enough and use the recommended acid additions included below.

If you want to can a meaty tomato sauce (such as my Bolognese Tomato Sauce), you MUST use a pressure canner.

Canning a Basic Tomato Sauce (Hot-Bath Method)

This is an excellent basic sauce using locally-grown sun-ripened-on-the-vine tomatoes, in the summer.  To make this last through the winter, make it in huge batches and then seal in glass jars.  You’ll be glad you did when bleak January comes and you’re craving baked manicotti or moussaka.

This recipe is adapted from The New Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, and makes about 25 quarts of sauce, but you will need at least 30 quart jars (or 15 half-gallon jars) to hold your chopped or pureed tomatoes before cooking.

When using a hot-bath method, your tomatoes may not be acidic enough to keep bad bugs like botulism out of the sauce. I highly recommend acidifying any tomatoes; See Culinary Cafe (3) for tips on acidifying your tomatoes:

“Add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes. For pints, use one tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid. Acid can be added directly to the jars before filling with product. Add sugar to the sauce to offset acid taste, if desired.

4 Tbsp of a 5% acidity vinegar per quart may be used instead of lemon juice or citric acid. However, vinegar may cause undesirable flavor changes.”

[NOTE: If you use a pressure-canner method, you do not need to acidify them, but the result will not be as nutritious because of the damage to the tomatoes from the high heat & pressure.]

This recipe calls for fresh basil, which is delicious, but I like to make some with oregano rather than basil, for use in Greek dishes; then I label accordingly.

Ingredients and Equipment

  • 100 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 4 – 5 heads of garlic
  • several big bunches of fresh basil (or different herbs such as bay or oregano)
  • Unrefined sea salt, & pepper
  • 1 quart olive oil
  • 30 quart, or 15 half-gallon glass canning jars, with lids and rings.
  • Lemon juice or citric acid (to acidify as needed)
  • Large stock pot (or canning pot) to sterilize jars and for canning the sauce.
  • 2 or 3 quart stainless steel or enameled saucepan
  • very large stainless steel or enameled stock pot

Method:  Make the Sauce

  1. Peel tomatoes, trim off the stems; chop coarsely.  If you want a smoother puree, you don’t need to peel the tomatoes, just chop a bit and press through a food mill.  Set aside in quart or half-gallon jars (for quick measure).
  2. Chop garlic and set aside.
  3. Wash, dry and chop basil ( *or other herbs).
  4. Work in batches using 1 quart or half-gallon of chopped or pureed tomatoes at a time, to cook the sauce.
  5. For each quart of prepared tomatoes:
    • Warm 1 Tbsp oil in saucepan over medium heat.
    • Saute 2 tsp chopped garlic for about 45 seconds, then pour in the quart of chopped tomatoes.  Add basil (or oregano or bay), 1/2 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper.
    • Cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until sauce thickens like a commercial tomato sauce.
    • You can add the lemon juice or citric acid at this point, or add it to the prepared jars just below adding the sauce to the jars.
    • Repeat with next batch of tomatoes.  When all are finished, combine in one huge stock pot, stir together, and adjust seasoning as needed.

Method:  Prepare Jars for Canning

  1. While the sauce is cooking, wash jars in warm soapy water and rinse well with very hot water.
  2. Fill large stockpot or canning pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add washed jars, with lids and rings and simmer for a few minutes to sterilize.
  3. Remove jars, lids and rings with tongs, and place upside down on a clean towel until you are ready to fill the jars.  They should be dry before filling.  Keep the water in the pot at a low boil.

Method:  Sealing the Jars of Sauce

NOTE: This method is for hot-bath canning; if you wish to pressure can, please refer to the instructions for your canner.

  1. Using a ladle, fill jars to within half an inch of top.  Wipe the rims of each jar until absolutely clean and dry.  Fill enough jars to fill the stockpot/canning pot in one layer.  Screw lid on tightly for each jar.
  2. Place jars in boiling water bath and keep them completely submerged (add more water as necessary) for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove jars from boiling water and line them up on a counter or table to cool; listen for the ping of each lid, as the vacuum seal is formed.  If a lid does not seal properly, take it off, wipe the rim of the jar again, put on a fresh lid, and reprocess (in boiling water).
  4. Let the sealed jars cool and label them with a date.  Keep in a cool, dark pantry.


  1. The New Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas
  2. Global Gourmet on peeling tomatoes:
  3. Culinary Cafe:

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