This is not something I would recommend for everyone but I managed to cook up 250 lbs. of gorgeous Roma tomatoes and then can the marinara sauce all within a 24 hour period. This marathon event came about because a friend fell in love with a jar of my sauce I gifted her with! She recently went through some pretty extensive (read that horrifically painful) back surgery so I was willing to do anything to bring her some joy – and relieve a bit of stress for her. At the same time it was a blessing for me to be able to accomplish adding to our own food pantry! But I promise you as you can tell from the photos, I was one very tired mama at the end!
Her kitchen is a beautiful large one with a professional 6 burner gas stove top and vented that made cooking a pleasure. Dear Val and she and her mom chopped tomatoes for me coring them first and then chopping into smaller pieces. We prefer our marinara with the tomato skins and in small chunks however if you want, you can at this point run them through a blender to eliminate chunks for a smoother sauce. You can also run the sauce through a blender later when you go to use a jar. Val also chopped about 20-25 pounds of large onions. Then I was ready to begin cooking. I started cooking the first 50 pounds of tomatoes the night before in order to have some sauce ready to start canning right off the bat in the morning. That’s because we like the sauce cooked on slow for about 4 hours before actually canning it.
In a large pan I sautéed about 6 large ladle full of chopped onion. Naturally I use a good olive oil (but not the extra virgin – that is for salads). As they reached the translucent stage I added about 4 large cooking spoons (the big stainless ones used for cooking) of minced garlic. We are on a low salt regimen so I plan on about ¼ teaspoon of sea salt per quart jar. Each 50 lbs to tomatoes yields between 26 and 30 quarts of sauce depending on how long I allow it to cook down. Next step is to add several tablespoons of oregano and basil with one or two of parsley to this mixture. The tomatoes should be cooking in a larger pot at this point – it is important to stir them almost constantly to avoid sticking and burning. All of this is then added to the tomatoes and allowed to cook for a few hours! Next step is to have all the canning jars sterilized by boiling in hot water. Lids and rings should also be in hot water.
Using a wide mouth funnel, ladle the hot sauce into the jars bringing the level to just at the edge of the jar neck. Be careful to not over fill or the jars will not seal correctly later. Next comes a very important point to remember. When our grandmothers canned, the tomatoes were more likely to be more acidic than now. Americans especially wanted ours bred down to having less acid. Therefore either use a tspn. of lemon juice or a ¼ tsp. of citric acid. This is important to prevent spoilage after using a hot water bath canning method. If foods aren’t acidic they must be pressured canned for safety’s sake. Ball Canning Company sells a nifty little plastic tool made to push into the jars to be sure there is not trapped air. The little saw tooth steps are also used to measure the fill height of the jars when canning. Pretty neat tool that will not chip or scratch the jars like a knife might. At this stage I use a clean towel dipped in boiling water – not dripping – to wash edges of jars, the neck of them, and any drips on outside of the jars. The food on the top edges would prevent sealing and lead to spoiling. One last step is to then go over each jar edge again with a towel dampened with white vinegar – again to be sure edges are clean. Then place the jar lids out of the hot water onto tops of each jar, then finger tighten the jar rings on – don’t over tighten these. The put the jars into the boiling hot water being sure that they are fully submersed because water does boil off and they must stay covered under the boiling water for 45 minutes.
I have empty counter space covered with terry towels to protect the jars and counter and lift each jar out carefully. Leave a bit of room around each jar so that they have air circulating around them evenly – do not place directly in front of a fan or under air vents or the jars may explode from such a sudden air temperature change. You will begin to hear the wonderful pings or pops of each jar as they seal! Val and I enjoy this step feeling very proud that each one seals so completely!
Towards the end of our marathon I stopped long enough to feed our granddaughter and my friends two children and our husbands some great pasta and marinara sauce – to the bravos and complements of course! Because it was a school night, we packed our car back up with all our big pans, canners, and the last sixty pounds of chopped tomatoes. Back home I finished cooking sauce that evening and then canned it all in the morning. Our final count was 125 quarts of marinara! We did discover one big problem in all this. Even though my friend and I split this bounty, it is not nearly enough for our pantry – everyone has been eating it already and I suspect we will be running out way too fast!