Tomato Processing 101

We are at Defcon 5 in the Tomato War now…the tomatoes keep advancing and threatening to take over the house, but we keep fighting back with Weapons of Mass Deliciousness! My wife is mostly engaged in tomato to mouth combat…she’s eating sliced tomatoes with sea salt and evaluating for appearance, taste, and texture.  I’m not much for eating a lot of plain, raw tomatoes, so I am a bit more creative with my tomato warfare strategies. I like to let the tomatoes think they are getting the upper hand, then I plan a mass assault with the KitchenAid Food Strainer.

Today I’ll show you the basic steps I follow to process tomatoes for juice and sauce.  The sauce can be used a bajillion ways such as spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, tomato jam, tomato chutney, taco sauce, or pretty much anything else you can think of.

Start with a batch of any kind of ripe tomatoes you have.  If you’re wanting more juice, stick with the Brandywines, Mortgage Lifters, Cherokee Purples, and other super juicy tomatoes.  If you’re wanting more sauce, use Romas, Opalkas, or other paste types.  Don’t be afraid to mix varieties of tomatoes as this lends a very deep and complex flavor to your sauce and juice.  You can also use only one type to make a yellow sauce or a black sauce (trust me on this one…one day, make a sauce made of only black tomatoes!)

Give the tomatoes a good rinse.

Then cut them into pieces that will fit into your food mill.  Make sure you trim off any bruised areas, or spots where bugs or cracks have cut deep into the tomatoes.  Larger tomatoes may need to be cored before cutting.

The type of food mill you use is up to your budget or whatever you have available to you.  We have a KitchenAid Mixer and bought the attachment kit that has a food strainer and meat grinder.  We used to use one called a Rigamonti that has a suction cup base and a hand crank.  It worked very well and I processed several years’ worth of tomatoes with it and it performed flawlessly, but since we bought the Kitchen Aide it has sat idle in a box.  They sell for $60 new plus shipping.  If any of you would like this one, I’ll sell it for $40.  It’s a great machine, just requires a bit of elbow grease to make some great sauce.

When I process the tomatoes, I like to let the juice fall into a strainer over a pan to separate the heavy tomato solids (sauce) from the lighter liquids (juice).

Out of the end of the strainer comes what I like to call “tomato turds”  This contains the skins and seeds.  I let these plop into a bowl, then when I’m done processing all of the tomatoes, I run the “turds” through the strainer again to get the rest of the juice and pulp out. You end up with almost no juice or pulp wasted this way.

(My wife wanted me to edit the word “turd” and replace it with “poop”, I’m sticking to my guns for the sake of alliteration!)

The juice and sauce will last about a week in the refrigerator for you to use, but if you have too much, you’ll want to preserve it for later use.  If you’re new to canning, make sure you check out Ball’s Canning Guidelines to make sure your food is completely safe.

After I’ve processed all of the tomatoes, I add some salt to taste and bring the juice to a full boil.  I add a teaspoon of lemon juice to my sterile jars, then add the hot juice to the jars making sure to leave some head space.

I then clean the rims of the jars, seal with a sterilized lid, lightly screw on a jar ring, then put them in a hot water bath for 30 minutes.

For my sauce, I keep it pretty simple.  I cook it down for several hours to thicken it.  I’ve cooked sauce 12 hours or more to get it to the right consistency.  I add nothing at all to it except for a teaspoon of lemon juice to the jars and preserve the same way I preserve juice.  When we cook with the sauce throughout the year, we add whatever seasonings we need for the recipe…oregano, garlic, fresh herbs, or whatever.

Well…I hope you now have a strategy to help you win the Tomato Battle!

Next weekend I’ll have a Tomato Tasting primer blog where I’ll talk about labeling tomatoes that you’re bringing as well as a way to judge the different varieties you’ll try so that you can make concrete descriptions of what makes a tomato your favorite.

Two weeks from now, we’ll all be basking in the glory of tasting more types of tomatoes than we’ve ever tried before!  I can’t wait!  RSVP if you haven’t already!


  1. PlazaJen said

    Actually, I didn’t think either word was appropriate for food blogging, but whatever! I get no respect. 😉

  2. I was just thinking as I tended the garden today: when all these green Mortgage Lifters and Kellogs Breakfast start to ripen all at once, I’m going to have to get a game plan to deal with the volume.

  3. […] A post about canning tomato sauce and juice. […]

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