Here's How to Make Homemade Red Sauce For the Entire Year
There's something about tradition that can help make food taste so much better. That said, for the past 13 summers, my family and our close friends have been coming together one weekend to make unforgettable memories and to make homemade tomato sauce for an entire year.
Call us crazy, but the sauce tastes so delicious that no matter what each of us has going on, we drop everything to come home to Toms River, New Jersey, to endure the one ton of tomatoes we order from a local Jersey farm. Plus, with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it's really convenient to have fresh, homemade sauce on hand for those Sunday dinners and beyond.
The sauce-making process takes two long days, but it's always worth it, as the reward lasts 365 days. And while you may think making a surplus of tomato sauce is difficult and complex, it's actually not as hard as you think.
Here's my family tradition, broken down into steps so you can see all that goes into this fun foodie weekend we've been doing for more than a decade.
Using this recipe will make approximately 120-130 jars of homemade tomato sauce at your own home.
Order the tomatoes.
In order to make tomato sauce, you of course need the tomatoes, as they are the main ingredient. For this sauce, we ordered New Jersey plum tomatoes from a local farm, so I suggest ordering plum tomatoes for your sauce as well. San Marzano tomatoes are delicious, but they are on the pricier size and yield less sauce.
For this homemade tomato sauce recipe, you will need nine bushels of plump and juicy tomatoes.
Clean the tomatoes.
The tomatoes will likely come very dirty from the farm, so we wash all of our tomatoes with hose water in a baby pool. No one wants a dirt-filled sauce! Scrub each and every tomato with your hands to ensure no dirt is left behind, and then toss the clean tomatoes into an empty, clean bushel. Be sure to switch out the dirty water after washing every bushel.
Set up a tomato-cutting station.
Before cooking the tomatoes, cutting them is an essential part of the process. First, gather all the "cutters" you can for this—the more hands the merrier! We line up a table with chairs and put empty bushels on top of the table and bushels full of tomatoes next to the chairs so the cutters have easy access.
At this time, you will also need to gather rubber gloves to prevent cuts and pruning, knives to cut the tomatoes, and mixing bowls for all the scraps you cut away.
Cut the tomatoes.
It's now time to cut the nine bushels of washed tomatoes. (Warning: this may take a few hours, so make sure you have some of your favorite music playing in the background). To cut the tomatoes properly, slice them down the middle and then cut a "v" out of each side of the inside of the tomato. This technique will successfully remove the stem and the unwanted hard, white part of the tomato.
Toss those scraps into the mixing bowl on your lap, and then cut the tomato in quarters (cut each side of the tomato into two) and toss the cut pieces into an empty, clean bushel.
Continue to cut until every whole tomato is cut into fours. As you are filling up the bushels with cut tomatoes, cover every few layers with kosher salt (we use Morton's).
More importantly, before you cook the cut tomatoes, line the bushels up on a table in a tilted fashion, and allow time for some of the water to drain out of the tomatoes.
Begin to cook the cut tomatoes.
In a 60 quart pot, cook the cut tomatoes on a large burner by crushing them repeatedly with a big wooden spoon. You may need to do this in a few batches, or you can spread it out into three separate pots.
Understand when the cooked tomatoes are ready for the next step.
After three hours, you will notice that the tomatoes are very soft and basically already turned into red sauce, as the seeds will also be dispersed throughout. This means that you are ready to put the cooked tomatoes through a tomato presser, which will work to separate the seeds and skins.
Put the cooked tomatoes through a tomato presser.
Carefully use a small saucepan to scoop the tomato sauce out from the big pot and pour it into the top of the machine. I suggest wearing a glove on the hand that is going into the hot pot. Put a 90 quart pot at the end of the presser to collect the separated sauce.
The tomato presser will work to separate the seeds and the skin from the pulp of the tomato, which will result in a smooth sauce in that 90 quart pot. We put an aluminum tin at the spout of the presser to collect the skin and seeds to avoid a big mess.
Stir the big pot of sauce.
Once the big pot of sauce is filled from the tomato press, it's time to put that on a burner and stir it constantly for two hours to ensure the bottom doesn't burn. Beware: the smell is so good you may want to just jump right into the pot.
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Organize your ingredients to "fix" the sauce.
In order to make the sauce extra tasty, you will need some essential ingredients. For your nine bushels of tomatoes, peel six large white onions and chop them finely. Then, peel 10 whole bulbs of garlic and chop up all the cloves in a food processor. You will also need to clean a very large bushel of fresh basil. Chopping the basil is optional.
Time to saute.
In a 30 quart pot, pour a tin and a half of extra virgin olive oil, olive oil, or a mix of both. This will be for the chopped garlic, onions, and basil. Then add the chopped onions to the hot oil and cook until they are translucent. Add garlic to the hot oil and saute until the garlic is golden brown. Just be careful not to burn it!
Add the basil and seasoning to the fixings, then toss the fix into the sauce.
After the garlic is golden brown and the onions are translucent, toss in the basil, black pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes. When it comes to seasoning, use your judgment on how much. You can always add more seasonings to the big pot before you jar it.
It's now time to pour the tomato sauce that has been cooking for two hours and the fixings into a 120 quart pot. Once it is all mixed, add one cup of sugar. Let that cook while stirring constantly for at least two hours. Adjust the seasoning to your desire as the sauce cooks.
Set up your jarring station.
After two hours, your sauce will taste so delicious that you will be so excited to finally jar it (we give you permission to steal some for that night's pasta dinner!).
For an efficient and safe jarring process, it's important to set up a station. To do so, lay out all of your cleaned mason jars, lids, and rings.
There should also be an aluminum tin tray with paper towels on it to place a few jars at a time so they can be filled with sauce.
Jar your sauce.
Finally! You can now jar your sauce. Keep in mind that it takes a team of people to do so. First off, have one person put on a glove to protect their hand from burning, while someone else continually stirs the pot so it doesn't burn.
Have the person with the glove fill up a saucepan from the big pot and fill up each jar one by one. Just be sure to use a funnel so the sauce doesn't spill.
Caution: The jars will be extremely hot! Have someone else hold them with a dish towel and seal them tightly with the lids. The heat from the jar vacuum seals the lids, which is what makes the shelf life of the sauce so long.
Make sure to have someone else wipe each jar down with a dish towel to remove any excess sauce that may have dripped on the outside of the glass, and then place them into a case (usually cardboard) that holds 12 mason jars.
Enjoy your homemade sauce.
After all that hard work, it's finally time to eat your sauce! Nine bushels of sauce should yield 11 cases of 12 jars, which puts you at around 132 mason jars full of sauce. You can store the jars in a pantry or a garage for up to two years.
Enjoy your homemade sauce with your favorite pasta, or use it in different recipes like chicken Parmesan, eggplant Parmesan, bolognese, stuffed peppers, chili, meatballs, pizza, and more. And of course, give some away to friends and family for bragging rights. You did earn it, after all.