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Using Surplus Tomatoes: How to Make and Can Tomato Sauce in Three Steps

Turn tomatoes into sauce in three simple steps

Turn tomatoes into sauce in three simple steps

Use up surplus tomatoes from your garden and save money at the grocery store next winter by making and canning your own tomato sauce. It's a multi-step process, but the project is not that daunting when spread out over the course of two or three days. And it will be worth the effort next winter. There's nothing like a jar of homemade tomato sauce to whip up a quick and healthy pasta dinner or a pot of chili on a cold night.

Here's how to make and can your own tomato sauce in three simple steps:

Step 1: Juice the Tomatoes

You will need roughly 1-3/4 pounds of tomatoes for every pint jar of sauce produced. Because it's just as easy to make eight jars as it is one, I recommend starting with roughly 14 pounds of fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes. Paste tomatoes (my favorites are San Marzano and Amish Paste) make the best sauce, but any variety will work. For best results, use fully ripe fruit with no soft spots. Wash the tomatoes, remove the stems, and trim off any blemishes.

You have a few options for juicing the tomatoes. The old-fashioned way is a laborious process, which requires peeling and coring the tomatoes, heating them and then forcing them through a sieve to remove the seeds. Avoid the effort by investing one of the following handy kitchen gadgets:

  • The Victorio food strainer: Quarter the tomatoes and feed them into the hopper of this device, which clamps to the countertop. Turn the crank (bonus, this is a great upper arm workout!), and let the tomato juice flow.
  • KitchenAid stand mixer with food grinder and strainer attachments: This is more expensive option, but if you're already a proud owner of a KitchenAid stand mixer, invest in the attachments. The attachments work much the same way as the Victorio, but the electric motor of the mixer does all the hard work.

You will get about 4-1/2 quarts of juice, depending on ripeness and variety of tomato used.

If not proceeding immediately to Step 2, refrigerate the juice in a non-reactive container (e.g., glass) for up to two days.

A word about nutrition:

Vegetables begin to lose nutritional value upon harvest. Cook and preserve fresh tomatoes within a few days of harvest to optimize valuable nutrients, but remember that vitamins are lost during processing and further decline during storage.

Step 2: Make the Sauce

This recipe makes a versatile sauce that, after canning, can be cooked down to make pizza sauce, or spiced up for use in Italian or Mexican recipes.

Simple Tomato Sauce

1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)

3 cloves garlic, minced

4-1/2 quarts tomato juice

2 tsp salt

Heat olive oil in a large, non-reactive stock pot (i.e., stainless steel, not aluminum). Add onion and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and stir for one minute. Carefully pour in the tomato juice and add the salt. Cover the stock pot and turn the heat up to medium-high. When the sauce reaches a boil, uncover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for two hours to allow the sauce to thicken, stirring occasionally.

If not proceeding immediately to Step 3, remove the sauce from heat and cover. When the pot has cooled enough to handle, fill sink halfway with ice water. Set the covered pot in the sink to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the covered pot for up to 24 hours. When ready to process, return the sauce to boiling then turn down heat and keep sauce hot.

Step 3: Process the Sauce

The sauce is processed using the boiling-water canning method. Boiling-water canning (also called water bath canning) is one of two methods for safely home-canning food to prevent bacteria growth. The other is the pressure canning method.

Boiling-water canning is safely used for high-acid foods like tomatoes, pickles and fruit. Because of a risk of botulism if low-acid foods are not processed at high enough heat, the pressure canning method must be used to process any foods that have a pH value of greater than 4.6. Most tomatoes have a pH value of less than 4.6 and adding lemon juice or citric acid ensures all tomatoes may be processed safely in a boiling-water canner.

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The boiling-water canning method does not require the specialized (and somewhat scary) equipment of the pressure canning method. If you don't have an actual boiling water canner, typically made of porcelain-covered steel with a removable jar rack, you can make do with just about any large pot. Make sure 8 pint jars will fit in a single layer in the pot without touching and that the pot is deep enough to allow at least one inch of water to cover the jars during processing.

You will need 8 glass pint jars and 8 two-piece caps consisting of a flat metal lid with a built-in gasket and a metal screw band. Processing the jars and caps will create a vacuum seal that prevents bacteria from entering and preserves the jars' contents for later use. Use Mason-type jars made specifically for canning (Ball and Kerr are common brands). Either regular or wide-mouth jars may be used, just make sure the two-piece caps are of the corresponding size. The metal lids should be unused, less than 5 years old and free from defects.

Other Tools I Recommend:

  • Jar lifter: If your canner is not equipped with its own removable jar rack with lifting handles, this plastic-coated tools is made specifically for lifting canning jars in and out of the canner.
  • Lid wand: A magnetic tool used to transfer the lids from the hot water sterilization bath to the jars without touching them.
  • Wide mouth funnel: Use this tool to avoid messes when filling the jars with sauce.
  • Ladle: To fill the jars.
  • Tongs: Useful for pulling things out of the hot water sterilization bath.
  • Spatula: Use a thin plastic spatula to release any air bubbles in the jars. Do not use metal.

After assembling the equipment, fill the canner halfway with water and preheat to at least 180°F, but not to boiling. This hot water will be used to sterilize the jars and lids before using them. Sterilization is a key step in the process because it prevents the introduction of unwanted bacteria into the food. Have additional water heating in a tea kettle if needed.

Wash the empty jars in the dishwasher, or wash in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Submerge the clean jars in the hot water in the canner for at least 10 minutes, or until you are ready to fill them.

Wash the lids and screw bands in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Dry the bands and keep them clean and in a location that's easy to reach from where you'll be filling the jars. The lids should be submerged in hot, but not boiling, water until ready to use them. You may want to use a separate saucepan of hot water for this purpose, because it gets a bit tricky trying to fish the lids out of the big canner, or you can invest in a "lid rack" that has a long handle for lifting the lids out of the canner. A small plastic colander with a handle works well as a makeshift lid rack. Simply place the cleaned lids in the colander and submerge the colander in the hot water in the canner. Also sterilize any other tools you will be using, such as the ladle, funnel or spatula.

After the jars have been sterilized, add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice (do not use fresh-squeezed lemon juice) or 1/4 teaspoon powdered citric acid to each jar and fill with hot tomato sauce, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Release any air bubbles by running a plastic spatula along the inside of the jar. Wipe the jar rims with a clean damp cloth or paper towel to remove any food particles that may cause seal failures. Place the lid, gasket side down, on the jar rim and fit the metal screw band over the lid and tighten by hand. While the rings must be tight enough to prevent food from escaping as the jars are processed, do not over tighten as that may cause the lids to buckle or jars to break during processing.

Load the filled jars into the canner one at a time, using either a canning rack or jar lifter. If necessary, add more hot water so that there is at least one inch of water above the tops of the jars. Turn the heat up until the water begins boiling. Set a kitchen timer for 35 minutes to start the processing time. Cover the canner with the lid and lower the heat just enough to maintain a gentle boil for the entire 35 minutes.

After boiling the jars for the entire 35 minute processing time, turn off the heat and remove the lid of the canner. Carefully remove the hot jars from the canner using a jar lifter and place them on a wooden cutting board covered with a kitchen towel. Leave at least an inch between the cooling jars. The jars are very hot. Do not attempt to retighten the bands or check the seals.

During the cooling time, which may take 12 hours or more, you may hear popping noises as the jars seal. The noise is the result of the vacuum created when the cooling sauce contracts, fusing the lid to the jar. After the jars have cooled completely, you can test the seal by applying pressure to the center of the lid. If the lid doesn't move, it is sealed. If it depresses and makes a popping sound, the seal has failed. In that case, the jar should be refrigerated and the contents used within two weeks.


Remove the screw bands from the sealed jars and wipe the jars with a clean damp cloth to remove any hard water residue. Label the lid with the contents and date processed and store in a cool, dark, dry place.

Sealed jars will not spoil if stored between 50° and 70°F. Quality does decline over time, however. Use canned tomato sauce within a year of processing for best results.

Bonus Step: Enjoy Your Efforts Next Winter

Even though your garden may be covered in snow, spring doesn't seem so far away when you’re eating something you grew just a few feet outside your back door. Here's a quick recipe for a cold winter night:

Pasta with Easy Bolognese Sauce


While boiling water and cooking pasta, heat olive oil in a deep-sided skillet. Sauté onion and carrot over medium low heat until onion is translucent and carrot has softened, about 10 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until beef is browned. Drain off any excess fat. Add tomato sauce, salt, pepper and oregano. Heat to just boiling and turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in cream. Serve over spaghetti and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a green salad.

Serves two.


2 servings whole wheat spaghetti, cooked as directed on box

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1 pint tomato sauce

1/2 tsp salt

Fresh ground pepper to taste

1/2 tsp dried oregano

2 T cream

Freshly grated parmesan cheese


Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 06, 2012:

Thanks for the comments, Dneise, vocalcaoch, viewfinders, and newusedcars. We had a freeze here last night so I picked the rest of my tomatoes yesterday and am making the last batch of sauce today. I always hate to see the garden die, but on the other hand, there will be a lot less work to do!

newusedcarssacram from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A on September 27, 2012:

Thanks for sharing such an wonderful idea. Now I find something new to try.

viewfinders from India on September 27, 2012:

thanks for sharing such a detailed article, voted up and sharing.

Going for it.....

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 27, 2012:

Perfect timing Deborah. My tomato bush is showing signs of what may be the last of my tomatoes for the year. Great hub. Absolutely terrific. Thanks alot and voted across shared on FB, TWT and more

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 27, 2012:

Just right for this time of year. My daughter went to the in-laws farm last weekend to pick tomatos and peppers to freeze. When she later went out to the patio to get them, all but one little bowl had disappeared. My very generous granddaughter handed out these luscious veggies to the neighbors! She'll be taking another trip soon, I'm sure. Great directions here, Deb-rated U / I and shared.

DMVmimay on September 04, 2012:

very useful.. thanks for sharing. keep on hubbing, the idea and thoughts of this hub did great!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on August 20, 2012:

Thanks, Mary. I've never heard of canning nuts. I'm intrigued! I will look for your hub.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 20, 2012:

Wow! I see this was a HOTD. That's great! Here's my belated Congrats. I don't know why more people don't can vegetables. It is so easy as your Hub explains. I preserve nuts that I can't use right away and have no room in the freezer. I wrote a Hub about preserving nuts by canning them. It works great.

I voted this Hub UP, and lets share it again!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on August 13, 2012:

Thanks, holyjeans. Definitely give it a try, and then let me know how it goes.

Amy D. from Mostly in My Own Little World on August 13, 2012:

This is great. I have never canned before but this makes me want to start, at least for tomato sauce :) Voted up and shared.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on August 12, 2012:

Yes, it makes some great tomato soup, too. I just canned a bunch of tomato sauce yesterday and had a little left over. I poured it into a mug and drank it. Sweet and delicious! Thanks for the comment.

Venugopaal from India on August 12, 2012:

Hi Awesome... great ideas to make tomato soups.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on July 28, 2012:

My tomatoes are doing surprising well this year, despite the triple-digit heat. We have been using a soaker hose on them every other day because they're in a raised bed that dries out quickly. Tomato blight is usually a big problem for us, but not this year, so the hot, dry weather must keep that in check. Thanks for sharing my hub. I'll try to find your recipe blog. If it's not on your profile page, please email it to me. Thanks!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on July 28, 2012:

Great hub! Wonderful detailed information. I can stewed tomatoes and my own pasta sauce. Next year I will have to try your tomato sauce recipe. It has been over 100 degrees for too long, my tomatoes are not doing well. Bookmarking this for next year. I am going to share this on my recipe blog amoung other places too. Voted up and sharing! Have a wonderful day!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on July 16, 2012:

Thanks, chef-de-jour. Your volunteer work sounds great. I hope this information is helpful to your community garden!

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on July 16, 2012:

What a detailed and easy to follow hub. I'm only an occasional worker in the kitchen but the juicy information you offer here draws me closer to the cooker and work surfaces!

I do have the privilege of working as a volunteer in a community garden and in our large polytunnels are many ripening tomatoes, all types, from mighty beef to plum. I ought to introduce the head gardener to your hub.

Thanks for the practical advice, much appreciated.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on July 16, 2012:

Thanks for commenting, voting and sharing, vespawoolf. Canning may seem complicated at first, but once you break it down into a 3-step process, I think you will find it doable and very worthwhile. I hope you give it a try, and if you do, please let me know how it goes.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on July 16, 2012:

Canning has always seemed so overwhelming to me, but your detailed instructions make it seem doable. I don't have all the equipment, but since we always have an abundance of cheap tomatoes I think this is a great idea so we can have tomato sauce on hand. It would make for some easy and fast meals! Thanks so much! Voted up and shared.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 11, 2012:

Thanks, Jools. Good luck with your own tomatoes. I think you'll be surprised by how many you get!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on April 10, 2012:

Deb great hub,so detailed, no wonder it was nominated. I am growing my own tomatoes for the first time this year but I'm afraid in my area of the UK I won't get the yield to have tomatoes to can myself but I love the idea of saving fruit and veg for later use.

Voted up and shared.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 09, 2012:

Thanks, Sandy. I love tomatoes in so many things. I've never heard the tip about vinegar; I suppose it serves the same function as the citric acid I use. I appreciate the comment.

Sandy Frost from India on April 08, 2012:

Each and every tomato recipe salivates the mouth. Whether it is garlic pizza or some cheese burger, nothing tastes delicious without pouring some tomato sauce on it. I've heard that adding some fresh vinegar preserves the sauce for a year or more to maintain it's freshness and keeping it from bacterial infections.

Thanks for providing the preparation method of this recipe in much easier steps. Very nice hub.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on April 01, 2012:

Thanks, 2besure. I know what you mean about our great grandmas. Sometimes when I'm standing over a hot canner in August I feel like I'm in the little house on the prairie. But it's so worth it to have homemade tomato sauce in January! Thanks for reading an commenting.

Pamela Lipscomb from Charlotte, North Carolina on April 01, 2012:

Great job on this hub! Kind of really makes you appreciate our grand and great-grand mothers! I used to make my own spaghetti sauce before they had all the delicious ready made brands. But I never did it from scratch like this recipe! I love tomatoes

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on March 08, 2012:

Thank you, SanneL! I hope this hub helps you with your canning endeavors. I really appreciate the comment, vote, and share.

SanneL from Sweden on March 08, 2012:

I love tomatoes and I love this hub! You have shared some great and useful ideas, and I like your wonderful pictures. I have lots of tomatoes in my "Greek" vegetable garden. I can't wait to start canning!! Voted up, sharing with my followers and awesome!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on February 17, 2012:

Thanks, Daisy. Three steps sounds a lot more doable than a Martha Stewartesque "27 easy steps to your own tomato sauce." Now for step 1.a.1, plant the tomato seed ... : )

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on February 17, 2012:


Thanks so much for publishing this Hub. I especially like the *three steps* aspect of your article.

Now I can go back to planting more tomatoes.

Jade Shing on October 12, 2011:

I love tomatoes, I hope to grow my own one day too.. Maybe you can make a hub about that as well ^^

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 10, 2011:

60 tomato plants is impressive, LABrashear. Are you still canning? I'm able to get at least one last batch of sauce after all. We're having a beautiful Indian summer in Iowa and the tomatoes are still going well into October! I have sauce simmering away on the stove now and will be canning it tomorrow.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on October 06, 2011:


RTalloni on October 02, 2011:

I am also surprised I've not seen this before. Thanks for this how to! And Congrats on Hub of the Day. It has generated interesting comments.

ArockDaNinja from Massachusetts, USA on October 02, 2011:

Congrats on having the hub of the day!!! :)

jean2011 from Canada on October 02, 2011:

I love cooking with tomatoes! Thank you for sharing this useful hub about how to can tomatoes for use during the winter months. Congratulations for being selected as the hub of the day. I have voted your hub up and useful.

Lela Bryan from Alameda, CA on October 02, 2011:

This is the only time I am sad I live on a houseboat!! ha ha Have to make a trip to the local Farmers market!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 02, 2011:

Great recipe! I can't believe that I didn't comment on this before. I love all of the detailed instructions. Hopefully my husband and I will have a garden at some point so we can make more homemade goodies like this. Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

pinkish on October 02, 2011:

Congrats! I never thought that I can make a homemade tomato sauce. Thank you for sharing :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 02, 2011:

Congratulations on getting Hub of the Day, and the nomination to HubNuggets! Welcome!

When my kids were young, I used to make and can applesauce, and some other fruits. However, I'm not really a 'kitchen person,' and after they grew up, all my canning stuff went away--flea market or garage sale--I forget which.

This year, I planted tomatoes, but not the sauce varieties you mention, but the large ones, where you only need a single slice to fit a sandwich. I had a huge bumper crop--one plant, I kid you not--produced probably over 300 tomatoes! I gave tomatoes away all over the neighborhood and to family members. WOW! You see, I'm the only one who likes tomatoes--my husband does not--he won't eat them. But tomato sauce, he will eat. Too bad. The crop is finished, and the tomatoes are gone now.

I'm bookmarking your hub for next year, however! Voted up, interesting, useful and awesome! Great job!

LABrashear from My Perfect Place, USA on October 02, 2011:

Congrats! Great information - and very timely! My husband thought it would be a great idea to plant 60 tomato plants this year. We are a family of 5 and I have canned a whole lotta whole tomatoes. Think I will give some sauce a try. (And yes, we've given a ton away too!) Thanks for sharing.

Megan Coxe from somewhere between here and there on October 02, 2011:

I've tried to do this before, but it is a bit time consuming and I don't think I was patient enough. You make it look so easy! Great hub!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 02, 2011:

Congratulations! Really good hub. Keep it up.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 02, 2011:

Thanks for all the great comments. I'm happy to be selected as Hub of the Day, but sad because my tomatoes are just about done (having escaped threats of frost the last two nights) and I don't think I will get another batch of sauce out of them!

PETER LUMETTA from KENAI, ALAKSA on October 02, 2011:

I used to can tomatoes every year with my grandmother and make sauce for at least 6 months and more if we were lucky. I love homemade sauce, Thanks,


Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on October 02, 2011:

Congrats on Hub of the Day! Your hubs always make me hungry! :)

Leah Lefler from Western New York on October 02, 2011:

I love canning. I grew a lot of Purple Prudence tomatoes this year, but they aren't as good for tomato sauce as the Roma tomatoes are (a much higher water content in the globe tomatoes)! It is so wonderful to have that home-grown flavor in the middle of winter. Great hub, and I'll have to try your bolognese sauce recipe!

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on October 02, 2011:

If only I was lucky enough to be able to grow tomatoes to enjoy all winter...Congratulations on hub of the day.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on October 02, 2011:

I love to can and I love tomatoes. Great hub! You made it simple enough for anyone to do. Congrats on Hub of the day!

Maria Alicia Cardenas from Spain on October 02, 2011:

I love tomatoes and make my own salsa, so why not keep it the whole winter!!!! Thanks for the tip!!!

Angelina on October 02, 2011:

Gr8 Hub!!! excellent

Arlene V. Poma on October 02, 2011:

You are on a roll, Deborah! Congratulations! I am the proud owner of a RED KitchenAid, but don't have the attachments. I will probably ask Santa for them. My tomato crop totally sucked this year, so I am going to bookmark this for next year. Voted up and all the other glorious keys.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 14, 2011:

Congrats on your HubNugget Deborah!!! Keep on hubbin' you hub star!!! :)

cardelean from Michigan on September 13, 2011:

My in-laws have a farm and the tomatoes are always bountiful. I usually jar salsa, whole tomatoes and sometimes sauce. There really is nothing like having those things on hand throughout the year but it is a lot of work! Congrats on your nomination, well deserved.

peterhark69 from Canada on September 13, 2011:

Great job! This is very timely since a lot of people are starting to harvest their tomatoes this time of the year. Thanks very much for the tips and for the recipe as well. Great share.

Christina Lornemark from Sweden on September 12, 2011:

Thank you so much for this well done hub! Now I know what to do with all tomatoes. Great hub with photos and step by step instructions!

Congratulations on your nomination!


Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 11, 2011:

Thanks for the comments. I was thrilled by the Hubnuggets nomination and I hope I've inspired some of you to give canning a try. As for the sauce lasting a year, I try to can enough to get us through the winter, but that's a big project as we tend to go through 1 or 2 jars a week. We ran out of 2010 sauce just a couple of weeks before the 2011 tomatoes were ready.

FloraBreenRobison on September 10, 2011:

I have never made my own tomato sauce -spaghetti sauce yes with tomato paste already made. Considering I love pasta, I don't see canned tomato sauce lasting a year-it will be used up very quickly. Congratulations on your nomination.

Summer gal on September 10, 2011:

Though I have canned many years, happy to see such details for the new canners... Remarcable job. Loved the pictures.

htodd from United States on September 10, 2011:

This is really nice..Thanks for the post

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on September 09, 2011:

Hi Deborah, your tomatoes are becoming famous. Your hub has been nominated on the Hubnuggets! Wheeee! So happy and excited for you. Here is the link to view this week's Hubnuggets. Be sure to read and vote and promote to your tomato-loving family and friends so they could support you. Have a wonderful Hubnuggetty tomato day!

Movie Master from United Kingdom on September 09, 2011:

Good timing, I have so many tomatoes and am getting tired of chutney!

Great information and recipe, many thanks for sharing.

Catherine Dean from Milledgeville, Georgia on September 07, 2011:

Great Hub! Growing up in the South, putting up food was a very common summer activity. I have not been as active as my mom but I have froze quite a bit of tomatoes and fruit in my time. Thanks for the Hub.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 07, 2011:

Seattlegirl, dust off that canning equipment and put those tomatoes to good use! Tillsontitan, thanks for the tip about freezing tomatoes. I've done that when short on time; works well. And Sunshine, thanks so much for the comment and share! Have a great day, everyone.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 07, 2011:

Absolutely amazing article! Great photos and details. I'll still purchase my sauce but I plan on sharing this with my twitter friends! Voted UP Deborah! :)

Mary Craig from New York on September 06, 2011:

Great hub with good information. I'm sure lots of people are loving this right now. There is a short cut too. You can just freeze tomatoes and use them to make sauce in the winter. When you cook the frozen tomatoes the skins will come off. I'm sure your way makes for more tasty sauce. Voted up.

Shelly on September 05, 2011:

How timely! Here I was, bemoaning my oversupply of tomatoes as I head into September and wondering what the heck I'm supposed to do with them.

Guess I just found out!

I also have all this nice canning equipment just gathering dust in the closet. And I appreciate the reminder on how to can, too. So rusty. So, so rusty.

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