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Learning how to can tomato sauce is life changing. No, seriously, with a jar of tomato sauce you can create spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, barbecue sauce, tomato soup, chili, cabbage rolls…. see, pretty much anything your heart desires can be made with the base of tomato sauce.
I am able to grow enough tomatoes to can our entire years worth of tomato sauce. Never having to purchase tomato or spaghetti sauce from the store is pretty amazing. In fact, I dare say this may be the most versatile item in my home food storage.
And let me tell ya, if you’ve never had homemade tomato sauce before made from vine-ripened tomatoes, then you’ve never had tomato sauce before. All else is an imitation, my friend. I’ve got just the easy tomato sauce recipe for you, with canning instructions for both the water bath and the pressure canner. Yep, because a girl can never have too many options or canning recipes. Right?!
First off, you can use any tomato, but truly, paste tomatoes are the best for making sauces. Why you ask? (I love it when you ask questions, I truly do)
Paste tomatoes have less water inside and are fleshier, meaning a thicker sauce without so much reduction time. And saving time, I’m all about saving time in the kitchen. Some good paste tomato options are Roma tomatoes and of course, the mother of all paste tomatoes and possibly, quite possibly, the best paste tomato of the bunch is the heirloom San Marzano Lungo No. 2 (it also happens to be one of the varieties I grew this year and ripened first) We liked the flavor diced and tossed onto pizza, but it really shines in sauces and pastes. Second, you need a lot of tomatoes at once to make sauce. I’ve heard some folks blanch and freeze theirs until they get enough for a big batch. Want to build up your pantry with home grown goodies? Then you NEED to grab out FREE copy of the Ultimate Home Food Preservation Guide sign up here!
What you’ll need to make tomato sauce: Recipe adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Canning This should be front and center on any home canner’s shelf, it’s packed with cook recipes and tips
Tomatoes (about 20 pounds makes 7 pints of sauce) Bottled lemon juice Salt Basil (optional) Canning jars, lids, and bands First step, pick yourself some tomatoes! I don’t have a food scale so I harvested what was ripe. I had about 45 ripe tomatoes which I’m guessing was about 10 pounds of tomatoes. Take out a big old stock pot and chop up 6 tomatoes. I chopped mine into thirds. Cover the bottom of the stock pot in one layer of chopped tomatoes. Take a potato masher and squish them to get some juices running. Turn the pot on medium high. Wait until it begins to boil and then add 6 more chopped tomatoes. Stir frequently to prevent scorching, but also make sure the tomatoes continue to boil. It was kind of like a dance in my kitchen, chop tomatoes, turn to the pot, dip and dump tomatoes, stir, and twirl back to the island, repeat. Or a square dance… Reminder, never clean your kitchen before making or canning tomato sauce, because your dancing partner, she’s really messy. Oh wait, maybe that’s me who’s messy, not the tomatoes. Either way, mess, gonna happen. Continue adding chopped tomatoes one layer at a time until you’ve added all your tomatoes or you’re in danger of overflowing your pot. You can also use two pots if you’re doing a large batch. After you’ve added all of your tomatoes and mashed them, continue to boil for about 10 minutes. You want all the tomatoes cooked and mooshy, with the glorious juice released. Remove cooked tomatoes from heat. Put mixture through a fine sieve (which is my preference) or a food mill. Do you see that sieve? It was my great-grandmother’s. I hope one day it will be my daughter’s. I get a little bit sentimental every time I use it. Yes, kitchen appliances can do that to a girl. Here’s a similar canning sieve on Amazon.
You can dehydrate the leftover skins for a tomato powder, but I fed mine to the pigs as I’m doing my best to get them up to weight before butchering next month and avoiding purchasing pig feed. I prefer to strain mine over a large mixing bowl with measurements on the side so I know how many cups of sauce I’ve got. This lets me know approximately which size jars and how many I’ll need.
Put the strained tomato mixture back into the stock pot and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and allow to reduce down to desired thickness. I reduced mine for about 40 minutes and let about an inch of liquid evaporate. In your jars, add bottled lemon juice, salt, and herbs. For a pint size jar you need 1 Tablespoon lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons for quart jars. I add 1/4 teaspoon salt to pint jars and 1/2 teaspoon to quarts. I use 1/2 teaspoon dried basil in my pint jars. These should be added to each jar, not the pot of tomato sauce. You must add the bottled lemon juice for safe shelf stability. Fill jars with tomato sauce up to a 1/2 inch headspace for water bath canning and 1 inch headspace for pressure canning. I did water bath due to the smaller size of the run… ie. only 3 jars. Run a spatula around the jar circumference to remove air bubbles. Add more tomato sauce if needed to keep 1/2 inch or 1 inch headspace depending upon your method of canning.
With a damp clean cloth, wipe the rim of the jar clean. Place on lids and screw down the bans to fingertip tight.
Water bath instructions: Place jars in waterbath canner, make sure rack is in place. Make sure at least 1 inch of water is covering the tops of the jars. Bring to a roiling boil and then process pint size jars for 35 minutes or quart jars for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and remove the lid from the canner. Allow jars to rest inside the waterbath for 5 minutes. If you remove them immediately you run the risk of cracking the jars or the siphoning of liquid, which can inhibit a proper seal.
Pressure canner instructions: Add water to pressure canner, put in rack, and load jars. Lock lid and allow pressure canner to vent for 10 minutes. Put the weight on at 10 pounds of pressure. Start processing after weight begins rocking and hissing. Process both sizes of jars for 15 minutes.
Allow pressure canner to cool down on it’s own and for pressure to return to normal. Remove lid and wait another 10 minutes before taking jars out of canner (this helps reduce siphoning or liquid loss from the jars).
Place jars in a draft free area on a towel folded in thirds. Never place hot jars on a cold counter top. Don’t touch jars for at least 12 hours, 24 hours if you have the counter space. Check seals and move to the pantry for storage.
Note: If you have enough tomato sauce to fill all the jars needed for a run in the pressure canner, I’d use the pressure canner. Food may reach a hotter temperature in the pressure canner, but because it’s processed for less time, it retains more of the nutrients. But, if you don’t have enough or don’t have a pressure canner, the water bath is completely fine with this recipe.
Stand back and look at those gorgeous scarlet jars, just begging to be simmered all day for spaghetti, in chili, or in these slow cooker cabbage rolls. Seriously, does anyone else like to sit and stare at the rows of home canned food, or am I the only one weird that way? I’m hoping now that you know how to can tomato sauce, you’ll be staring at them, too.Click here for Tomato Acid Canning Chart
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.