This is my perfectly balanced chunky canned Italian tomato sauce, full of morsels of soft celery and fragrant tomatoes - the best that summer has to offer, preserved for your enjoyment year-round. If making it, open a big bottle of red wine, set some music and give yourself a whole day to enjoy the slow process of preserving summer.
I stood at the kitchen counter, my back bent in unnatural angles, for what felt like eternity. Sweat dripped down my face and down the collar of my shirt, producing a trail where no hand has touched in weeks. In truth, I had only been there for two hours, my hands constantly moving, chopping, sorting, my fingers shriveling from the tomato juices splashing out on the cutting board. I listened to music, day-dreamed, and made plans, tried to be anywhere but there - on this hot summer's day in my small kitchen, the windows fogging up from the steam rising from the canning pot.
After several more hours of cooking down tomatoes, onions and celery; sterilizing jars; and measuring out perfectly acidic, commercially produced lemon juice, it was ready: my chunky canned Italian tomato sauce, the gold that was to last me through the long, lonely winter, the first winter in many years I would spend as a single woman. Sitting there on the counter, ladled perfectly into litre-sized jars, their lids gleaming in the setting sun, my creation seemed perfect, the long labour that it took to produce it forgotten.
And in the nights ahead, as the tomato sauce lasted me not months, but two years, each time I opened a jar of chunky Italian tomato sauce, sharing it first with my cat, then with friends, and eventually, with the man of my life, I remembered that day spent in my little kitchen. I thought not of the countless tears I shed, allowing them to mingle with the juice of tomatoes; or the little aches and pains I felt in my back for days following; or not even of my then-recent break-up.
Instead, I thought of the joy I felt, standing there and creating something I loved that would actually last me for years to come. I thought of the hopes and dreams I placed into each can. And I thought of my immense luck and blessing, to be able to spare a few hours at that time of emotional turmoil, and devote them to taking care of my future.
When last week, I reached into my pantry and took out the last jar of tomato sauce to put on a homemade gluten-free lasagna, I realized - I needed to do this again. But this time, I wouldn't be alone in doing it.
This recipe was a long time coming. It is slightly adapted from a great Bernardin home canning recipe, because when it comes to canning, I prefer to follow expert advice rather than chance poisoning myself or my loved ones. I've had the photos stored on my computer for an astounding two years, waiting for the time I would get to remake the recipe and perfect my approach. Last week, I bought 20 lbs of tomatoes and F and I proceeded to chop them all up into small, bite-sized pieces... only to leave them on the counter overnight and discover they had rotted by morning. I am not sure if we'll repeat the Herculean task or if, choosing to learn from our mistake and file this for future reference, we'll just resign to eating store-bought tomato sauce this winter. I have yet to make up my mind. But in any case, I realized that it would be unfair of me to keep you away from my family's favourite tomato sauce, the chunky canned Italian tomato sauce of my dreams, that my sister keeps begging for a jar of each time she stops for a visit.
Just do yourself a favour - when you sit down to make it, set aside a whole day - and whatever you do, don't leave the chopped tomatoes out overnight before cooking them.
You'll be rewarded by perfectly chunky, balanced, canned Italian tomato sauce, full of morsels of soft celery and fragrant tomatoes - the best that summer has to offer, preserved for your enjoyment year-round.
Chunky canned Italian tomato sauce
- 20 lbs 9 kg plum tomatoes, chopped or pureed (I prefer chopped)
- 1 ⅔ cup 450g onion, finely chopped
- 1 ⅔ cup 450 g celery, finely chopped
- 2 cups 500 g carrot, finely chopped
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 8 tbsp 240 ml bottled lemon juice
- 8 tsp 40 ml salt
- 2 tsps 8 ml freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsps 8 ml crushed red pepper flakes
- 6 large basil leaves
- Process 6 clean 1-litre mason jars in hot water bath canner (cover jars with water to top, heat to a boil, and continue simmering, covered, for 10 minutes). Heat lids in a small pot of hot, not boiling, water. Keep jars and sealing discs hot until ready to use.
- Chop tomatoes, taking care to remove any blemishes or soft spots (those may lead to growth of bacteria in your jar). Place in colander, let stand 15 minutes, and discard liquids.
- Place onion, celery, carrot and garlic in a large stainless steel pot (you may need to use two). Add 4 cups (1 litre) chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, boil gently, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add remaining tomatoes 1 cup at a time while maintaining mixture at a boil, stirring frequently. Stir in lemon juice, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Boil hard, stirring frequently, until desired consistency is reached, about 15-30 minutes (I like to reduce sauce by half).
- In each hot jar, place one basil leaf. Ladle sauce carefully into hot jars to within ½ inch (1 cm) of top rim. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim, taking care to remove any sauce spills. Centre hot lid on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, using just two fingers (do not tighten).
- Return filled jar to rack in canner. Repeat for remaining sauce.
- When all jars have been returned to the canner, top with enough water to cover all jars by at least one inch (2.5 cm) of hot water. Cover canner with lid and bring water to full rolling boil before starting to count processing time. Boil filled jars for 35 minutes.
- When processing time is complete, turn stove off, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars without tilting and place them upright on a protected work surface. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours. Ensure that all your lids have sealed by checking the centre of each lid (sealed discs curve downward and do not move when pressed). Remove screw bands and store sealed jars without them until use (this helps ensure that if a lid ever pops, you'd be able to see it).