This year, we experimented with something new – growing tomatoes in our brand-new (well…new to us!) hoophouse.
We originally purchased and built our hoophouse with the goal of providing winter housing for our flock of 34 Icelandic sheep and 75ish laying hens. Let me tell you, it worked great! We ultimately decided to move the chickens out of the hoophouse for the winter (that’s another post entirely) but our sheep will be going back in the hoop house this winter, where they will stay until they are finished lambing.
There are several reasons why this works so well (again, a post for another time). However, we wanted to make sure that the hoop house was an all-seasons building and not just something we used over the winter.
That’s why we decided to use it to grow tomatoes this year. Our first year of growing tomatoes in the hoop house was cretainyl not without its trials and tribulations and it’s definitely not something we could have done if we lived in a warmer growing zone – let me tell you, it gets hot in there about mid-July!
Fortunately, we ended up with a bumper crop of tomatoes. The sad news is that many of the plants weren’t quite ready when the first frost hit. That wouldn’t have been a problem (growing in a hoophouse, after all, protects the plants from cold weather) except our ram lamb, whom we had housed just outside the building, decided it would be a good idea to rip the canvas sidewalls.
I’ve been able to repair some of his damages with greenhouse tape but sadly, the tape works best on plastic rather than on canvas.
Enter – freezing cold air at the worst possible time.
The good news is that the freeze was only enough to kill the plants and didn’t damage the still-green fruits. Therefore, I was able to bring them inside and stash them in cardboard boxes, where they have been ripening in stages over the last few weeks. I estimate that I pulled in at least three hundred pounds of green tomatoes, and as they’ve ripened, I’ve been taking the time to turn them into tomato sauce.
So far, I’ve made about 60 jars of sauce (some of which I’ve been able to can) and there’s no sign of slowing down any time soon.
Although it’s been an exhausting experience, it’s really allowed me to hone my sauce-making technique. Here are some tips on how to make your own tomato sauce, as well as some of the best sauce tomatoes you can grow (they aren’t all the most well-suited for sauce, believe it or not!).
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The 20 Best Sauce Tomatoes You Can Grow
I generally use all of my tomatoes in tomato sauce (I’m lazy and don’t want to sort!) but there are actually some tomatoes that are better than others.
Here are a few of my favorites.
1. San Marzano
San Marzano tomatoes are native to Italy, where they are grown in the rich soil of the Campania region. They are great for tomato paste, which, if you’ve ever made tomato sauce before, you know is a necessary ingredient to thicken things up. They are sweet and have very few seeds and minimal acidity. Plus, they’re easy to peel.
I’m a bit reluctant to include Roma tomatoes on this list, because there are so many “sub-cultivars” of Romas that it would be hard to include them all. However, if you’re in the market for good sauce tomatoes and don’t have a lot of time to comb through the long list of varieties, just know this – you can’t go wrong with a Roma.
The quintessentials sauce tomato, the Roma has a very meaty interior and minimal seeds. Its taste is incredible, too, and is very tough to beat when it comes to use in sauces. However, I also enjoy eating Romas fresh.
You might not have heard of ‘Yaqui’ tomatoes before, but they are some of the best and highest-yielding sauce tomatoes you can grow. They adapt easily to most growing zones and grow to only two feet or so in height. That makes these tomatoes some of the best for container growing.
4. Super Italian Paste
As you might expect by the name alone, this paste tomato comes from Italy and is absolutely brimming with flavor. An heirloom variety, it produces tons of long, red-orange fruits that each grow to roughly six inches in length. Its flesh is firm and meaty, great for making pastes and sauces of all kinds.
5. ‘Orange Roma’
I’ll be honest, these aren’t my favorite tomatoes to grow because the color catches me off guard. I’m the worst when it comes to labeling my tomatoes appropriately, so I never can remember which plant variety I planted in which spot of the garden. These tomatoes remain a vibrant orange when ripe, so I always end up leaving them on the vine too long by mistake.
Nevertheless, if you want a more colorful tomato garden, ‘Orange Romas’ are the way to go. They are sweet and fruity, perfect for making all kinds of sauces and pastes. They are indeterminate so you’ll enjoy a harvest throughout the many months of summer.
6. Viva Italia
Perfect for soups, Viva Italia is also a great choice if you want to make sauce or even homemade ketchup. Plants grow vigorously, producing tiny three-ounce fruits.
7. Polish Linguisa
Another heirloom variety that’s great for sauce is Polish Linguisa. These plants produce fruits about four inches long, each of which are meaty and perfect for drying and for sauces. They are also delicious when sliced thinly for sandwiches and salads!
8. Big Mama
I love the name of this sauce tomato, if nothing else – but it’s also a great producer if you’re looking for a good sauce tomato. A plum-shaped variety, it’s meaty and large, producing fruits up to five inches long and three inches wide. It requires no peeling or coring and will allow you to make all the thick, delicious homemade sauces you could possibly want.
9. Little Mama
With Big Mama comes Little Mama – BIg Mama’s cute little sister. This paste tomato produces rich, firm flesh that’s great for sauce, chutney, and salsa. The tomatoes are naturally smaller but plenty prolific in volume – you’ll get dozens of clusters of four-ounce paste tomatoes.
SuperSauce is actually a variety of Roma tomatoes. The major benefit of these fruits is that they are massive – my husband usually hates Romans because they are so small and time-consuming to process, but that’s not the case with these bad boys. They’re absolutely huge, with plants producing two-pound tomatoes on five-foot bushy plants. They are indeterminate, too, meaning they’ll give you tomatoes all summer long.
11. San Marzano Redorta
San Marzano tomatoes are great, but if you want to take things one step further you might want to consider San Marzano Redorta. These heirloom tomatoes are named after an Italian mountain and produce fruits that are nearly double the size of regular San Marzanos. They can be eaten fresh but are absolutely tantalizing when used in sauce.
12. Jersey Devil
This heirloom cultivar was designed specifically to be used as a paste tomato. It’s shaped just like a banana pepper and is remarkably juicy, growing to about six inches in length.
13. Amish Paste
Another popular paste tomato is Amish Paste. These fruits are great for slicing but they also make delicious sauces with their meaty flesh.
14. Tangerine Mama
Another orange tomato you can grow is Tangerine Mama. Plants produce fruits that are three to four ounces in size, each of which has a rich, tangy flavor that’s perfect for making sauce.
‘Rubia’ tomatoes are also paste tomatoes, ready for harvest just around 80 days from when they were harvested. If you live somewhere with a shorter growing season, these plants are ideal, since there are some with short, early-fruiting seasons. They aren’t the largest paste tomatoes you can grow but are still respectable in size and produce meaty, rich fruits.
16. Tomato ‘MiRoma’
A plum variety of tomato to try is Tomato ‘MiRoma.’ This cultivar is rich and determinate, requiring very little staking or pruning. Your tomatoes will be ready for harvest in just over two months from transplanting.
This Polish heirloom tomato offers a richer, more flavorful taste than most other paste tomatoes. The tomatoes are actually shaped like peppers and grow about five inches long.
This kind of tomato is great for paste, regardless of whether you want to use the paste for stews, sauces, pastas, or other kinds of meals. I personally like to make a sauce to be used on pizza! Fruits are ready in just 70 days and are determinate.
19. Fresh Salsa
The name says it all – Fresh Salsa is one of the best if you want to make…you know…salsa! They chop up easily (minimal mess and leaking juices!), staying firm at all times. These tomatoes are meaty and perfect for sauces, too.
20. Jersey Giant
No, not like the chicken! This tomato variety was developed in New Jersey and is admittedly somewhat hard to find. However, if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon some seeds, you’ll find that they produce all the paste tomatoes you could possibly want. Just one or two plants will yield you a bountiful harvest, with fruits growing to about five inches long.
How to Make Your Own Tomato Sauce
Naturally, the best tomato sauce starts with choosing the right tomatoes. While the varieties I mentioned above are some of the best for homemade sauce, keep in mind that you can really use any kind of tomato you’d like – you just might have a bit more acidity (or a few more seeds!) to deal with.
There are a few ways you can go about preparing your tomatoes for sauce making. Whichever option you choose, know that the process is incredibly labor intensive.
A word to the wise – don’t do what I did and go about processing fifty pounds of tomatoes with a four-week old baby strapped to you in a Baby K’tan. I thought I had a good handle on making tomato sauce, but it’s a lot harder when you have a newborn demanding to be fed every hour, on the hour.
Nevertheless, I got the sauce done – I made about forty pints over the course of a day. Labor intensive for sure, but I still remain adamant that making a ton of sauce all at once is much easier than making a few jars here and there.
Of course, if you’d rather just make a small batch, that’s totally fine, too.Unique Gift Ideas From Small Brands
Preparing the Tomatoes
Again, you can use any kind of tomato you’d like for sauce (I use a mixture) but paste tomatoes will produce the fewest seeds and meatiest pulp for you to process. My husband likes larger tomatoes, though, because it takes less time to process each tomato.
Whichever option you choose, setting things up in an assembly line process is the way to go. Start by washing and sorting your tomatoes, getting rid of any with a substantial amount of damage or rot.
Next, you need to process them to remove the skins. You can do this in one of two ways.
Up until recently, I used the longer, more labor-intensive process. I set a pot of water to boil and dipped each tomato in the hot water for several minutes before dunking them in a sink full of ice water. Then, I peeled each one and squeezed the fruit (without the core) into a separate bowl.
You have to do this for each and every tomato, and while it’s effective, it takes a long time. It’s not ideal for processing large amounts of tomatoes.
What I do now is use this tomato processor. To use it, simply cut the ends and stems off your tomatoes and cut them in half (or in quarters, depending on the size of your tomato). Push them into the feeder end and the processor will remove the skins (and many of the seeds, too).
It only takes a few minutes to do several pounds of tomatoes. Another benefit of using this machine is that you can process tomatoes as they ripen, put them in the freezer, and then throw them in the slow cooker later on to make your sauce as the rest “come of age.” Then, you can make huge batches of sauce all at once.
Also, using a processor eliminates the need for you to process tomatoes in a food processor or blender before you cook them. I like a smoother sauce rather than a chunkier one, so this is a great option if you don’t want to have to wait for your tomatoes to break down as they simmer.
You can also use a stick blender or food mill to process your tomatoes if you’d like to skip any of the above steps.
Make the Sauce
Now it’s time to prepare your sauce. It takes as little as 30 minutes or as long as 90 minutes to make your sauce. I like to spread it out even further, cooking my sauce over low heat in a slow cooker for around 12-24 hours. It really helps break it down and gives it a nice flavor and thick consistency.
- 15 lbs tomatoes
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tsp salt
- Diced onions (optional)
- Diced peppers (optional)
- Diced mushrooms (optional)
- Basil (to taste)
- Oregano (to taste)
- Parsley (to taste)
- Pepper (to taste)
- Minced garlic (to taste)
1. Begin by processing your tomatoes in one of the methods listed above.
2. Bring your tomatoes to a simmer over medium heat. Stir occasionally and allow to simmer until the sauce reaches the consistency you’d like. Add all other ingredients, waiting until the end to add the lemon juice and salt.
3. If you find that your sauce is not as thick as you’d like, cook it down longer or add a thickening agent. Options include cornstarch or additional tomato paste. When adding cornstarch, be aware that adding too much can lead to lumps and an odd flavor in the sauce. To avoid this, add small amounts, combining a tablespoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of water, shaking to combine, before adding it to the sauce. Add more as needed.
4. When your sauce is finished cooking, enjoy it with your favorite pasta or pizza! You can also freeze it in freezer-safe containers or can put it in a pressure canner.
That’s all there is to it! Canned tomato sauce can safely be stored in your pantry for a minimum of one year, while frozen sauce can be used up to three months later (though I’ve let it go longer and just had a bit of freezer burn to contend with).
There are all kinds of variations you can add to this recipe, too. Add your favorite spices and herbs and feel free to add any other veggies too (just be careful if you get too exotic with the additions if you plan on canning it – it can affect the acidity and make it unsafe for the canner.
Do you grow your own sauce tomatoes – and make your own tomato sauce? Share your favorite recipe with me in the comments! I’d love to hear it.
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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