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Mike McGrath's Super-Fast Time-Saving Tomato Saucing Tip!

I'm sure that many of you are doing exactly what I'm doing rightnow—bringing in lots and lots of fresh tomatoes from the garden everyday; many more than you could possibly eat fresh. So that means itsonce again time to hear the battle cry "Its Tamata Saucin' Time!" inthe McGrath household.

We grow most of our tomatoes to 'put up'—like you have to do with me.Actually, this 'putting up' involves sealing sauce and juice in Masonjars, which, come to think of it, many of you may want to do with me…

Anyway, to get a really rich flavor we sauce together lots of differentkinds of tomatoes, mixing big heirlooms like Georgia Streak,Brandywine,Radiator Charlie's MortgageLifter and Black Krim withtraditional pasters like Romaand Bellstar and Heinz, oh my!

Those big juicy ones add lots of flavor to the finished product, butthey also make it harder to get there because they also add lots ofnon-meaty liquid to the mix. And so, over the years, we'vedeveloped a method that gives us lots of nice thick sauce QUICKLY—whichis not only important in time saved, it also means the finished stuffcontains lots more vitamins than something that cooked away for hoursand hours.

Here's that fabulous time-saving technique—and my basic sauce-makingrecipe. If you always put up sauce, this will help you do it faster. Ifyou've never done it before, consider this your official encouragementto enjoy this year's harvest throughout the winter—hopefully until youstart getting fresh ones again!

• Collect all your nice, ripe tomatoes, wash themwell, and cut them right down the center, so you can easily carve outthe stem part. If a tomato has a few little imperfections or bug holes,cut them away completely. If in doubt about a tomato'swholesomeness, don't use it.

• Most people remove the skins; I don't understandwhy—it's nice solid tomato stuff and contains nutrients not found inother parts of the fruit. (And the Vita-Mix food processor I use is sopowerful, the skins just disappear into the blend.) Some peoplealso run their tomatoes through a sieve that strains out the seeds;again, I don't—those seeds do a nice little scrubbing job as they leaveyou later on (more info than you wanted or needed? Thought so…).

• Chop a batch of these cored and cleaned tomatoesinto quarters, mostly fill a blender or food processor with them, andthen before whizzing, add one of the following to each batch:
o Onions;I use a total of two or three per bigstockpot worth of sauce.
o Garlic;I add three or four BULBS—not cloves,BULBS, to each pot worth.
o herbs:The stripped leaves of basil, oregano,whatever you like, whatever you got. You can mix several herbstogether, but I like to herbally season each batch singly. This year'sfirst batch contained onions, garlic and oregano; the second, onions,garlic and basil…you get the idea.
Chop these seasoning things up finely and whiz each 'one' up well withthe actual tomatoes (this mixes the seasonings in better than you couldpossibly achieve otherwise) and pour the resulting glop into a bigstainless steel (NOT ALUMINUM!!!) stock pot. Don't turn on anyheat till you got a couple inches of stuff in the pot, and then set itat a low simmer.

• Get your canning stuff together: Mason jars andrings that have just been washed and are still nice and hot from thedishwasher, lids and a pot of water to heat them in, a slotted spoon topick them out of that water without scalding yerself, a big pot of hotwater with a rack to do the actual canning in, and one of them grabbertools to lift the finished jars out.

• About five minutes before you're ready to actuallystart, add a gurgle or seven of soy sauce (better in my mind than nakedsalt, and it adds nice color to the sauce) and some ground black pepperand stir well. (Some people would sweeten their sauce at this point.Don't be like them. Or get some hoi-sin sauce at a Chinese grocery andmix a couple of tablespoons of that in instead of just using sugar.)

• OK—now here's the cool time saving, thicker saucingpart. You'll notice that the really thin liquid stuff is all risingbubbling to the top of your pot of cooking sauce. Get another stainlesssteel pot and a strainer. Using a big-handled cup, skim this liquidstuff off the top and run it through the strainer so that the juicegoes into that other pot. Anything that gets stuck in the strainer goesback into the sauce pot. Keep going, stirring the rapidlythickening sauce as you do. When the liquid is mostly gone, begin usingthe stuff that gets trapped in the strainer to fill your first run ofjars—you'll get a nice batch of wonderfully thick tomato paste.

• Then, you can simply jar the liquid stuff upseparately when you've used up all the really thick sauce or you canadd another level of coolness to this trick. The liquid in the secondpot, if left alone and unheated, will also separate, with a lighttomato juice rising to the surface and lots of saucy solids dropping tothe bottom. If you have a big sparkling-clean glass jar, pouryour 'juice' into it and wait about a half hour—you'll see a clear lineof demarcation. Then, using a clean turkey baster, suck thelighter-colored thin stuff off the top. I don't can this up; I just putit in quart sized glass jars in the fridge and use it to make tomatosoup or in place of some of the cooking water when I make soup stock.Yum.

• Then can up the darker colored stuff that settleddown low. You can use this half-juice, half-sauce to make ridiculouslyrich tomato soups, or with a little cooking down, a wonderful,naturally-smooth tomato sauce.

• Always follow the directions that came with yourcanning jars and lids exactly.

• Tomatoes are easy; their high acid content makesthem one of the only foods you can 'put up' safely without a pressurecooker. Still, be careful—make sure the jars are REALLY sterilized (Ialways time a dishwasher run so the jars are clean and hot when thesauce is ready), make sure that everything you use is good and clean,and wipe the tops of the jars with a clean, dry paper towel before youput the lids on. I generally cook pints for 20 to 25 minutes in thecanner; quarts I let go for half an hour.

• Use a special tool to remove the jars when they'redone (they're HOT!), and let them sit out at room temperature. After 24hours has (have?) passed, remove the rings. If you did it right, thelids will be sealed tight and the jars can then be stored in a cool dryspot for a year. And hey—even if you failed and the lids didn't seal,you're okay. Put the lids and rings back on those jars and they'll stayfresh in the fridge for several weeks. Or freeze the contents up inplastic containers for longer storage.

You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath

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Rot-Stop Spray
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