For many years, we have been making our tomato sauce/gravy. Every fall, we make our pilgrimage to the Philadelphia market for our Plum or Roma tomatoes. We will refer to the product of these tomatoes as "sauce" herein because it will be preserved before being fully cooked, spiced and processed.
Ten years ago we would buy one 25 pound box, today we buy three or four. Some how some of our friends process 10 to 20 boxes.
The next step is to process the tomatoes. Some people parboil the tomatoes and then peel, de-stem and core them, cut them into quarters and then scoop out the seeds. This is how we started, but, for several reasons we don't do that anymore.
First, it was tedious and time consuming. Second, it offended me how much of the tomato pulp was lost when scooping out the seeds. Third, and most important, there is a better way! There are tomato milling machines that grind the tomatoes to a pulp separating the seeds and skins for disposal. These machines range from about $50 for a manual model to as much as several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the motor and the other features. About $300-400 buys a real nice 1/3 horsepower model that can handle 300-600 pounds per hour.
For us, it was our juicer. We discovered that the Champion Juicer worked well with tomatoes when using the fruit screen. We were pleasantly surprised to see that they actually had screens that were designed specifically for tomatoes. This machine tore through a box of tomatoes in one fourth of the time it took to do it by hand. With our juicer we had to cut the tomatoes in half, but with many tomato milling machines you can feed the tomatoes in whole.
The next step for us was to start cooking the tomato pulp. Because we were canning the end product for later use, we did not add spices, meats or other vegetables. The reason for this is that you need a certain level of acidity in order to preserve the tomato sauce when canning. If you cook it fully, adding all of the ingredients that qualify it to be called "gravy," it will not have enough acidity and will fail or spoil.
In prior years, we froze our gravy, so we were not limited and could fully process and cook it (i.e., make it gravy). This time, our freezer was full so we decided to do as our ancestors and "can" our sauce. Before we started, we spoke with friends who had experience with canning, and read everything we could find on the subject. Now, we were ready to go. Maybe this wasn't the best project for husband and wife to undertake together. But this was to be a test run, only two jars.
First, we discovered that we didn't have all the right equipment. We searched the basement and pulled out a turkey frying pot (it wasn't a canning pot or pressure cooker but it seemed OK). We put the turkey basket in the pot and filled the pot with enough water to cover the jars that would be placed therein. The basket would make it easier to get the jars out, especially since we didn't have canning jar grabbers or whatever you call them. The basket would also help, we thought, to keep the jars off the bottom of the hot pot, which was directly over the heat.
After some cooking and cooling, we filled our jars with pulp (I think maybe I didn't stop pouring fast enough when Nancy said, "Stop"). We added a basil leaf (for flavor) and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (for acidity).
At this point, Nancy insisted that the various articles called for using a spatula or spoon in your jar to stir out any air. I thought (out loud, unfortunately) that this step was unnecessary since you could "plainly see that there is no air in there." Next, the jars were capped, tightened (maybe not enough), and deposited in the warm water. Once the water boiled, we waited approximately 45 minutes (I say approximately because we did not use the timer and we are both over 50. If you're over 50, you know that story- and if you're not, shut up).
Then, there was this loud noise. Nancy said, "What did you do?"
I said, "Me? What did you do?"
At first we didn't notice anything, but then we saw that the pot cover had turned over and was covered with tomato sauce. So was the other side of the counter, the floor, the table in the dining room, the ceiling and oddly enough, a window about 15 feet away from the "blowout." After about 15 minutes, our curiosity became stronger than our sense of self-preservation and we decided to look into the pot, from a distance. There , in the pot, was one jar that had blown off its lid (we don't know how, it was screwed on). The other jar was intact, but only the top half of the jar had tomato sauce in it, the bottom half appeared to be all water that had separated. It caused me to think (out loud again, of course), "How is it that our sauce that is preserved is so thin and watery, and the sauce that blew all over our house is so thick and red, ...and tasty?"
Nancy, being more pragmatic (at least this time) thought (out loud), "I wonder if it will be safe to eat the one that didn't blow up?"
Maybe we'll do better next time.
Do you can your sauce? Have you had any mishaps? Is it sauce or is it gravy?