Pretty much anything home grown is, no comparison, yummier than anything you can buy. But there is hardly anything that spans a greater chasm than a can of store bought tomatoes and a beautiful jar of stewed or pureed tomatoes grown in your garden or nearby farm. And it is so easy. I put up about a 100 jars a year, about 20 at a time. About 95 of those jars I puree. That way when I'm ready for sauce, my jars are ready. The other five, I roast the tomatoes with a little olive oil, sliced garlic and basil leaves in the oven, instead of cooking them down on the stove, then I jar the roasted tomatoes directly. These I'll use these in those dishes that I want a stewed tomato and not the puree. And the roasted tomatoes take on an unusually deep flavor. One year my blender broke and I had to put up 25 or so jars stewed while I replaced my blender. It was these jars that were left at the end of the year, because it was a pain to pull out the blender everytime I wanted to make sauce. So when people ask me why I spend the time the puree, that's it. I make a lot of sauce and I want my tomatoes to be ready to go.
1. Put tomatoes in sink filled with cool water to clean off any dirt.
2. Core and cut tomatoes into quarters, cutting out any bad spots. Put in a pot large enough for all your tomatoes with room to stir. (A note about skins. I'm always asked about taking off the skins and surely Grandma Gerarda did blanch and peel, but much of the tomatoes flavor and nutrition is in the skin and when you puree, you won't ever see or taste the skin anyway, so leave it on, and know that Grandma would do it this way if she were still around to try my sauce.)
3. Cook on low, stirring from the bottom every 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning, then every hour. It will start getting really soupy. Cook until tomatoes have completely lost their shape. For a lot of tomatoes, say a 1/2 bushel, I cook them for probably two to two and half hours. For less, like 20-30 tomatoes, it will go quicker.
4. Wash jars and make sure they're free of imperfections, especially along the edge.
5. The idea is to put hot liquid into a hot jar. So, put a pan with a couple inches of water on the stove on medium. Keep it simmering as you process your jars. Put the lids face down in the pan of simmering water. (Not the rims) Then put a few jars opening down in the simmering pan. Just scooch around the lids until you can fit the jars.
6. In batches, puree the stewed tomatoes, pour into hot jars (use a wide mouth funnel), wipe the rim with a paper napkin to remove any tomatoes that may interfere with the jars sealing properly, then using a tongs, place a lid on each jar, then tighten the rim around the top of the jar. I don't tighten mine too much or I end up having to wack it with a knife to get it open and then you can't use the rim again next year.
7. Place sealed jars of pureed tomatoes in a boiling canner so that the water comes up to the top of the jars, or within an inch (so that as it boils, the water will bubble up to the top of the jars). Boil the jars for 35 minutes.
8. Remove jars to cool on a dry cloth on the countertop. You can make sure that the jars are sealed by pressing on the middle of the lid. If it is firmly down, your good. If it gives at all, wait until the jars cool. If the lid still hasn't sucked down, take the rim off and check your seal. If it isn't sealed, simply wipe the edge of the jar, wide off the lid and dry thoroughly, put it back on the jar, put the rim back on and reboil it in the canner.
Now, what do I do with those 100 jars of tomatoes? Mostly, I make sauce. Here's how.
Classic Italian Tomato Sauce
1 Head fresh garlic, diced small or minced
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot cut into 2 inch spears, or four or five baby carrots cut in half
Four quarts of canned pureed tomatoes
Saute garlic, onion and carrots in olive oil in large pot until the onions are transluscent before they begin to get brown. Add jars of tomatoes. Cook on low for several hours covered. Take cover off and continue to simmer on low for another 30 minutes to an hour until you achieve the desired consistency. You'll notice that I don't add salt or pepper. Don't do it. Tomatoes are super delicate and they absolutely DO NOT need salt and pepper to bring out their flavor. In my opinion, this ruins all those commercial sauces out there. Let this perfect blend of flavors work their magic. Add a little really good grated romano on top of the pasta and voila (whoops I don't speak Italian), you've got the perfect dinner.