Grandma’s Tomato Sauce

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This blog is part of a series about preserving food so you can eat local all year long. I’ve collected them all into a free course that you can access here. The course includes lessons that explain the basic preservation methods of canning, freezing, and dehydrating, and specific examples of how I use these preserving methods in combination to preserve tomatoes and corn on the cob – two of my favorite foods!


One batch of grandma’s delicious tomato sauce! We make about 12 batches per year, so we’ve got quite a bit more picking, cooking, and canning in our future…

Here’s blog #2 on preserving tomatoes. As I mentioned before, tomatoes are such a favorite for me that I’m devoting several blogs to the various ways of preserving them. There are four lessons on this in the free Preserving Local Food course, including tomato paste and sun dried tomatoes. It’s my hope that these specific examples will demonstrate how you can use the various preserving methods presented in this course in combination to preserve your favorite local foods.


This tomato sauce recipe comes from my mother-in-law. We eat a pint every single week. All year long. We use it in the following ways:

  • Pizza sauce
  • Pasta sauce
  • The best damn tomato soup you’ll ever eat


Canned tomato sauce from my mother-in-law. We use it for pizza sauce, pasta sauce, and my kiddos LOVE LOVE LOVE to dip grilled cheese in it and eat it as tomato soup.


We chose the hot water bath canning method to preserve this sauce, but you could just as easily freeze it if you make sure to leave lots of head space at the top to allow for expansion when it freezes (see the Freezing lesson for more details).


Supply List 

  • Baking sheet or other large flat pan for roasting
  • 7- to 8-quart stainless steel, enamel, or non-stick heavy pot
  • Pint jars and lids (you could use quarts or half pints if you prefer)
  • Canning supplies (see the Water Bath Canning lesson for details)
  • Common kitchen utensils, such as a wooden spoon, ladle, paring knife, and cutting board
  • Fresh, ripe tomatoes (the recipe below calls for 10 pounds, but the quantity is really up to you)


Step-by Step Instructions for Grandma’s Tomato Sauce
(makes 4 pints) download a printable version


10 pounds ripe tomatoes*
1 large or 2 small onions, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
4 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground, if you’ve got that option)
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper (optional)
6 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1 1/2 lemons if you want to squeeze it yourself)



  • Roast the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and 1 Tablespoon salt in the oven at 350F for 1 to 2 hours; let cool until you can safely handle them
  • Process tomatoes, onions, and garlic through the food mill
  • Transfer tomato sauce to a pot and add remaining 3 Tablespoons salt, vinegar, and black pepper.
  • Bring to a simmer.
  • Simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 70 to 80 minutes or until the mixture reaches desired consistency (you should have about 8 cups at this point)
  • Remove from heat; stir in basil, oregano, parsley, and crushed red pepper (optional)


Tomatoes, onions, and garlic ready for roasting. This year I’m really proud to say that we grew all of the ingredients for this sauce in our family gardens. The tomatoes came from our city backyard garden and the onions and garlic came from grandma’s country backyard garden.


Canning instructions

  • Prepare boiling water canner (see the Water Bath Canning lesson for details supplies and the overall canning process). Heat jars in simmering water until ready to use, do not boil. Wash lids in warm soapy water and set aside with bands.
  • Add 1 Tablespoon lemon juice to each hot pint jar (or 2 Tablespoons if you’re using quarts).
  • Ladle tomato sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
  • Wipe jar rim. Center lid on jar and apply band, adjust to fingertip tight. Place jar in boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
  • Process jars for 35 minutes (for both pints and quarts, adjusting for altitude).
  • Turn off heat, remove canner/pot lid, let jars stand 5 minutes.
  • Remove jars and cool 12-24 hours. Check lids for seal, they should not flex when center is pressed.


*Recipe Notes:

  • We use all kinds of different tomatoes for this sauce… whatever we have on hand, really, which is usually some combination of the following: Roma, Amish Paste, Beefsteak and others.


A double batch of grandma’s sauce all ready for the hot water bath canner.

How much tomato sauce should you make and preserve?

This is a tricky question, but a really important one to discuss. You’ll probably have to experiment over several years to really answer it well, but to get yourself close right now, I recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do I plan to cook with my tomato sauce?
  • What specific recipes call for it and in what quantities?
  • How often do we usually eat these dishes?
  • Do I wish to eat more or less this year?


We tend to use one pint of this sauce per week, so we make at least 12 batches of grandma’s sauce to make sure we have enough.


If you’re unsure, I recommend starting with one batch of the recipe above. Alternatively, you can let your tomatoes guide you and make as many batches as you have tomatoes for.


Here is about 20 pounds of tomatoes, harvested from our backyard garden. It’s enough for 2 batches of grandma’s sauce. We harvest and can grandma’s sauce just about every weekend in August, as the tomatoes roll in, but you can easily buy a bushel at the farmers market or a farm stand so you can process them all at once, if you prefer.


Please share your thoughts, questions, and experience with homemade tomato sauce in the comments! Do you have a favorite recipe? How much tomato sauce do you use each year? Please tell us about it!

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