Gone are the days…

...when I will take a jar of spaghetti sauce for granted.

Yesterday I spent more than 16 hours in the kitchen dealing with tomatoes (and there were about 4 hours the previous day donated to tomato prep). Because I didn’t have a harvest of tomatoes to speak of, but knowing I didn’t want to live without spaghetti sauce for the winter, a friend and I decided to buy 150 lbs of tomatoes from our sole supermarket, and make salsa and spaghetti sauce together. The friend got waylaid an extra couple of days and some of the tomatoes began to go off. Over the weekend, I threw the worst of them out and put up the-ones-that-couldn’t-wait by myself: drying, roasting and making lasagna with on-the-spot-sauce. I got through about 20 lbs.

Over the course of the weekend, I managed to prepare for saucing another thirty pounds of the tomatoes: blanching, peeling, coring, chopping and otherwise getting ready for saucing. Yesterday, at 8:00 am in the morning, I began cooking the prepared tomatoes. While they were boiling, as it was my ‘maiden voyage’ into the land of Back-to-Basics food strainer and sauce maker, I read the instructions, put it together, and began saucing the cooked tomatoes.

My friend joined me at about 10:30 am, to take over the saucing job while I set to making the rest of the first pot of spaghetti sauce: washing, chopping, slicing, dicing and then sauteing the veggies. Once we got the first pot on the stove, we set to dealing with the other three, 25 pound cases of tomatoes: wash, blanch, peel, core, slice, boil, strain through saucing contraption.

Several hours later, with two pots of spaghetti sauce on the boil and reducing on the stove, we had come full circle and were once again facing the last box and a half of tomatoes: blanch, chop, core, slice, blanch, chop, core, slice, breathe in, breathe out, blanch, chop, core, slice, etc. These last boxes were to be made into salsa, so the saucing step was gratefully omitted.

By 8:30 pm, I was exhausted and we still had not started the canning process. My friend made two double batches of the salsa mixture, still uncooked, put it in to pots and went home to finish the processing job herself. Meanwhile, I put a double batch of salsa on to boil and turned back to the spaghetti sauce, which was finally reduced enough to be transferred to jars and processed in the pressure canner.

Fast forward to midnight: I had one lot of spaghetti sauce processed and one double batch of salsa water-bath canned, all now cooling on the counter. The second lot of spaghetti sauce, sufficiently reduce finally, was still waiting to be processed; so I put it in the pressure canner and put the timer on the stove. At 3:00 am (when the canner had cooled sufficiently to be opened), I took the second batch out and set it on the counter beside the other batch. I did manage to sleep between midnight and 3am, on the couch, hands still on fire from the mountains of jalapeno pepper chopping. Mental note to self: use gloves next time!

This morning, I still have a single batch of salsa in the fridge waiting to be cooked and canned, and the dehydrator is still working away noisily on the kitchen table. However, the uncooked salsa has been put on the proverbial ‘back burner’ because I’ve had to deal with the fresh milk from Sunday (pasteurize and turn into cheese because I still have enough yogurt from last week), and get ready for a group of high school children coming to tour the farm at 11am. They are eager to see the animals and want to pet a goat or maybe catch a chicken.


All up, I have seven 750 ml jars of spaghetti sauce (and seven for my friend) and eight 650 ml jars of salsa sitting on my counter (she will have the equivalent), and I still have to process 3 more jars of salsa.  In addition, I have 3 quart jars of dehydrated ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes, and two quart jars of slow roasted tomatoes in olive oil in the fridge. I have made one batch of fresh spaghetti sauce that I used to make lasagna and… that’s it: the grand total of what 150 pounds of tomatoes is reduced to!


So. The 30 lbs of tomatoes turned into seven 750 ml jars of spaghetti sauce. The tomatoes cost me nearly $1.00/lb, so when you look at paying $3-4.00 per jar of fancy spaghetti sauce at the store, those 7 jars on my counter are only ‘worth’ $21-28.00 yet I spent $30 on the ingredients; so I haven’t broken even in the economic sense, and I have not yet considered the cost of the other ingredients, or the propane used in the cooking process–let alone the hours of labour put in to the job!


As I look at my seven beautiful jars of spaghetti sauce and contemplate what it would take to grow sufficient tomatoes to keep us in sauce alone, I’m overwhelmed. Not only do I probably not have enough land to do the job, nor the growing conditions where I live to produce decent tomatoes; I certainly don’t have the energy to keep that kind of canning marathon up in order to look after our  tomato sauce needs for a year, year in year out.


Filed under Food Security, Preserving the harvest, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

10 responses to “Gone are the days…

  1. That reminds me I have to write up my tomato processing bit 🙂

    I think I got more sauce per lb than you but was thinking, if you got your sauce to the same consistency as shop bought sauce you would have a far more concentrated sauce as you wouldn’t have used any of the thickening agents that the commercial sauces do. So you would probably be able to use a lower volume of sauce to get the same taste effect.

    I also used a much simpler processing method which I promise I will post – I had 80 – 85lbs to process on my own so improvised a bit and yes it did take time but the results are really worth it.

    I think with a lot of things, this is only really viable if you have grown your own and have a surplice to preserve or find a really good deal on the raw ingredients and you want to know that your food has no chemicals added just to improve the profit margin.

    As canning isn’t common in the UK and I’m only just experimenting with it here, mine has ended up in the freezer but next year I will can it instead so I have more freezer space for veg that doesn’t can well.

    Congratulations on all your work – I hope you’ve taken a well earned rest.

  2. It also depends on how juicy the tomatoes are! Next time, I’ll use more Romas which have much less juice and thus will help speed the ‘reducing’ time on the stove!! Live and learn eh.

  3. David

    So, what’s the answer? How are we supposed to supply our communities and ourselves with enough canned stuff to get through the winter? Community kitchen? Value-added businesses? Import from places where tomatoes are easier to grow in large quantities?

  4. All good questions David! I guess the conclusion I’m coming to over and over is, community! The friend and I realized that we lacked several key items for doing things in big-time bulk:
    1. a cauldron big enough to do say 100 lbs of tomatoes at once.
    2. a bigger pressure canner (to deal with above toms).
    3. another chopper person or three, to make the time go by quicker.
    4. home grown toms to keep the cost down.

    And finally, an Italian or three to sing to us and keep the wine glasses filled (of which, lacking this, we had not a drop!).

    But seriously, this is an amazing learning experience having taken this project on…but I’m a wee bit tired and no longer under so many illusions about self-sufficiency. Yes, we need community, we need diversity in agricultural produce that is grown locally, and a community kitchen (and less prohibitive legislation with respect to them) would be helpful.

    Community, community, community…and organized harvesting systems (for example, there is always a glut of apples each year that is completely wasted, left to rot on the ground, meanwhile apples and applesauce being bought at the store). Go figure.

  5. I suppose too, we might want/need to rethink the ‘need’ to have tomatoes (or whatever said item you can’t get/grow locally). How much is enough? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves collectively, do we need to have bananas, avocados, pineapple, etc? Or can we live without some of these items that are not grown locally (or even in the country)? I know myself, the garden I plant next year will be vastly different than the one I’ve been tending this year, because of the above issues I’ve outlined and the experience I’ve gained this year.

  6. Spotter of Yellow Legs

    Puts me in mind of pyroghy days gone by only there were 4 of us at least some of the time. Boil potatoes, chop onions, have wine, have wine without onions, mix dough, mix filling, drink wine, roll dough, roll eyes, harass friend, press, boil, fry, spatter arms, kvetch about the lack of Dwight, more wine, repeat.
    These things are a lot of work too but not on the same scale as tomato sauce apparently.
    Perhaps with the right incentive the goats might help. Oh I know they want be-e-ee-r and french fri-i-e-e-s to do anything, but maybe they could chop one batch of tomatoes and veg whilst stomping the previous one. I see a label…

  7. olddani

    I have the same problem with tomatoes. No way I can produce enough to supply my family for the year. Last year I only barely managed enough for summer eating. I’ve upped production this year but I still won’t get to can a years supply. I know the answer should be to only consume what I produce but where tomatoes are concerned it’s too big an ask. I let myself off the hook in some areas, I do a lot. I’m not perfect and that’s OK (justify, justify).

  8. Good morning,
    I came over from Robin’s site (Season’s Eatings). I look forward to wandering around a bit in your blog. It looks like you are much closer to living the way I’d like to (harvest my own food on a greater scale).

  9. The only way we can produce the tomatoes we need for a years supply is by growing in a hoophouse (unheated), proper growing techniques, and choosing the right varieties. I have to much farm work to do marathon canning like that, so I have cut out some of the time consuming parts like blanching. I roast all my tomatoes with herbs and alliums and then run through the food mill, then I cook my sauce down sometimes over the next day in a crock pot, so I don’t have to watch it. No scorching, no waste, and I don’t have to be right there. The flavors are concentrated, and results delightful. I do the same for salsa, substituting the reduced tomato puree for chopped tomatoes.

    Until I started giving my tomatoes proper spacing, my yields were very low, a few well spaced tomato plants will out produce many closely spaced ones. But, a combination of methods has increased our yields and work tremendously. It is worth to us, and when I compare prices on farm grown vs. store, I use Biodynamic produce prices, since there really is no comparison to conventionally grown, cheaply priced produce.

    I know we are not carbon footprint free with a plastic covering on our hoophouse, but if we grow most of our own food here on our farmstead, we are here, and we are helping the earth by staying home. The cheap tomato sauce trucked in from California or Mexico comes with huge price. My tomato sauce does not.

  10. Thanks Trapper! Isn’t this blogging a great way of sharing information that might otherwise be lost?

    I love the idea of using the crockpot!!! I’m going to try it your way next time, sounds a lot more sensible.

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