Small Batch Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce

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You don't have to wait until you have 20 pounds of tomatoes to make some garden fresh sauce! Check out this recipe for canning or freezing your harvest!

Who doesn’t love a fresh grown garden tomato?  We grow 9-10 plants of different varieties every year.  I like to include cherry tomatoes for snacking, big slicing tomatoes and of course paste tomatoes for making fresh sauce.  The problem with a lot of canning recipes is the HUGE amount of tomatoes you need to make them – 20, 25, even 30 pounds of tomatoes.  That’s great if you have a massive garden or can score a great deal at your local farmer’s market.  Here is a great recipe for canning up some tomato sauce when you have a good harvest from a few plants. Click here for my tips on growing great tomatoes from seed!  I made up 3 pints of sauce with 4 pounds of tomatoes I harvested from the garden.  You can use any type of tomato (I don’t think I would recommend using cherry!), but the thick walled paste tomatoes will give a greater yield and make a thicker sauce.  I grow San Marzano paste tomatoes, but I also had some big Mortgage Lifter slicing tomatoes that were nice and ripe so I added them in too.  Processing a small harvest won’t take up your whole day.  When you process 30 pounds of tomatoes it takes all afternoon, this recipe takes 2 hours start to finish and that includes 45 minutes cooking time and 35 minutes canning time.

Small batch tomato sauce

Small Batch Canned Tomato Sauce

4 pounds tomatoes
7 teaspoons bottled lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt, pepper, Italian spices to taste

Water bath canner (if canning)
3 pint size canning jars with lids & rings, sterilized (if canning)
canning funnel & jar lifters (if canning)
small pot (if canning)
freezer bags (if freezing)
large sauce pot
bowl of ice water
slotted spoon
food processor or blender
sharp knife & cutting board

  1. If canning the sauce, sterilize the jars in either 5 minutes of boiling water or in your dishwasher’s sterilize setting.  Put the lids in the small pot, bring to a low boil, remove from heat, let them sit in the warm water until you are ready to use them.
  2. Fill the sauce pan with water, bring to a boil
  3. While you are waiting for the water to boil, rinse your tomatoes, cut the stem off each tomato and make an X cut on the bottomSmall Batch Tomato Sauce
  4. Get your bowl of ice water ready
  5. Once the water is boiling, put several tomatoes in the boiling water for about a minute.  Use your slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes and immediately put them in the ice water.  After a minute or two, pick up each tomato and pull the skin off.  It should slide right off, if it doesn’t, use a knife to cut the skin away.  Put your skinless tomatoes in the strainer to drain while you work on all the other tomatoes.Small Batch Tomato Sauce
  6. Put the skinless tomatoes in the blender or food processor briefly.  Don’t blend them too long or your sauce will be too liquidy, just a couple pulses will do.
  7. Dump the water out of the sauce pan.  Chop the onion & crush the garlic, put them in the pan and brown slightly.
  8. Add the crushed tomatoes, bottled lemon juice (bottled is better than fresh in canning so the acidity levels are evenly dispersed), sugar, salt, pepper and spices.   Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally

You have two options for preservation.  The first is to freeze the sauce.  To freeze it, let cool and then divide into two freezer bags.  Squeeze the air out and freeze for up to 3 months.  To can the sauce, bring your water bath canner to a full boil.  Pour the hot tomato sauce into your sterilized jars, top with sterilized, warm lids and finger tighten the ring.  Place the jars in the canner, covered by at least 1 inch of water and process for 35 minutes  (at sea level, consult your local extension office for timing at your elevation).  Let the jars cool on a towel, then test the seal.  If they sealed properly they will be good for a year.  If the jar did not seal, refrigerate the jar and use within a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

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  1. Janet Mary Thornton says:

    I’m new at canning and wanted to make spaghetti sauce. I found out after buying the equipment for a “water bath” method, that for sauces, you were supposed to use a “pressure canner”. A water bath was for jams and marmalades. Can you use the water bath method for sauces?

    1. Hi Janet, water bath canning is definitely limiting. It’s great as you mentioned for jams and jellies because they are super high in sugar, helping preserve them. The other things you can use water bath method for are acidic foods (like tomato sauce and pickles). So yes, you can use the water bath method for *some* tomato sauce recipes with a few caveats. Tomatoes aren’t quite acidic enough on their own, which is why this recipe has added lemon juice. The other thing to remember is to watch what you add to it – I added a little bit of onion and garlic to this recipe, but if you add too many vegetables, they are going to lower the acidity of the recipe, making your sauce potentially unsafe. Meat should never be added to a water canned recipe, meat must always be pressure canned.

  2. Denise Estes says:

    My sauce is thin what can I do to thicken it

    1. If your sauce is thin, you should simmer it longer to allow some of the liquid to evaporate out. If you plan to freeze your sauce you could also add corn starch to try and thicken it, but it could effect the acidity levels if you plan to water bath can it. I would recommend you try simmering it first. If you are using slicing tomatoes rather than paste tomatoes, expect it to be a thinner sauce though.

  3. Renee Dawalga says:

    Is this a safe tested recipe?

    1. Hi Renee, it’s a recipe I have used several times myself and is based on a much larger recipe from my Ball Canning book. But I have not had this particular recipe certified by an extension office

  4. If I wanted to use the sauce right away do I still need to add as much, or any at all, lemon juice?

    1. If you are just using the sauce without canning it, you would not need the lemon juice. Just refrigerate any unused sauce and use within a week

  5. Scott says:

    Can this recipe use chunkier tomatoes in it?

    1. Yes if you wanted a chunkier sauce you could do that

  6. Hi Liz, I am canning this and wonder if I can use commercial tomato paste to help thicken? Would that be a problem? Thanks and love the receipt !

    1. I have never tried doing that, but I can’t see why that would be an issue!

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