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Making and canning tomato sauce… with a food mill!

What do you do with a Saturday in the middle of tomato season? Can some tomato sauce!

For today’s Craft School Saturday, I’ll show you my latest adventures in canning… yielding 7 quarts of yummy pasta sauce!

The old-school way of making sauce

Every year, I can tomato sauce (which, despite being called ‘canning’, it usually means putting stuff into glass jars). Since no one in my family cans, I learned everything I know about canning from the Ball Company’s Blue Book Guide to Preserving. (Although, I’m very happy to report that I’ve since taught my mom!)

Photo from last year’s canning
So, every year, I make tomato sauce, which requires the following steps: acquire large amounts of tomatoes, peel the skin off the tomatoes, boil the tomatoes down (adding spices) until it’s sauce, then put the sauce into jars and can. Previously, I’ve blanched the tomatoes and peeled the skin off each one… a very time consuming process.

This year’s innovation

You may recall that earlier this year, I was on the local news modeling for the book Craft Activism. Also on the show was the chef from an Italian restaurant. One of the perks of following a cooking segment is that you get to eat the food cooked during the show!

The chef told me that they make all of the sauce for their restaurant. I asked if he had any tips for speedy-sauce making, and he told me that they use a food mill. I had never heard of such a thing… but it’s changed my sauce-making life!

Food mills magically remove the skin and peels from the tomatoes, and leave behind a nice, smooth sauce. What an invention!

So this year… I got a food mill! What a great investment! It wasn’t very expensive and it really sped up the process!

Making the sauce

Warning: it’s messy… but pretty fun, too! My two bushels of tomatoes (about 50 lbs) made 7 quarts of sauce. This is less than my average crop, partially because I threw in some non-sauce tomatoes.

Step 1: get tomatoes

If you have a local farmer’s market, then that’s the place you’ll want to go to get your tomatoes. Ask if they have ‘seconds’, which is code for ‘tomatoes with a bump or bruise’. They’re too damaged to be sold at full price, but they’re great for sauce!

I bought 2 bushels. Ideally, you want ‘sauce’ tomatoes (a variety with more fleshy-bits on the inside), but some of the ones I got this year were heirlooms, and they worked just fine. Non-sauce varieties taste just as yummy, they just might need some extra boiling time (when making the sauce) because of their extra water content.

Step 2: Cut out icky parts and run through food mill

Cut out any severely bruised or moldy/icky parts of the tomato… you don’t want that in your sauce! Then, cut the tomatoes into quarters (or whatever size you need to so that they fit through your mill), and start cranking!

Oh yeah… and set up the food mill according to the instructions on the box… but you probably knew to do that!

Look at me go!

The food mill pours yummy sauce down one chute, and all the seeds and skin comes out another:

Man… this was WAY faster than blanching and peeling the skins!

Step 3: make sauce

So, the next thing you do is take all that sauce that’s been pouring out of the sauce chute and put it in a pot on your stove… or, if you have as many tomatoes as me, a few pots:

Add in whatever you think would be yummy. I added (pre-sauteed) garlic and onions, plus some basil, oregano and salt.

Then, just keep cooking until it’s the consistency of sauce you buy in the store!

Step 4: put sauce into cans and process

Once you have your sauce, it’s time to can it! Basically, you pour the hot sauce into the jars (leaving a little room at the top), put the lid on, and then dunk the jar in boiling water for 15 minutes. (If you’re a newbie to canning, definitely read up on detailed instructions!)

Step 5: stare proudly at your sauce!

There’s nothing I love more than looking at my beautiful jars of sauce, all lined up and waiting for winter!

Aren’t they pretty?

Step 5: Hire a clean-up crew

Just kidding! Well… sorta. Your kitchen, if you’re at all like me, probably looks like a disaster zone by the end:

I’m not gonna lie… you’re going to have to break out your elbow grease. I recommend baking soda: cleans wonders! And really, isn’t it all worth it to have that beautiful sauce?

Have a happy Labor Day Weekend!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my sauce-making adventures, and that you have a fabulous weekend!


  1. Su SAYS...

    UM! Did you sneak in my house and take a picture of my stove? I haven’t canned sauce in years, but I make a lot of soups and stews with the same result. Usually tastes great, but oh what a mess. have a great labor day week end.

  2. ZoeOB SAYS...

    Wow, Stacey, that’s an impressive amount of sauce! Now I know what to do with tomatoes that don’t look so pretty.

  3. Julie SAYS...

    You are so inspiring to me! I love that you share not only crochet, but other interests such as tomato sauce canning. I am so getting a food mill because every year when my husband brings in all those tomatoes from the garden I get this sense of dread in all the work. That food mill looks like it would cut work in half! Also I got myself the polymer clay book you talked about and some sculpey clay (it came in the mail today) and I can’t wait to try making my own stuff with it. Thanks for all the inspiration and excitment you bring to us each week/day. In this world of negativity, it is so nice to have positive uplifting people like you around. I sincerely mean that. RAVID: Tanknit

    • Thank you, Julie! I really appreciate your lovely words of compliments and encouragement!
      And for sure, the food mill cuts the work by *at least* half! 🙂

  4. Lucia SAYS...

    me and my mom can all the time ^^ i’m glad to see you exploring this, you SO have to try pickled beats, there the best!

    • @Lucia- ooh, I should try beets! Every time I get beets, I can’t help but eating them straight away… I’ll have to set some aside 🙂

  5. That sauce looks yummy. I was wondering if a crockpot might be a way easier method for cooking down the sauce. I can pears into a caramel pear butter using a crockpot and the whole house smell so good when doing this. Easy clean-up too.

  6. Well my Mom stayed the weekend and we canned 184 jars of asst jams, preserves, conserves, baked 12 loaves of zucchini bread, 3 dozen cookies, 2 batches of cornbread, 2 batches of home made ice cream and a upside down date pudding. It was definitely a Labor Day weekend and glad to be back at work because I’m exhausted. And I totally relate to the MESS that it makes!!! Oiy!!!

    • Holy cow! That’s amazing! You put my 7 quarts of sauce to shame 🙂

      • It was absolutely ridiculous!!! 60 lbs of pickles, 4 gallon bags of shredded zucchini, 4 gallon bags of sliced strawberries, 15 bags of cranberries, 2 watermelons (the rinds for watermelon pickles)..on and on and on……Ugh.

  7. BTW, when we canned our elderberries a couple weeks ago, our food mill got a workout. Love it!!!! The only way to go when you can’t digest seeds!!! =)

  8. jane SAYS...

    Just ran across this when reading about food mills and tomato sauce. to make this whole process even easier put your washed, cored, and halved tomatoes into the oven in a large cake pan at 350 for about 40 min. then pour off water. return to oven and cook another 40 min. pour off more water. then run through mill and it is already thick!

    • Thanks, Jane… that’s a great idea!

  9. Renee Fletcher SAYS...

    Can you please let me know what Type of Food Mill you have? Thanks!!

    • @Renee- If you click on the link blue text “food mill” in the post, it’ll take you to my exact model!

      • munya SAYS...

        I wanna can on a commercial scale….where can I get a mill

  10. Renee Fletcher SAYS...

    Thank you! I guess I missed that the first time! You’re the best!

  11. Thanks for sharing this…I’ve been looking for an easy way to use all my tomatoes. Heading to the store right now to get a food mill.

  12. Laurel LaLonde SAYS...

    I beg you to study up on the safe method of canning tomatoes and then update your instructions. Tomatoes need lemon juice or citric acid added to them to raise their acidity to a safe level for water bath canning. They also need to be processed in the water bath canner for a much longer time – 40 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. Not doing these steps can cause botulism to grow in the tomatoes and it is invisible, tasteless and odorless. Tomatoes that are not processed properly are not safe to eat.

    • Thank you for your concern.
      Most tomatoes are high in acid (like any other fruit) and do not need additional acid (like lemon juice) to be canned safely. If you are using a low-acid tomato (or are unsure, or worried), then you can go ahead and add some lemon juice!
      This blog post is a simple description… not intended to teach folks how to properly can. I would expect those interested in canning for themselves for the first time would pick up a book on canning, which also contains instructions for properly sterilizing your jars, exact processing times, proper headspace, etc.

  13. Stephen SAYS...

    I have the same mill, did you find that as the sauce came out it was too watery. I used Roma tomatoes and it came out like tomato juice. I wonder if a larger screen with larger diameter holes will produce a thicker product.

  14. Anonymous SAYS...

    I’ve learned from many years of using this food mill on tomatoes for sauce that you should always run your “skin & seeds” thru the mill more than once. I was amazed the first time I did it at how much more pulp came out. I run it thru until the seeds and skin are practically dry.