I can't explain how great it is to have this on hand for when you get home from swimming lessons etc at almost dinner time. I've never bought a ready made jar of pasta sauce in my life, but this is 4 million times better than any I've tasted (it tastes SO fresh and flavoursome and fantastic - like the pasta sauce i had at a very expensive Italian restaurant a few months ago). Note that my basil sprigs were fairly large ;) 

Also I judge it cost probably less than one dollar per jar (including the dollar cost of the cooking gas). If I had bio-gas or a solar cooker we'd be really rocking!

This is my 1970s Fowler's Vacola preserving unit (that's the thermometer holder at the front there - water from inside circulates around the thermometer through a hole, the thermometer is not actually sitting in it for the photo - it has metal flanges to hold it up, but just putting any thermometer in the water and reading the temp would be fine), the tomato basil sauce at right front, plum cordial, and tomato ketchup.



This is a badly transcribed version of Stephanie Alexander's 'Fast Basic Tomato Sauce' recipe, from "The Kitchen Garden Companion".

Makes 1.5 cups

You need a large non stick frying pan (a wok worked well for me) and a food mill with a medium disc

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 fresh bay leaf

500g ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 sprigs basil, oregano or mint

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (or a shake of chilli flakes) - see note on F.V. salting recommendation below - basically about 2/3 tsp salt is recommended if preserving.

Heat oil, medium heat, add onion and bay leaf, cover and cook for 5 mins or until onion is well softened but hardly coloured. Add tomato, garlic and herbs. Cover, cook on medium heat, stirring frequently - about 10 minutes or until tomato has collapsed (took a little longer for me, using double quantities in wok on the BBQ).  Add seasonings.

Fast Basic Tomato Sauce in the wok on the BBQ at right (the big pan is a 6 hour boil down of homemade tomato ketchup!)

Put through the food mill (press down slightly, it helps a lot), until you have only tomato skins and seeds in the mill (and I had bits of onion too - might have needed to cook for longer). Scrape bottom of food mill - mix. Done :)

Food mill and medium disc (from Caterer's Supplies shop - about $60 for this one I think - 'cos I want to do LOTS of this).

TO PRESERVE (using instructions for tomato pulp - which is equivalent - in the Fowler's Vacola Manual):

Put sauce into clean, sterilised jars with good lids that will vacuum seal (e.g. fowler's vacola jars, or ring seal clip down lids - you can buy the F.V. lids, seals and clips in hardware stores, you might get lucky buying the uncracked, unchipped jars - especially check the rim - in op shops). If the pulp is still really hot, put a sterilised spoon in the jar before filling to prevent cracking. The F.V. manual says to add 7 grams of salt to every pint (600ml) of tomato pulp - so about 2/3 a teaspoon to 1.5 cups in the recipe above.

Place jars in saucepan of water up to their necks (use warm water if the jars are not cool - otherwise use cold water and heat it with the jars in it). 

There's nothing special about a boiler unit - it's just bigger than all your other pans, and it has an external thermometer holder, which is handy - but I did another lot in a big thick bottomed saucepan with a close fitting lid at the same time, no problems. Sometimes you need to take the lid off anyway - depends on the size of your gas/ pan etc.

Bring to 93.3 degrees Celsius (200 degrees Fahrenheit - temps in the manual are in Fahrenheit. 212 F is boiling point). 

Hold at this temperature for 2 hours. One sterilisation is sufficient.

Press lids down when removing from the preserving pan. Do not remove clips (if you have them) for 36 hours. CHECK the seals will not twist or lift before putting away. They should only be breakable by inserting a blade between the rubber ring and the lid to break the suction. The lid (if metal) should be concave (sucked in) to the eye.

NB the Fowler's Vacola manual expressly states that unless you use all their gear they won't be held responsible for these instructions being no good. 

These are recycled passata bottle - I need something smaller, because they have tomato ketchup in them, which even with heaps of kids around we don't use all that often. Still - am happy to splash this around, unlike the bought stuff. Felt okay using recycled jars because the ketchup has been boiled for more than 6 hours and is very unlikely to have anything nasty survive in it. All the lids popped back in - a good sign. Everything needs refrigeration after opening though - including ketchup which of course you wouldn't normally put in the fridge -no preservatives! 

Pantry of happiness :)

Cost of entire pantry worth of food:  $14 tray of tomatoes, 2 x $12 tray of plums, apples from the tree, two kilo of sugar (say $3 for organic), 300g of local honey (about $3) => all up about $44 for more than 50 jars of stuff, each of which you'd pay at least $3 for (some more like $15, given the amount of food stuffed in there) in a shop.... Some you just can't buy - 'pie apple' a very poor substitute for this still firm, lightly cooked apple, which is still very versatile.

NB I got a $35 fill for our 9kg BBQ gas bottle to do this - not even half gone.

I expect to eat it all this year, but apparently it would last for up to two years quite safely. Probably more.

50 jars at $3 each is $150. We spent say $60. Saving is at least $90. (although I might have to throw some of those leaked plum ones out - not sure. In any case, even if perfectly sealed I will boil any I'm not completely confident about for 15 minutes before use).

So as long as I don't give us all botulism, we are totalling winning ;)

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  • Actually I had a look in a supermarket the other day - the small containers of fruit are $5-6 each! So actually at least $300 worth of food for $60. Pretty good :)

  • Have u ever made semi-dried tomatoes, in olive oil, mine are going bubblie. They were oven dried and bottled with rosemary and thyme.  It didnt work. The first lot did, but I think I put them staight in to the fridge


    • I haven't no. I worked with a chef who made some like this, and put them in oil, and when the oil went bubbly he said they were bad and threw them out. But I'm afraid I have no better/ more reliable information than that. 

      This forum has some good chat about it: http://www.seco.com.au/sustainable_living/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=729

      I really should try this. There is no information about preserving tomatoes in oil, or semi or sun drying tomatoes at all in my Fowler's Vacola book - but it is old, circa the 70s I would say.

  • Have u made semi-dried tomatoes? I got the reciepe from the net.  But they are not vac sealed. They are bottled in olive oil.  Will this keep them Ok?

    • Hello, I have tried drying tomatoes and they turned out very well, however my experience is that if preserved in oil, the oil may and probably will go rancid before the tomatoes get eaten. They need to be consumed within a reasonable period of time. I wonder if you tried drying them and then vacuum sealing them and freezing them. Be aware also that I have found any tomatoes preserved in oil tend to be chewy and also the skins tend to be tough (if left on before drying that is).  

    • I never have! I"ve thought about doing it often enough, but not actually done so.

      I'm not sure. It's something I worry about, I haven't found any good enough info on it. I worked in a pub once and the chef made a huge jar of semi dried tomatoes in olive oil, but they got bubbles in them and he had to throw them out - more than a hundred dollars worth :(

      I'm not sure how you get any bad bugs off before they go in the oil - how much drying is enough?

      Now this would be the thing to get: http://www.bakeandbrew.com.au/prod647.htm

  • Fantastic post, thanks! Very inspirational!

  • Update: I opened one of the leaked plum jars last night and it took me about 3 minutes to break the seal! No mould/ discolouration/ odour/ bubbles. So I boiled the contents for about five minutes and then baked it in a cake/ pudding. Would cost probs $35 to buy that from the fancy french cake shop down the road... 

    I'll put my plum cake recipe is the forum. 

    • Ha-ha, I laughed when I saw your "happy pantry" snap as you have the same labelling (or lack of) as mine. (or maybe you write on lids??) 

      Sauce recipe looks like I will have to try it when I get a few more tomatoes going - having recently read an article about the amounts of evil plastic stuff in cans - need to stop my use of canned tomatoes. (is it DHP, the stuff they are trying to phase out of kids plastic lunchboxes but nobody realises it is the sealant used in all canned goods to protect food from can) sorry I would look the name up but too hard at the moment, computer issues.

      I have been hinting at getting that book for Xmas/my birthday/Mother's Day but as yet no luck. May have to buy it myself!!

      • yes - i wanted to make a year's supply of canned tomatoes, but then i got carried away with plums and apples because they were on hand. will have to eat them fast before tomato season is over down here

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