Capturing summer in a Mason jar
August 20th, 2012
03:00 PM ET
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Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with She likes twisting her own soft pretzels, perfecting pineapple upside down cake, tackling English toffee, sharing people-pleasin' pizza dip, sunflower cheesecakes and green soup and cajoling recipes from athletes.

Each year, I can tell by the languor of the tomato vines in our backyard that it’s time. They recline like some exhausted 1940s Hollywood starlet, even though we’ve already relieved them of their burden.

The kitchen countertops become laden with fiery red, homegrown tomatoes. Garlic, onions and bell peppers appear in the kitchen in bulk, while fresh herbs disappear from the garden and local grocery store and take up pungent residence in the refrigerator.

Add a quartet of the largest stock pots to the stovetop, and the ritual has begun. It’s time to capture the last sunset of summer in a jar.

My father begins in April, usually on Good Friday after the final frost of the season. He carefully tills the patch in our backyard and plants the delicate, baby crops that will eventually become the best tomatoes you’ve ever eaten.

Daddy throws himself into tending the garden, watering in the early mornings and late evenings when the sun paints our backyard.

After he delivers the first ripe tomatoes to the kitchen, we can’t pick them fast enough. A silver pail remains close at hand in the garage to collect our garden’s bounty on a daily basis. There’s nothing I like more than picking them in the morning. My cat, Martha, likes to supervise by rolling in the dirt by the rosemary plant.

Summer waxes and wanes and before we know it, the vines are telling us it’s nearly September and they’ve done all they can. We collect the last of what they have to give, and set out to capture the taste and essence of summer before it disappears.

My mother begins the mammoth task of shopping for all of the supplementary ingredients, but it’s nothing compared to peeling pounds of garlic, chopping onions and peppers, mincing herbs and peeling tomatoes.

Before long, she’s got tomato sauce bubbling in each pot. If, by any chance, I’ve forgotten it’s tomato-sauce-making day, I encounter a knock-you-down-with-love aroma when I walk through the front door.

As always, dinner is a celebration of the sauce. Just like no summer is ever the same, this sauce tastes gloriously unique each time we make it.

Mason jars line the countertops now, where the tomatoes once piled up. They have to cool down and rest overnight before being frozen into enough sauce for pizza, pasta and other delights for an entire year, until the tomato vines enter their languor again.

Besides taking a jar out of the freezer and enjoying that time-capsule taste of summer all year long, what I love most is listening to the lids of the hot jars softly popping all night before they’re locked away. It’s a symphony, much like the last chorus of crickets in the backyard, that signals the end of a season.

Mom's Tomato Sauce
*This recipe makes three quarts of sauce. You should have two quarts left over to put in the freezer or send home with your friends.


  • 2 28-oz. cans crushed Italian tomatoes, or 12 large fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tsp turbinado sugar (optional)
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Sauté the onions, red and green bell peppers and garlic in the olive oil until tender.
  2. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
  3. Cook for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste, fresh basil and fresh parsley and cook for another 15 minutes.
  5. Depending on how sweet you like your sauce, add the turbinado sugar at the very end.
  6. Remove the bay leaf and serve.
  7. This sauce keeps well in the freezer for several months. If you want to freeze, make sure and leave the sauce in the refrigerator or on the counter overnight first. This allows the flavors to marry, and freezing the sauce helps it retain the natural beautifully bright color. Never place the hot jars in the freezer or they will break.
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Filed under: Italian • Recipes • Tomatoes

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. NoTags

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    The only way weed will ever be legalized in America will be by having a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • NoTags

      My reply was to a YouTube video that was previously posted. Apparently CNN has now pulled the video down.

      August 23, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Obama betrayed his supporters

      Obama should have respected the Medical Marijuana Community – now Romney will be voted in as president in November because Libertarians will vote for Freedom and against the liar Obama and his draconian thug Pelosi.

      August 23, 2012 at 11:35 am |
      • Romney 2012

        WhooooHooooo ROMNEY 2012............... vote that Bozo Obama out of Office in November:

        RESPECT for Medical Marijuana Patients is mandatory...!

        August 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
        • Mitt Romney

          I believe in banning coffee and tea, and in strong jail terms for violators. No drugs at all!

          August 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Mitt Romney

      I consider sweet tea a dangerous drug. I tried it once in college and it made me see colors.

      August 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  2. John Engle

    Combining canning and freezing is not necessary – you can skip one step or the other. The easiest thing to do is to skin the tomatoes – if you want to – and freeze them in bags. If you have a vacuum sealer, that is good too. you can make sauce and just freeze it in freezer bags with the air pressed out. If you are going to make sauce and can it, then I have never needed to freeze it to keep the color – just do the water bath and shelve them. Saves time not having to thaw them out when you need a quick meal. Despite what many will tell you, you need to do the waterbath canning method – yes people will tell you how to can using your oven or microwave, or putting the hot food in hot jars and letting that do the seal, but do you really want to risk your life or your family's life by messing around with food poisoning? Take the extra 20 – 30 minutes to do it the right way. Tomatos are acidic enough that you don't need to pressure can them.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe for the sauce, it sounds wonderful...John

    August 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  3. Inky

    From the article title I was expecting to find fire-fly catching techniques.

    August 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • CityFarmboy

      Funny... I was expecting a moonshine recipe!

      August 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  4. Jellybean

    Wonderful read and thanks for the recipe.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ashley Strickland

      Happy to share and thanks for reading, Jellybean!

      August 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  5. workinprogress

    I canned over 2 dozen quarts of tomato sauce, 2 dozen pints of salsa, and boy,am I glad that is through! Having 5 buckets full of tomatoes that are quickly ripening can be quite stressful and tedious. We've certainly got the process down pat though, and every little bit helps. Oh, and dehydrated tomatoes are awesome!

    August 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Ashley Strickland

      Wow, sounds like you were incredibly busy, workinprogress! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I can definitely relate to the buckets of quickly ripening tomatoes! The great thing is you'll really enjoy that sauce and salsa when the weather turns cold - right at your fingertips whenever you want it.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  6. Grampa72

    Don't freeze the sauce! Freezing will burst the cells; water separates out; the result, at very least, needs remixing. Plus, what Mike says- canning (especially something as acid as tomatoes and tomato sauce) itself preserves the product.

    I see you don't peel them – good; never saw the point.

    Looks good (UNfrozen).

    August 21, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Ashley Strickland

      Hi Grampa72! Thanks for sharing this, but I have to say, we've been freezing the sauce (the next day, not the night of) for years and we've never had this problem or had to remix. And we do, as I included in the story, peel the tomatoes.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:12 am |
      • Colombian

        i like you

        August 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
      • Grampa72

        I saw the peeling business later – I've never seen someone peel (effectively) without dropping 'em in boiling water.
        Plus (as to freezing), I saw separation.

        I am intrigued by your recipe. All my garden (Roma) tomatoes now go to piccalili, but I'll probably try this with canned tomatoes.

        But I won't freeze the results.

        August 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
        • Ashley Strickland

          Thanks for responding! My mom has a gift when it comes to peeling tomatoes, but it's definitely hard to do. And as far as freezing goes, to each his own :)

          August 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
        • Dave from Shreveport

          If your putting up A LOT of tomatoes I suggest you invest in the Sqeezo Strainer: It has a perforated cone that allows tomato "meat" and juice to flow out but separates out the skin, core and seeds. No coring or peeling. Available at that online stone named after a river in South America. I'm not connected with either company, I'm just a convert.

          August 22, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  7. patrick

    "This allows the flavors to marry." – oh, that's excellent.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Mitt Romney

      If they are gay flavors, Mr. Cathy and I are against letting them marry.

      August 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Mitt Romney

      If those flavors are "odd," Mr. Cathy and I are against allowing them to marry.

      August 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  8. Joel

    Canning canned tomatoes? My family always boiled the tomatoes after washing and cutting an X in the bottom, once reaching a hot boil turning off the heat and allow to cool. Once cooled peel the tomatoes (it's easy using the pre-cut X) and then place them in the Mason jars, lid the jar tightly and allow the jars to 'pop' overnight. Make sure all jars successfully sealed and remove the ring. Place the jars in the cupboard and use when ready.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Ashley Strickland

      Thanks for sharing this, Joel! We just use the tomatoes to make the sauce so I don't can them, but I appreciate you posting this here for people to learn how!

      August 21, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  9. Mike

    I've never canned anything but remember my mom doing so, and she NEVER froze anything she canned. The purpose of canning is to preserve the contents and make it last longer than it would otherwise. So why freeze it too?

    August 21, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Ashley Strickland

      Hey Mike, thanks for your comment! We allow the jars to sit out overnight and then freeze them the next day. Freezing it retains the bright color of the sauce, and we've never had any problems with it.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:09 am |
      • Dee

        I don't understand Joel's comment. You just wash, boil and peel a whole tomato and put in mason jars overnight, then remove ring and what?? You can store them for how long? Do you crush them? Is this basically in lieu of buying whole tomatoes in cans at the supermarket? Can you please explain as I've never heard of this before and I'm interested in doing so!

        August 21, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
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