One of the first things I asked my grandmother for when I moved into our house was her tomato sauce recipe. Grammy's tomato sauce was pretty famous (well, at least it was within our family) and she always had a ton of it on hand for any dish that required it. As soon as I got that recipe from her, I began making my own sauce every couple of months and storing it in pre-portioned vacuum sealed bags in the freezer. It is kind of a long process to make Grammy's sauce - It has a few different stages and each stage requires some bubble and simmer time, so it is not something you can just whip up whenever you want. But it is definitely worth all the time stirring and watching.
Now that I'm about to embark on full time Student Teaching, I knew I wouldn't have time to make Grammy's sauce for a while. But pouring the sauce into the freezer bags, using the vacuum sealer without getting sauce everywhere, and storing not quite flat bags in the freezer was getting old. When I got this month's issue of Food Network Magazine, I saw they had a section dedicated to preserving jam. I thought, well if you could do it with jam, you could probably do it with tomato sauce too, right? After some web browsing, I found out that it IS possible, you just have to be careful with your recipe to prevent poisoning your family :) Which means no meat, no fats, and limited low-acid ingredients in the recipe. If you google it, you'll find a ton of different recipes suitable for canning. This site was particularly helpful, as was the article in Food Network magazine which has pictures of every step. Most importantly, be diligent with the sanitizing! Here was our process:
--A big big pot - big enough to fit the jars, a small rack for the jars to stand on, and enough room on top of the jars so that they can be covered by boiling water
--Canning jars with new lids and bands
--A canning rack or a small wire rack that fits inside your big pot. If you don't have one or can't find one (like me), you can use silverware. Criss cross some silverware at the bottom of your pot so that you can place the jars on top of them. You just need some space between the bottom of the jars and the bottom of the pot.
--Clean kitchen towels
1. Pre-clean the jars, lids and bands with hot, soapy water.
2. Sterilize the jars: Place the jars on top of you rack or silverware. Fill the pot with water and boil for at least 10 minutes to sanitize. Keep them in the simmering water until you are ready to fill them. Put the lids and bands in a smaller saucepan of simmering (NOT boiling) water until ready to use.
3. Using the tongs, remove a jar from the boiling water. Pour out the water and place the sanitized jar on one of the clean kitchen towels. Using a clean funnel, fill the jar with sauce leaving about 1/4 inch at the top. Repeat this step with the other jars to use up all of the sauce.
4. Using tongs, remove lids from the simmering water and place on top of the jars. Remove the bands from the water and hand-tighten (do not over-tighten) the band.
5. Processing: Put the filled jars back on top of the rack in the pot of water. Cover with at least 2 inches of water and cover. Bring to a boil and let boil for 35 minutes.
6. After the processing time, remove the jars from the water with the tongs and place on a clean kitchen towel in an area where they will not be disturbed for 24 hours. A vacuum seal will form (you might even hear a POP of the lid getting sealed on!)
7. After 24 hours, use your finger to lightly press in the center of the lid - it should not pop at all. Vacuum sealed jars can be stored at room temperature until ready to use.
It wasn't so bad, it was just a little bit time consuming. The process is pretty much the same for preserving other things like jams and jellies (processing times will probably differ according to the recipe) so once you learn how to do it you can preserve anything. Best of all, only the lids are not reusable. Your jars can be used over and over again.