Harnessing the Power of Steam

Ah, the merry little rocking of the weight atop the pressure cooker! I remember as a kid being unnerved by all the noise and sputtering from the pressure cooker in my mother's kitchen. Actually, I still find it a little unnerving, but now that is tempered by anticipation. All that spitting and sputtering will result in a perfectly preserved taste of summer.

As soon as I pop open one of my quarts of tomato sauce, the aroma takes me instantly back to August, no matter the time of year. I finally used up all the quarts I canned when T was in the tomato business, so it is quite important to me that I replenish my supply to get me through the winter.

I have read in multiple magazines or other articles that it is not really worth the effort to make your own tomato sauce, because the canned versions are as good as you'd make at home. I can actually understand that advice if you are using grocery-store tomatoes. There really is no point to sauce those yourself. If you're getting grocery-store quality, might as well save the time and effort and get grocery-store quality sauce pre-made.

But if you have more home-grown tomatoes than you can eat fresh (that is important-- always leave enough you can enjoy them right off the vine!), then I think it is totally worth the effort to sauce them IF you are also a gourmand. Because it IS a fair amount of work, you have to want it. I used to be perfectly content with grocery-store sauce, until I tried my own sauce for the first time in mid-winter. It really did taste like summer in a jar. No commercial sauce will give you that. And the flavor! When T was farming, we had all manner of heirloom varieties, and they all went into the sauce. The fresh brightness and complexity of flavor just cannot be achieved by a commercially prepared single-variety sauce.

I don't have quite the breadth of variety that I did when T was farming, but I do have mass plantings of three types and individual plantings of another half dozen or so tomato plants. I am confident that my sauce will again be superior to the commercial versions. Besides, my product is tailored specifically to my cooking style. I can more of a juice than a sauce. I do reduce it somewhat, but I leave it very plain. That way, when I need tomatoes for something, I can use it in any style. Mexican, middle-eastern, Italian, you name it. If I need it thin, it's thin. If I need it thicker, I can always reduce it at the time of final cooking (and usually with its new favors added).

This afternoon, I canned ten half-pints of salsa. I had forgotten that salsa is significantly more work than sauce. So I'm not sure I'll make another batch this summer. But if I don't give any away, it should be enough to get me through the winter since we don't eat Mexican food all that often. And I'll be able to make fresh salsa through the first frost, so my stash is safe until then.