Fresh Spaghetti Sauce From the Garden

Here’s the story of one family that grows just about everything they need to make fresh spaghetti sauce–and the kids love every morsel.

| August/September 1998

Assorted ingredients for the Fox family's fresh spaghetti sauce.


There is a thunderous noise. Children are running. There is shoving. The building shakes as a pretty little girl screams at the top of her lungs, "Me first! Me first!" No, the school dismissal bell hasn't just rung. Rather, my wife, while still stirring a pot of spaghetti noodles, had just slowly turned her head and stated in a low voice, "The spaghetti is almost ready." No one had to tell our kids the spaghetti sauce on the stove was homemade. Their keen olfactory nerves informed them all afternoon of this fact. Our house would have been a lot quieter if there had been canned sauce from the store in that pot. There would have been no screaming, no shoving, nor perhaps even any running, but far fewer smiles.

As you have probably guessed by now, everyone in our family relishes our home-made fresh spaghetti sauce. When birthdays approach, the birthday kid is given the choice of a meal: either pizza, French toast and fried ham, or homemade spaghetti. Most of the time, it's the spaghetti that's chosen. Luckily, we grow our own tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, parsley, and basil–in other words just about everything we need to put together the delectable spaghetti sauce our family craves.

We have been experimenting with various spaghetti sauce recipes for a number of years. We have added ground beef, meatballs, and have even tried adding a soup bone or two. But our favorite spaghetti sauce, everyone in our family agrees, is the meatless one. The primary ingredient of our favorite spaghetti sauce, and the one which we believe is the real secret, is homemade tomato puree. Whether the puree is fresh, frozen, or canned doesn't seem to make a great difference–as long as it is homemade. Last year we canned and froze 53 quarts and we ran out in April! This year, we canned and froze a lot, lot more.

Tomato Puree

To make great tomato puree, we use only tomatoes that have ripened on the vine. This doesn't mean they have to be dead ripe on the vine, just mostly red. It doesn't seem to make a difference if the tomatoes are left a day or two inside before making puree. However, we always keep the tomatoes warm–from 65°F to 85°F. One rule we apply religiously is to keep them out of the refrigerator.

Although we do often use Italian plum tomato paste, we found that the exact type of tomato doesn't seem to be that important. What is important is that the tomatoes be truly vine-ripened. There is a dirty little secret shared by commercial tomato growers and buyers. Vine ripened, to them, simply means the tomato was picked at the mature green stage. This stage rarely includes tomatoes with even a hint of a pinkish tinge here and there. Most tomatoes picked at the mature green stage will look nice when they finally ripen in the store, but their taste can best be described as fair–and this characterization may be a bit generous. A true vine-ripened tomato is one which can be enjoyed fresh (not fried!) when picked right off the plant.

A Squeezo strainer, Victorio strainer and some other kitchen appliances do a good job in making tomato puree. The Squeezo and Victorio strainers remove the seeds and skin and just leave the pulp and juice, doing most of the labor for you. Before we had our strainer, we used a relatively inexpensive food mill. A food mill is a fine-holed colander that uses either a wood mallet or a metal blade attached to a handle to push the tomato pulp through. While food mills work great, they require more effort than most other puree makers.

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