Amanda has a decade's worth of homesteading experience: gardening, canning, butchering chickens, milking cows, and making maple syrup.
How do you turn 400 pounds of tomatoes into 92 quarts of wonderful smoky sauce in one day? With an outdoor evaporator and the help of several friends, of course.
We had a party—a tomato saucing party—over Labor Day weekend 2014. We got a great deal on the tomatoes, grown naturally in a greenhouse a couple of miles away, that amounted to about 10 cents per pound. The trick was getting all those tomatoes reduced into sauce and canned in just one day. We used our outdoor evaporator, which we had originally built for the purpose of boiling sap for maple syrup.
Our DIY Outdoor Evaporator
Our outdoor evaporator is made of standard 8-inch cinder blocks stacked 3 rows high. A welder made the frame that fits 5 catering pans. We drilled the pans and made wire handles so that we can lift them out easily.
The chimney keeps the proper draft in the fire below and takes the smoke away, distributing it high above where we are cooking. In this case, the smoke gave the sauce a wonderful flavor (many quarts were later made into a great smoky barbecue sauce!).
Making Tomato Sauce With an Outdoor Evaporator
- Wash the tomatoes in cold water and allow them to soak. Soaking them in cold water will help them stay fresh until you are ready to chop them.
- Remove the tomato cores.
- Chop the tomatoes into chunks that will easily fit into your blender or food processor.
- Use your food processor or blender to juice the tomatoes. We wanted to use the whole tomato, so we ran the chunks through a blender to break up the skins and seeds.
- Pour the tomato juice into the pans on the outdoor evaporator.
- Keep stirring the juice and move it from pan to pan as the water evaporates, to prevent scalding, until you have a runny tomato sauce.
- To avoid scorching the tomato sauce, bring it back inside to finish on the stove.
- When the sauce is the consistency you like, carefully ladle it into canning jars. It is a good idea to preheat your canning jars in the oven. Set your oven to its lowest setting (usually 170˚F), and place the jars on cookie sheets inside.
- Cap your jars and place them in a water-bath canner for 20 minutes.
Step-by-Step Photo Guide
How Many Quarts of Sauce Does 400 Pounds of Tomatoes Make?
In the end, we had 92 quarts of wonderful smoky tomato sauce. We chose not to add any salt or spices to the sauce, leaving it completely natural. That way, folks could use it any way they liked.
Many of us chose to make barbecue sauce because that natural smoked flavor was so good. We also made pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and soup.
Folks who wanted to take some sauce home with them paid a small fee to cover the cost of jars, lids and tomatoes, I think it ended up being about two dollars per quart. It was a long day and we all worked really hard. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Need Help? Throw a Party!
Even with our evaporator going full force, we couldn’t have finished in one day without help. Fortunately, we have some crazy friends who love to get in on our homesteading endeavors. They were happy to come and help.
We had a potluck with burgers on the grill for lunch, chili and stew waiting in crock pots for dinner, and cornbread. Since it was still warm outside, the kids enjoyed going in the pool.
I am always amazed at how many people want to come and work on the farm. For a while, I had a waiting list of folks who wanted to help us butcher chickens! We had a couple of chicken-butchering parties that involved a potluck meal and a game of Frisbee afterward.
One of my favorite memories of that day was meeting some new friends that my husband had invited. They happened to arrive right when we were trying to get lunch going and were up to our elbows in tomatoes. (A word of advice: Don’t try to make three dozen hamburgers in the middle of saucing 400 pounds of tomatoes.)
Anyway, the wife walked in and my first words to her were, “how is your husband at grilling burgers?” She said he was good, so I handed him a tray full of raw burgers and pointed him toward the grill. They dove right in and got to work. I learned later that they were just those kind of folks, the ones who like hard work and helping out. They helped us butcher chickens too.
One year, they came for Thanksgiving dinner. She made half the meal and when they left, I noticed that my dishes were done! How they did them without me noticing, I’m not sure, but it was a nice surprise. Be that kind of friend. It’s more fun when you can work in the kitchen together.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Amanda Buck