Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Fiasco and a Lesson I Learned Along the Way

Let’s start with a little background. I dislike raw tomatoes, so much so that they kind of make me gag. It all started when I was seven and I went on a camping trip with another family. One night for dinner the mom made macaroni and cheese, and then to my horror opened up a can of diced tomatoes and added them to the Kraft macaroni.

I ate my dinner (because back then kids weren’t picky, they just sucked it up and ate their food) and in a few hours I was in the campground bathroom throwing up Kraft macaroni and tomatoes. While I didn’t care for raw tomatoes before this fateful night, I really didn’t like them afterward. To this day raw tomatoes make my stomach churn and I avoid them if I can.

When my friend gave us a huge box of vegetables it was full of tomatoes. I immediately started planning and was eager to try making my own spaghetti sauce. I mean I make my own bread, tortillas, pasta, and even English muffins, surely it was time for me to join the ranks of spaghetti sauce maker.

One night when I really didn’t have time to start a big project (like homemade spaghetti sauce) I grabbed my computer, a pot and got to work. I Googled “homemade spaghetti sauce”  “cooking tomatoes” “homemade tomato sauce recipes” and other variations trying to figure out how to make homemade sauce. I found a few ideas and got to work.

Step 1: Boil the Tomatoes

At this point I was feeling quite good about myself. I was already writing the blog post in my head- “Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce” and thinking about how many people I could help save money on their dinner.

Problem 1: The instructions said boil for one minute and the skins would crack. My tomatoes had super tomato skin and boiled forever before I saw signs of cracking!

Step 2: Put Them in the Ice Water

Things were starting to look up again as I saw the peels start to come off, I wasn’t even working hard.

Problem 2: Pride comes before the fall.

Step 3: Remove the Skin.

Easy cheesy! At this point I was snapping photos and finishing up the mental blog post about how easy it was to make homemade spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes.

Problem 3: See problem two above.

Step 4: Squeeze out the Seeds

Let’s just say I got a little ahead of myself on this one. After removing the skins it was time to “squeeze” out the seeds according to my directions.

I had already created quite a mess removing the skin, but I was determined to continue. I started squeezing the tomatoes and juice and seeds were everywhere. The smell and the juice was making me sick to my stomach, but I was not going to waste all those free tomatoes!

Problem 4: If tomatoes make me gag, why did I think I could successfully process a box full of them?

Step 5: Make a HUGE Mess in the Kitchen With Tomato Guts

At this point my kids were already eating dinner and they sat spellbound as their mother continued to make more and more of a mess!

Problem 5: I’m not a big fan of messes.

Step 6: Use Vita-Mix

I finally gave up trying to get all the seeds out and threw all the tomatoes into the Vita-Mix hoping that some ultra high powered blending would mutilate all the seeds.

Problem 6: The Vita-Mix’s awesome blending power whipped my tomatoes into a pink frothy juice.

Step 7: Put Frothy Pink Juice Into Large Pot, Add Other Ingredients

At this point I was on the fence about throwing in the towel. I thought that if I could get over the frothy pink sauce and tomato gut mess I could power through to the simmering sauce stage.

Problem 7: What simmering sauce stage?

Step 8: Panic then Get on Twitter to Ask for Help

This was probably the first smart thing I did all night! Tens of tomato sauce experts reached out to help me fixed my sauce-tas-tropy.

Problem 8: I was missing a key ingredient- tomato paste. Apparently it is required for homemade sauce.

Step 9: Do Everything That Everyone Tells You To Do on Twitter Regarding the Sauce

As ridiculous as it sounds, this actually worked. Eventually, after simmering for over an hour and using almost every spice in my cabinet, I had sauce. A whole cupful of it.

WHAT??!?!?!?!?!

After almost two hours in the kitchen I was left with about 16 ounces of sauce. At this point I was starting to do the math. I can buy a 16 ounce jar of sauce for $0.75 or less with a coupon. I worked for 2 hours, spent a few pennies and got the same amount of sauce.

Making my own spaghetti sauce cost me two hours of time and saved me $0.70.

I learned a few lessons that day.

Store bought sauce tastes as good as my homemade sauce.

Store bought sauce takes me 5 seconds to prepare, 10 if I have trouble opening the lid

But the most important lesson I learned is this. Many times we measure our success as a wife or homemaker based on how many homemade items we prepare, vegetables we grow in our back yard, outfits we sew from old sheets, or how neat and organized our homes are. The time I spent making spaghetti sauce could have been spent playing a game, reading a book, or jumping on the trampoline with my kids. Instead I was trying to prove how “healthy” our family lives by making everything from scratch, including our spaghetti sauce.

When we are older our kids will not remember how many times they had Ragu on their pasta. They will remember that mom learned how to do a “bottom bounce” on the trampoline, let them finger paint, or read them the same book 100 times in a week. When I look back on my own childhood I don’t remember many of our meals (except stuffed peppers – which by the way mom, I do not like), but I do remember my dad playing with us in the pool, my mom beating us in Monopoly, and our family sing-along’s in the car.

The next time you are tempted to overachieve in the homemaking category, first ask yourself if you are overachieving in the mom category. Making spaghetti sauce is easy, raising kids is hard. The rewards of making your own spaghetti sauce, kinda small. The rewards of an amazing relationship with your kids, a lifetime of treasures.

Comments

  1. Bravo! I don’t feel so bad about the tomatoes rotting in my fridge from my own garden because I do not have time to “make my own sauce.”

    Thanks for the reminder! REALLY appreciate it… may just not feel guilty about tossing the tomatoes now. Sigh… they’ve been there WAY too long.
    Take care!
    Dee

  2. It’s good to know that sometimes it doesn’t pay to put all the effort into making something from scratch! You stuck with it way longer than I would have!

  3. Great post! Yes, I’ve been there and done that. I am not a fan of processing tomatoes either. I use Jessica’s (@ LifeAsMom) Crockpot Red Sauce recipe and make a big batch for the freezer. It takes hardly any work (except opening cans of tomato sauce) and dicing some onions and the taste is like homemade without all the hassle.

    So…what did you end up doing with your cup of tomato sauce?? 🙂

  4. So true! I made some sauce this year and decided not to peel them. Instead, I put them all in a blender, mixed in the rest of the recipe and then put it all in the crockpot.

    Pretty simple, really. It wasn’t the same as “from a jar,” but it tasted good. And it was 15 quarts when I was done. :-p

  5. Kristi @Creative Kristi says:

    I just wrote a post on TRULY easy homemade pasta sauce (only 4 ingredients!) but I use canned whole tomatoes since my garden didn’t produce this year. I get 12 cups from my recipe. I’m glad you tried to overcome the yuckiness of raw tomatoes-blech I do not like them either!
    Check out my post and maybe you’ll like this version better?
    http://www.creativekristi.com/2010/10/simple-homemade-pasta-sauce.html
    But again, Ragu is better than sacrificing time with the kiddos! I just like mine because I whip it up in 5 minutes first thing in the morning & let it simmer all day (best of both worlds I guess?)

  6. Good for you for making the sauce! You know exactly what goes into it (no added nonsense!) If it makes you feel any better I’m afraid to have tomato soup. I took a babysitting CPR class when I was 12 and was told by the instructor that when you preform CPR without a face mask you get bloody vomit that looks like tomato soup all of you and in your mouth. Yum!

  7. Loved this post – thank you! Sounds like something I would have done 🙂 And, thank you for the reminder at the end…I needed that today!

  8. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear it went badly! If you ever find yourself in possession of lots of tomatoes again–send them my way! 🙂 But if that doesn’t work out, try: cutting them into quarters and simmering them with 1 can of diced tomatoes, 4-5 cloves of chopped garlic, a splash of red wine if you have it it, some olive oil, and a pinch of salt. (Chopped fresh basil is amazing here, but sub some dried if you don’t have fresh!) Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, and then blend it all together. And the trick: make it at least a day ahead because it gets significantly better the next day.

    So much better than jarred. And so easy! I promise.

    (Not to ignore the message of your post! But just in case you find yourself with lots of fresh tomatoes again.)

  9. Sorry to hear you had such a horrible experience… and I hate to give you the bad news, but should you ever find yourself in the same situation in the future, this will make your life A LOT easier.

    To get the skins to peel easily and in such little time you need to score the bottom with an x using a paring knife. You can use a food mill to help smash the tomatoes and it will catch the seeds for you.

    However, if you really want to take the easy way out you can wash (and core if you really want to, altho you don’t have to) the tomatoes and toss the in the Vita Mix. Blend thoroughly and simmer in pot with whatever flavors you want (garlic, basil, onion, mushroom, wine, etc.) Allow this all to simmer until it reduces to about half and viola! Also, paste isn’t needed, but it does help. If you don’t have it, just cook down the sauce a little extra to concentrate the flavor.

  10. you made a beautiful point at the end! For the future (should you dare to try again)… After I peel them, I don’t bother seeding mine… I just cut out the core and toss them in the pot with the onions, garlic, spices while I go play… then I let the immersion blender mush it all up later.( I also don’t bother with tomato paste.) I call it my multipurpose tomato base… Used as is, great over pasta especially with extra vegies tossed around… or add a little cream and it’s a pretty yummy tomato and basil soup! (and although I can usually justify the jarred pasta sauce- canned tomato soup really does scare me!)

  11. Thank you so much for your very well-timed post! I’m having a time right now feeling like a failure because I’m not a very good cook. It’s good to have the fact reinforced that if fixing something from a box may allow me extra time in other areas (like with the kids!) then I don’t have to try to be a superachiever in the kitchen.

    Thank you!

  12. What a great reminder! I needed that, as I frantically finish sewing the kid’s costumes for boo at the zoo tomorrow!

  13. I’m with you. the one time I tried, I found out (too late) that I used the wrong kind of tomatoes. YUCK. But I do have a good recipe for fast & easy spaghetti sauce. It costs the same as a jar, and you can make a TON. freeze it in zip lock baggies and you’re good to go!

  14. Christine says:

    Marinara sauce may be more your speed. It is super easy and does not require any processing of tomatoes. If you do not like the chunks of tomatoes you can use an immersion a/k/a blender to puree the sauce.

  15. Try canned crushed tomatoes only as the base for sauce. No tomato paste needed, it inexpensive (and goes on sale a lot!), and it’s still “homemade”!

  16. cheryl I. says:

    I feel your pain! My friend gave me free tomatoes this summer so I decided to try homemade sauce. It was a huge headache and an even bigger mess but my reward was enough sauce for 2 meals ( just me and hubby) and the taste was out of this world! I dont think I will do it again though. I value my time more. Now I settle for making sauce from canned whole tomatoes. The flavor is still better than jar and cheaper too!

  17. I’m still laughing about this! When I got married, I moved up to NY where my husband had planted a large garden – for just two of us. That was the year I learned I would not make tomato sauce, ketchup, or barbecue sauce from fresh tomatoes. I didn’t have a bad experience – it just took so.much.TIME! My husband’s mom had done it, and I had all sorts of local farmer’s wives giving me their tips and tricks..not for me. And I have SO made the pink frothy juice in the VitaMix, too – a few years ago when, um, someone gave US a free box of tomatoes!

  18. Apple Butter is easier. Sorry you don’t do tomato, I don’t do ketchup!

  19. Possibly your best post ever. Thanks!

  20. Way to turn a headache into a super-awesome lesson! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  21. Thanks for the great reminder!

    For next time you’re stuck with a bunch of fresh tomatoes…I’ve had success with putting whole tomatoes in the freezer and putting them in the crock-pot when I’m ready to use them. Simmer all day on low and add your stuff. The peels come right off and you can just scoop those out. I usually use this for a chili base.

  22. I’m not a fan of store-bought sauce mainly because of the price & the amount of sugar in it. I buy the large can of crushed tomatoes at Sam’s Club for $2.50, throw it in my crockpot along with sauteed onions & garlic & seasonings & cook on low 4-6 hrs. It freezes beautifully & provides my family several meals at a very low cost!

  23. Way to go! I am absolutely with you <3

  24. I really needed to hear that. It is so easy to get distracted by the things that don’t really matter. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing that with us.

  25. I somewhat agree with your idea. BUT making tomato sauce with your kids can also be one of the GREAT experiences of their childhood as well! I know my kids spend time peeling and seeding and visiting me while we work, it’s a lovely bonding time. I definitely couldn’t do it without their help – not trying to be super mom, but trying to be frugal and healthy and at the same time teaching them these same values.

  26. Jarred sauce – bleah. After you’ve made your own. But not from tomatoes! Gasp*
    I use tomato sauce and cook up sauce that is SO MUCH BETTER than Ragu. No one in my family will eat jarred sauce now 🙂
    Also much cheaper! And healthier!

    • What? You’re going to tell us what a great, inexpensive sauce you make and NOT share the recipe? Sheesh 😀

      • Well, I just use tomato sauce and add garlic, oregano, basil and rosemary, if it’s marinara or for pizza. Cook on low for a while … I used to add some grated Parmesan but now I have vegans in the family I don’t …
        My spaghetti sauce starts with browning ground beef, onions, garlic, then add 3 cans tomato paste, about 2 cups water and a cup of red wine. Oregano, basil, rosemary, and I like to put in some Parmesan, thickens it up beautifully and my vegans won’t eat it anyway. Cook for a couple hours, add liquid if it gets too thick.

  27. Oh my! Let me just say, I am an Italian American who grew up in a house with my Italian grandma, and we never made sauce this way. We just use tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, olive oil, and seasonings. I may use fresh tomatoes to do a pomodoro sauce, or to add some flavor to any variety of dishes, but never to make red gravy. So by never doing this again, you’re being very authentic!

  28. as much pizza and spaghetti sauce as we eat this would probably be a good idea. but i can just not bring myself to try . especially if it is not saving a ton of money

  29. Based on the one picture posted, too bad you couldn’t have saved doing this until Halloween night. You’d certainly be the fright of the neighborhood. 😉

  30. Amanda Y. says:

    I don’t have kids, but I agree sometimes time spent with loved ones is more important than doing everything else! But, mostly importantly, I am SOOO excited someone else is as grossed out by raw tomatoes as I am. I can’t even stand the taste of a sandwich or something that had a raw tomato on and then had it removed. BLECH YUCK PASS!

  31. LOL 🙂 Thank you for the giggle. *HUGS*

  32. Just so you know that canned diced tomatoes are NOT fresh tomatoes – big difference!

  33. Rejoicing Mama says:

    Awesome. Thanks for the honesty and challenge. Blessings!

  34. Happy,
    I have been reading your posts for about a year now, and this is by far the best one yet. Both very funny and very worth the reading! And with the holidays coming, a lesson we should all try to remember.
    Thanks!

  35. Holy cow. This is soooooo funny. I was crying by the end of the post. And relating. Not to trying to make my own spaghetti sauce (only crazy people do that), but to kids vs. klock (I know it’s “clock,” but “klock” fit with “kids” better…). Sometimes we have to choose to skip the things that we THINK matter, but just don’t in the end. In this case, however, your kids WILL remember the time mom made her own spaghetti sauce and lived to blog about it.

  36. You are such a smart cookie and I enjoy your blog so much! Thanks!

  37. ….Or you can use the cheater method……Don’t peel the tomatoes. Core them and throw them into your food processer. Then dump the whole frothy mess into your crock pot on high with the lid off. Add your spices and ignore your crock pot for the next day or so. Done.

  38. Plan B…. next time you get some fresh tomatoes , try making some fresh salsa. All you need is some roma tomatoes and a pack of Mrs. Wages salsa mix. Its pretty painless and you can freeze it instead of canning it. You still have to scald your tomatoes and peel them but you do not have to squeeze out the seeds. You can add some tomato paste to thicken it depending on the consistency you prefer. The aroma of it simmering is mouth watering! It is my kids favorite after school snack- and a very healthy one I might add.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      I actually made a lot of salsa from the other tomatoes. That project was a HUGE success! I guess I am more Mexican than Italian. 🙂

  39. Ashly Lowe says:

    Did the same thing last summer, NEVER AGAIN!!!

  40. This made me laugh, because I DO have fond memories of making and canning homemade spaghetti sauce with my mom when I was growing up. We would hear of a field to glean, pile up the kids in the van (I’m the oldest of 8), fill all the boxes and bags we could get our hands on, give some to friends, then get started on the processing. My mom had a great grinder thing that took care of the seeds. I do remember it being a long couple of days, but at the end we had 100+ quarts of spaghetti sauce, plus some canned whole tomatoes, etc. We would also use gleaned onions in the sauce!
    That said, I have never made sauce beyond just opening a can and adding my own spices. If I ever get an abundance of tomatoes, I’ll be sorely tempted, however!

  41. Oh my gosh, I laughed through the whole recipe-making part! Fresh tomatoes have the very same effect on me!!

    Totally sounds like something I would do. Or might have actually done. With apples. And apple butter.

  42. Wow, this is exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, it is so true!

  43. Homemade spaghetti sauce is a treat for me- no store-bought sauce has ever tasted as good to me as the recipe my mom always made when I was a kid.

    And here’s the trick we use regarding the tomato paste: make the sauce without it, freeze it as a thin sauce, then stir in a can of tomato paste when heating the sauce to use it.

  44. Been there-done that-with same conclusion. Still don’t like to waste tomatoes so I freeze them in halves or quartered-skins on. Flash freeze on a cookie sheet then put in bags. When you take them out of bag rinse under warm water and skins do come right off. I add to my Ragu to stretch it or make it taste a little fresher. They also make a good base for chili (not #5)!. Sometimes on a cold winters day I even get in the mood to make spaghetti sauce-though romas make better sauce than regular.

  45. Sorry you had such trouble with the sauce! I make batches and batches of it every other week and we love it! (My dad made up a fabulous recipe!) It usually only takes me about a 1/2 hour total to get the tomatoes ready for simmering. Then I usually sit at the table with the kids and color or paint, just to be in the same room in case something goes wrong. Everyones gotta do what they feel best though!

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  51. It’s nice to have conveniences in our life but learning how and mastering how to do things for yourself is rewarding because, one day, we may not have all these conveniences at our fingertips. We rely so heavily on everything being provided for us. Granted, time with your kids is nice to have but you could have them help you make these things and teach them how to do it at the same time.
    The other side of it is the health concerns. A lot of sodium and other stuff gets put into the majority of store bought foods.
    Thanks for posting your how-to though and it was funny to read.

  52. I second what Jeremy said. I do make my own spaghetti sauce and I do can garden veggies, and I don’t feel I’m an “overachiever”. I have 3 kids and a husband who help me with the process. So not only are we eating healthier, but my children are learning life skills. It brings us together and leads to conversations and family bonding, too. Is it currently necessary to make homemade sauce from scratch? Nope. We have the convenience of running to the store and getting some for a dollar per can. However, if times get tough – economic collapse, job loss, insert-catastrophe-here, I know that my family will be taken care of because I’ve taken the time to learn how to do it, and my kids have learned some, too. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times I’m simply too busy to make things from scratch. But once in awhile it’s nice to exercise my homemaking skills and spend time with my family in the process.

  53. Vanessa says:

    I am so happy you posted this because it is exactly what I was t war with myself over. I am a house wife, a military wife at that, and also a full time student. I try to keep my family eating healthy foods and avoid eating out. Needless to say I do a lot of research into recipes and have also bee drawn into the whole homemade scratch recipes and even stored jarred foodsLIKE pasta sauce, which me and my family absolutely LOVE! Upon reading this blog I truly appreciate your statement that a 2 hours or more prepared pasta sauce tastes and looks JUST as good as store bought and the time spent making that sauce has wasted precious time with the kids who are just staring and wondering what in the heck you are doing but making a big old mess to clean up! Yes, occassionally, the good old fashioned homemade pasta sauce would be nice…..b it seems more like a holiday season type occassionally to me ESPECIALLYeith all the is consisted in a housewife/mothers job description! I WILL however be attempting this recipe to make several stored jars soon to have on the ready when I want and need it though so THANK YOzuin many ways!

  54. Chrissy says:

    Lol. I’m making Tomatoe sauce right now. You can buy bruised produce at a discounted price from some grocery stores.

  55. I totally agree with Jeremy. He mentioned all the great things—-time with kids, teaching them, healthy food, especially if you have grown the ingredients yourself. Enjoy.

  56. This for me is the fun of it. I spent today doing paste, went through 20-25 home grown tomatoes and still have dozens left so the sauce may happen tomorrow. This of course coming from a single guy, who has tons of time on his hands with no kids to bug him. I do have a needy cat though… LOL

  57. It’s definitely a case of picking your passions. I see great lessons in cooking, but if spaghetti sauce isn’t your thing, teach them about rice krispie treats. They were such a part of a friend’s life growing up that they were present at his wedding. My brother brought brownies to just about every high school function, because he liked making them. Maybe it’s just s’mores in the microwave or eighteen variations on peanut butter sandwiches. But do find ways to bond over the making of food — there are such great life skills and memories, especially if it’s a together thing.

  58. So, I happened across this post a couple days ago, in my own recipe search for homemade spaghetti sauce. I participate in Bountiful Baskets and have received more tomatoes than we know with what to do. After reading the above comments I just had to chime in. While I totally agree that we should abandon today’s convenience-driven lifestyle, I think that you make an excellent point in that there are just some times when store-bought items are truly worth the time they give us. Sure, you could have your kids help you (where they can) and maybe it is a good opportunity to pass on skills and traditions but like Andrew said, pick your passions. I mean, if you already make your own bread, tortillas, pasta, and even English muffins why stress about taking a hand with store-bought sauce? Although, I’ve got to say that now that I’ve made my own sauce, it’s not that hard IF you can convince someone who knows how to make it to help you 🙂

  59. Melinda says:

    Wow… shocked so many who commented are kind of chastising you! I am all about health food & teaching your kids to cook… but SOMETIMES it isn’t worth the TIME! I agree 100%! This is the first time I’ve ever visited your blog. Lynn’s Kitchen had a link bringing me here. I kind of think of spaghetti as the “junk” food we eat! It is simple! Open a jar & viola… dinner! It is certainly MUCH healthier than fast food. There is nothing wrong with making your own, of course, but gracious people… let’s just laugh and enjoy a fun post! And… AMEN… time with your family is #1!

  60. I just stumbled across this post and I agree that time with your family is #1. My personal favorite easy food from the store is macaroni and cheese. So easy, so fast. But I have tackled the spaghetti sauce. My husband hates onions and every sauce in the store has them. It is possible (although I use canned crushed tomatoes). I prep it in 10 minutes before bed. Toss it in the crock pot on low in the morning and by dinner time it is delicious! Find what works for you and own it!

  61. grandma becca says:

    What an adventure! So sorry it was so frustrating for you! I always recommend people talk with someone who has been successful at what they are attempting before diving in to a new project. I bottle all my own sauce, due to health and $$ issues, but it can be so much simpler that what you went through! I run our garden tomatoes (from the 36 plants in my plot) through a sauce maker (think Victorio strainer), or have my grandchildren do it for me. (They love it, we get time together, double win.) Cook it down for a couple of hours, and bottle it. I wait to add any seasonings until I am actually using the sauce for a meal. It can become chili sauce, soup, marinara, you name it. If it needs thickening, I like to use butternut squash I dehydrated (also from aforementioned garden). It makes it sweeter, and thickens beautifully! Life is too short to spend on time-consuming, difficult tasks. If it isn’t pretty simple, I don’t bother. Good luck with your further adventures! Happy Harvest!

  62. all canned tomatoes are cooked. So your lifelong aversion to raw tomatoes is based on a misunderstanding.

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