Sauce-A-Palooza 2021!

It’s that time of year again! The end of the summer when all of the little old Italians (and us) flock to the local farms to purchase tomatoes in bulk for their annual sauce making.

This is the 11th year I have been doing this. Well, 11 years flying solo without the help of my mother-in-law. She actually began teaching me this whole process before I married her son. You know, to make sure he would be well fed once we were married lol.

Every year on average, we process somewhere around 65 plus or minus (usually plus) jars of sauce. Let’s do a little math here…..

65 jars x 11 years….that’s 715 jars of sauce!!! Mama mia!!!

I suppose that is why this year I have had so many requests for a tutorial on how we make our sauce. I guess after 11 years I am no longer a novice at this process. At this point, I could make sauce in my sleep!

You can google “How to can tomato sauce” and come up with thousands of different ways and different recipes, but anyone who has had a meal at Villa Mazzotta knows that our sauce is the REAL DEAL.

So my friends. Let’s get started. Here is a list of what you will need:

  • tomatoes (in bulk from a farm or lots from your garden)
  • large stock pot
  • knife (serrated knives cut through tomatoes the best!)
  • wooden spoon
  • ladle
  • funnel
  • tomato grinder (we have two different types, I will explain below)
  • canning jars, lids, and rings (wide mouth jars if you plan on freezing your sauce)
  • water bath pot and accessories (only if you plan on water bathing your jars)
  • hot pads, towels, and an apron (this is a hot, messy job)
  • lemon juice (only if you are canning using the water bath method)

Alright, here we go. You ready? Don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Step 1: Wash your tomatoes

We usually do this outside in a kiddie pool, but this year we were battling Tropical Storm Henri. Therefore, we had to bring our entire operation indoors. We filled our kitchen sink with luke warm water and washed all the dirt off the tomatoes.

During this step, you also want to separate any bad ones from the batch. Any spoiled or rotten tomatoes, any that smell bad, get them out of there! One bad tomato in your sauce will ruin it! It’s best to keep any “questionable” tomatoes off to the side and use them for salads or other recipes.

Step 2: Cut tomatoes

In this step, we cut the tops off and the little bit of the white stems of the tomatoes. Also during this step if you see any brown spots or bad parts of the tomato, cut them off and discard. There is no need to boil off the skins, or remove the seeds. Those will come off during the grinding process.

Step 3: Cook Tomatoes

Now that you have your tomatoes sliced and in a big stock pot (or small stock pot; depending on how much sauce you are making); it’s time to turn on the stove.

Put the pot with tomatoes over medium heat, stirring occasionally so the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

Cook tomatoes until they are soft and there is a good amount of water in the pot. You don’t want them too hard otherwise you will have a hard time grinding them down in the next step.

Step 4: Grind tomatoes

In the next step, I will show you our two different grinders. Both of which we bought in Italy but you can find similar versions of both here in the US.

The smaller grinder fits over a small sauce pan right in the sink. We usually use this one for our garden tomatoes when we are only canning 3-4 jars of sauce at a time.

The larger grinder we attach to the end of a table which we place outdoors. This one makes a mess so clean up is much easier outdoors with a hose.

We run the hot, cooked tomatoes through the grinder 3-4 times until there is nothing left but skin and seeds.

Once you have finished grinding the tomatoes, you should have a large pot of sauce. If the sauce seems a bit watery, you can put it on the stove and boil it for a bit to boil off some of the water so it will thicken up. If the sauce looks pretty good and not watery, you are ready to move on to the next step!

Small hand grinder
Large grinder
Our daughter helping grind the tomatoes.

Step 5: Jar the sauce

Freezing Method:

There are 2 methods of preserving your jars and we have done both. Freezing and canning. If you are freezing your sauce, make sure you are using wide mouth glass jars, not regular. The regular mouth jars will break in the freezer.

If you choose to freeze your sauce, simply add a fresh basil leaf to each jar, fill each jar with sauce (not all the way up to the top) and VOILA! You are done! If you plan on canning your sauce, see below:

Canning Method:

When preserving your sauce using the canning method, you can use either wide mouth or regular canning glass jars. Make sure the jars and lids have been cleaned and sterilized (I run mine through the dishwasher first).

Add one fresh basil leaf to each jar and one tablespoon of lemon juice. The lemon juice is part of the preservation process. Acidic foods are shelf stable when canned using the water bath method.

While tomatoes are acidic to begin with, adding the lemon juice just ensures extra food safety. And don’t worry, you can’t taste it in the sauce at all.

Once you have added the basil and lemon juice, fill your jars with the sauce being careful not to overfill. Once all of you jars are filled, wipe the rim of each jar, ensuring that there is no sauce residue remaining.

Put the lid on your jars and tighten. Make sure you don’t over tighten! I made this mistake once and the tops of the lids exploded and I had to re-bath an entire batch!

After your jars are filled with sauce, put them in your water bath pot and fill with enough water so that the water covers the tops of the jars. Turn your stove burner on high and cover.

Keep an eye on the pot. When the water reaches a roaring boil, set a timer for 45 minutes. For safe canning, quarts of sauce must be boiled at a roaring boil, with the lids fully covered in water for a full 45 minutes.

When 45 minutes is up, remove the jars and place them on a cutting board, hot pads, or towels (you don’t want to ruin your counter tops!)

Repeat the process until all of you jars have been water bathed.

Let your jars cool. It will take awhile. Once they have cooled, check the lids. Press down on the tops. If you hear a “pop” it means the lid did not seal correctly. Put that jar in the fridge and use it within a week.

If you don’t hear the “pop”, you are good to go! Your jars have sealed and your sauce is now shelf stable for 12-18 months. As you are going though your sauce, we make it a habit to check the lids on all of our jars to make sure they are still sealed. If we hear one that “pops” we discard that jar. A rotting jar of tomato sauce in the far corner of your cupboard does NOT smell good. Trust me.

Nearing the end. A few more jars to go…

I’ve been asked a few times, “When do you add your spices?” Well, the simple answer is, we don’t. We preserve our sauce ‘as is’ that way it can be used for a variety of recipes. Pasta, chili, soup bases, stews, etc.

When cooking up our house tomato sauce, we simply brown some garlic in olive oil in a pot on the stove, pour in the sauce and add some salt, pepper and basil. That’s IT! No sugar, no cheese, no onion and garlic powder and whatever other spices you can drum up in the spice rack.

Nice. And. Simple. Happy sauce making friends! MANGIAMO!

It’s Tappin’ Time!

Our 2020 maple syrup

We have almost made it through the dark and dreary winter up here in the northeast and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Spring is just around the corner which means it’s maple syrup season!

This will be our fourth year tapping trees and it has become a family tradition to tap the first trees together. When the weather looks to be just about right, we grab our children, our tools and our buckets and make the hike back to our maple grove out in the back woods.

Tapping season typically begins when the temperature is above freezing during the day and drops below freezing at night. Depending on where you live, the time of year can vary. Here in NY, we aim for daytime temps in the 40’s and below freezing at night. It is that freeze thaw cycle that causes the sap to flow.

Our operation is pretty small. We usually only have about 7-8 taps. In any given season, that yields us approximately 1/2-1 gallon of syrup. We have plans on expanding our production, but that will come in time. Right now we produce enough syrup to feed our family of 4 and if we have a good season, some extra which we use as gifts.

I know a gallon of syrup doesn’t sound like a lot, which is why pure organic maple syrup (not the cheap stuff from the grocery store) is so crazy expensive. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup, give or take. The amount of syrup you get also varies with the season.

So, what exactly do you need for maple tapping? Well for starters, maple trees πŸ™‚ If you’re not sure how to identify maple trees, I will be doing a follow up post explaining the identification process. If you have already identified the maple trees that you want to tap, below is a list of equipment you need for tapping / syrup making:

Materials List

  1. Power drill
  2. 7/16 inch drill bit
  3. Taps (we bought ours on Amazon)
  4. Hammer
  5. Several 5 gallon buckets with lids (we bought ours at Home Depot)
  6. 30 gallon garbage can with lid (brand new)
  7. Stainless steel buffet pans
  8. Reusable / washable maple syrup filters (we bought ours on Amazon)
  9. Kitchen funnel
  10. 8oz glass canning jars and lids
  11. Candy making thermometer (we bought ours at Michael’s craft store)

Once you have identified your maples, gathered all of the equipment and the temperature is just right, it’s time to tap!

Maple tapping 2021

It’s best to tap on a day where the temperature is above freezing to avoid splitting the tree. Drill the tap hole 2 inches deep into the tree, keeping the drill level and not on an angle to assure the best sap flow. We have our drill bit marked with a piece of tape so we know exactly how deep to drill.

We drill our tap holes towards the bottom of the tree trunk, about 3 feet up from the ground. Our taps have tubes attached that go through a hole we drilled in the top of the bucket. Some people drill their holes higher on the tree and hang their buckets from the taps. These sap buckets are usually smaller and the taps for this style will have a hook on them where you can hang the bucket.

It all comes down to personal preference and how often you want to collect sap. We don’t always make it back to our maple grove out in the back woods every day to collect sap, so the 5 gallon bucket on the ground works best for us.

Once we collect the sap, we dump the 5 gallon buckets into the 30 gallon garbage can which sits on our back patio. As long as the temperatures stay in the 40’s, the sap can be stored outdoors. If it is too warm, the sap will spoil and it will be unusable.

Unfortunately we have had this happen and I cannot explain how painful it is to dump 30 gallons of sap because it has spoiled! If you have quite a bit of sap collected and the temperatures are on the rise, it is best to boil down the sap right away or throw a few bags of ice into the sap container to keep it cool until you can boil it.

We usually wait to boil down the sap until we have quite a bit collected (20-30ish gallons). While it takes much longer this way, because of the 40:1 ratio, your yield will be greater.

How you boil down your sap is a matter of personal preference as well as what type of setup and materials you have. Some people use store bought evaporators, other use an outdoor fire pit specifically built for boiling sap. They also make large electric burners that you can use as well. I DO NOT recommend boiling it down indoors! Boiling sap creates A LOT of steam, and your stove, walls and ceiling will end up very sticky!

We boil ours down on our outdoor grill. This method works best for us because our grill is hardwired into our large underground propane tank that also heats our house. If you have a grill that runs on a removable tank of propane I would not recommend using your grill. It takes between 10-12 hours to boil down 20-30 gallons of sap and you will use up your entire tank in just a few short hours.

Once you have established your heat source, put 2 stainless steel buffet pans on top. When pouring the sap into the pans, use a mesh kitchen strainer to catch anything you wouldn’t want in your syrup (leaves, tree bark, etc.). As the sap boils, continually add new sap until the sap in the pan is a tan / light brown color.

The reason you should use buffet pans rather than regular kitchen pots is because of surface area. High school science my friends! High school science! The sap will boil down much faster if it is spread out over a large pan as opposed to a deep kitchen pot.

At this point it is OK to bring indoors to finish. The closer you get to finishing the boiling process, the more you will want to keep a close eye on it. You want to make sure the syrup does not boil over the correct temperature or you will end up with a maple sugar rock rather than golden brown syrup! Unfortunately I can speak from experience as this happened to us the very first time we made syrup. Oops! Live and learn right?

Using a candy thermometer, you will need to monitor the temperature of the syrup. Maple syrup boils at 7 degrees F over the boiling point of water or 219 degrees F. You will notice it is getting close when the syrup starts bubbling to the point of foaming.

After the syrup has reached 219 degrees F, you can now remove it from the heat. After you let it cool, pour it through a kitchen funnel lined with a reusable maple syrup filter and into the storage container of your choice.

We choose to can our syrup so that we can store it in our pantry and so we can use it for gifts. I think it looks very pretty in the 8oz Ball quilted canning jars πŸ™‚ If you choose not to can your syrup, you can store it in the fridge and it will hold for about a year. Another option is to freeze your finished syrup. It will stay fresh in the freezer for about a year as well.

Fingers crossed for another great season! Happy tappin’!

The Beginning

Hello my friends! I hope you enjoyed our garden tour from my last post. Everything we have done so far has taken a LONG time and definitely was not something that happened overnight. Which is why I thought I’d take you all on a little trip back to the beginning of where this all started.

For those of you who are just beginning your own homesteading journey, we were once there too! A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into building what we have today. And when I say tears, I mean A LOT of tears! Especially mine πŸ™‚

Just remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

The house we live in, our homestead (or as we lovingly refer to it – Villa Mazzotta) was not supposed to be our forever home. This is the house where my husband and his brothers grew up. It has a great history and some awesome memories. But, it wasn’t our dream home.

Ten years later, we never thought we would still be here raising our children, chickens, bees, bunny, tending to our garden and harvesting maple syrup. But…here we are, and we aren’t leaving anytime soon πŸ™‚

The backstory of this house is somewhat of a novel, but long story short, we “officially” bought this place not long after we were married. Our original plan was to only live here five years, make some minor renovations and then sell it when we found our forever home.

Well, one renovation turned into another, which turned into another, and so on and so on. It was about 30 years old when we bought it and it needed quite a bit of updating.

Here is a little slide show giving you an idea of what we began with. Some of these pictures were taken when we had already begun the renovations such as new windows and the shed, but it’s pretty close to what we started with.

 

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As you can see, it needed a lot of work! We slowly chipped away at things. First a master bath expansion, then a new furnace, central AC and shed. In the meantime we looked at properties and couldn’t find anything we liked.

We found big beautiful homes with brand spanking new everything but….the yard was awful, or it was way too close to the neighbors. So then we began replacing windows, doors, moldings, garage doors, and some landscaping, all while continuing our property search.

We found BEAUTIFUL yards with gorgeous pools, but the interior decor was totally not our taste and needed a complete upgrade. We looked, and we looked, and we looked but something was holding us back. So then we made a big decision. What if we stayed? What if we kept doing the upgrades and made this house our home?

It wasn’t the biggest home in the neighborhood. So what? It didn’t have the big cathedral ceilings and the in-ground pool. OK. But you know what it did have? Land. Seclusion. Privacy. Silence and beauty. Check out this picture I took at the bottom of our driveway! No filters, no editing, just 100% raw beauty!

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Once we made the choice to stay put, we made another big decision. The patio!

Ahhhh yes! our pride and joy (aside from our children of course)! We are so happy we did this project. May through October we pretty much live out here! The features of our outdoor space include:

  • Built in grill
  • Side burners
  • Outdoor fridge
  • Storage
  • Bar seating
  • Wood fired pizza oven
  • Fire pit with seating area
  • Built in lights

Below are some of the pictures from the project. The stairs and side retaining wall were built in the fall of 2016, and the main patio/ kitchen was built in the spring of 2017.

 

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After completing the patio, we moved on to some other exterior projects.

  • New Hardie Board siding
  • All new gutters
  • New front doors

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In the spring of 2019, our next project was to redo the small patio on the side of our house and connect it to the main patio. We also decided to purchase a hot tub and thought this was the perfect spot for it as it has easy access to indoors for those colder months.

 

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Now, I bet you are wondering what that hideous mess of a garden is doing in the background of some of our pictures when we have a big beautiful brand new garden sitting up on top of our hill.

Well, that’s the old garden. The one we began many, many years ago. The one I refused to step foot in because it was such a flaming hot dumpster fire.

When we first began, my husband revived the old garden which once belonged to his parents. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional. He planted straight in the ground and it produced a decent amount of vegetables.

At one point, my husband decided to build some raised beds to attempt to cut down on the weeds and to clean things up a bit. He built 6 cedar boxes himself and now with it much cleaner, I began to take an active role in gardening.

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Luckily, this hot mess will soon be history! Now that our new garden is in place and is in full use, this one will be torn down (as soon as the peas we planted in here are finished) to make way for an in-ground pool! We are hoping to complete that project sometime between 2021/2022.

Our new garden project began back in the fall of 2017. My dad and husband took down somewhere around 30 trees and we spent the following year cutting, moving and splitting the wood. In the fall 2018, we hired a company to move any additional logs, and to excavate the land.

In the spring of 2019, we hired a local fence company to build the fence and we spent the following year painting the posts, building 10 cedar boxes, adding chickens, building a new chicken coop, transplanting some fruit trees, and adding a beehive.

Here are some pictures of what the new garden looked like before.

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So there you have it. See, I told you it was a lot of work! But…it was totally worth it! We live on 10 beautiful, secluded acres on a dirt road. We have fantastic seasonal water views and we have been able to get the most out of what our land can provide us.

As far as we have come, there is always more to do! Some upcoming projects include:

  • New roof with solar shingles
  • Renovate the guest room
  • 2 new windows and sliding glass door in basement
  • Full basement renovation
  • New driveway
  • Fixing up our front stone wall and adding pillars and lighting
  • New front pathway with new landscaping and lighting
  • Taking down a few more trees (which pose a threat during storms)
  • Building a tree house for our kids
  • In-ground pool
  • Baseball batting cage
  • Creating hiking trails through our woods
  • Creating our Christmas Tree “farm” and planting the trees

One day we will finally be done and can sitΒ  back and relax πŸ™‚

My First Blog Post!

So, I began this blog a little over a year ago with every intention of sitting down to post, share, upload etc. However, being a full time working mom, with a 2 hour round trip commute each day, a mini photography business to run, and a homestead to tend to, I got a little busy and this whole blog idea was put on the back burner for awhile.

You know when life gets in the way and you are just running from day to day on auto pilot? You’re not exactly sure what day it is, and your blood consists of 93% coffee?

Yeah. That was me.

But my friends, here we are. June 6, 2020. Still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the state of NY where I live, we have been in lock down for 86 days now. You’d think in those 86 days I would’ve managed to type something, ANYTHING related to our homesteading journey for this blog but….nope.

Like many of you, these past 86 days have been spent working from home, being my children’s personal assistant, housekeeper, nurse, hairdresser, personal trainer, and waitress, all while trying to run our homestead. Is anyone else as exhausted as I am? And while I’m at it, why do these kids eat so much? Like. All. Day. Long.

Anyway, here we are. Day 86 and I have written my first blog post. Go me!

The first thing I’d like to share with you all is our brand spanking new garden! It’s what we have been working on most this spring and we love it like it is our third child.

Our Italian Garden 2.0 is approximately 4,000 square feet and includes:

10 cedar raised beds, a mini orchard with 8 fruit trees, a chicken coop with 9 chickens,Β  and a bee hive. We had a fence company build the fence 2 years ago and after last fall when a raccoon climbed the fence and stole one of our chickens, we have since added on extra security with an electric fence attached to the wood posts.

I had my children provide the tour for your entertainment. Enjoy!

Welcome!

This is the story of our little Italian family living on 10 acres in downstate New York. Follow us in our adventures as we run our very large organic garden, make our own maple syrup, tend to our egg laying chickens, and raise our 2 free range children.

If you are looking to live a more simple, sustainable and organic life, we can help. This blog contains our tips and tricks, our triumphs and failures plus a whole lot of laughs! Thanks for joining us!