Join Me in the Kitchen: Chili Sauce

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Vicki McGraw
Vicki McGraw, Jamestown Gazette Contributing Writer

There is a wonderful aroma coming from my kitchen today; it reminds me so much of my college days! No, it’s not the scent of books and stress…it is the wonderful scent of tomatoes cooking! My Mom is cooking and canning homemade chili sauce. Having spent four years earning my degree at SUNY Fredonia, the smell of tomatoes makes me nostalgic for that time. If you have never had the opportunity to drive through downtown Fredonia in the late summer and early fall, then you have missed this wonderful familiar scent in the air. The scent, of course, is that of ketchup and chili sauce being produced at the Red Wing plant.  Much like Hershey PA smells of chocolate, August in Fredonia smells of tomatoes (and later grapes being turned into jams and jellies).

Homemade anything is comfort food to me, but knowing something has been lovingly prepared adds to its comfort food quality. Today, Mom is starting with 30 pounds of deep red home grown tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions and a couple of jalapenos and turning it into about two dozen half pint jars of chili sauce.  This medley will be transformed into a luscious crimson condiment that can be eaten with chips like a salsa, on meats, like ketchup, or simply off a spoon, if you like!

Canning anything is usually a whole day project.  When canning any fruit or veggie, the skin or peel is usually removed first. Chili sauce is no different.  You start with fresh, ripe whole tomatoes and first, must “slip the skins.”  This is a rather hot and slimy job, but it is much easier to remove the skins this way.  By simply cutting a small x in the flower end and removing the core of the tomato, then giving it bath for a few minutes in a large pot of boiling water, it will release the skin enough to literally slip it off the fruit.  The alternative would be to use a paring knife and peel each tomato much like an apple.  This would be a much more time consuming, difficult process.

After preparing all of the ingredients, they are simmered, sometimes for hours, with the appropriate herbs and spices to infuse those flavors into the finished product.  Simmering will gently cook the produce down and remove some of the extra water through vaporization…thus creating the lingering luscious scent in the air!  When the chili sauce has reached the desired consistency, it will be portioned into clean, sterilized canning jars and processed to seal the lid.  By doing this, we can store the flavors of summer for months to come.  Nothing perks up a mid winter meal like the fresh flavor of summer coming out of a home canned jar.

Almost any fresh fruit or vegetable can be canned without too much difficulty.  It does take a bit of practice to become familiar and at ease with the process, but having learned at the elbows of my Mom and my Nana, I have grown up with the love of the practice in my heart and the great finished product in my pantry…talk about comfort food!

Chili Sauce

Yield:  approx. 24 ½ pint jars

  • 30 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 5 large green peppers
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ¼ t cloves
  • 1 t salt
  • ½ t pepper
  1. Slip skins from tomatoes and dice into large chunks. Cut peppers and onions into small dice and jalapeno into very small dice.
  2. Add all veggies and remaining ingredients to a large stock pot and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until cooked down by 1/3.  This may take several hours.
  3. When ingredients have cooked down to desired consistency, carefully ladle into sterilized canning jars, leaving ½ inch space at top of jar.  Add canning lid and secure tightly with ring.
  4. Allow to cool to room temperature.  Store in cool dark cupboard or pantry.