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How to Make Nonna’s Traditional Canned Tomato Puree

Canning tomatoes has been a lifelong tradition in our family that dates back generations. This was an annual event in Sicily and my grandparents and parents continued this tradition after emigrating to the US in the early 1960’s. To this day my mother, also known as Nonna in our family, cans tomato puree every September. This marks the end of summer to me. In the “old country” this is when everyone began preparing for winter and I have to say that I love having homemade puree handy for my favorite recipes.

Jars of homemade tomato puree lined up and ready for winter!

I know that it is very convenient to just buy canned tomato sauce or puree at the grocery store, but one thing that I find is that when you make your own you are able to control the flavor to suit your taste. I also find that store bought tomato sauce or puree has a metallic taste and I must add more to it in the cooking process to eliminate that taste. Now that does not mean that I never use store bought canned tomatoes because I certainly do, but there is nothing like homemade!
I find this recipe a versatile tomato base that you can use for many recipes.

How to make and can tomato puree:

First, it is important to use the right type of tomatoes to get the best result. We use Roma or Plum tomatoes. They are the meatiest and produce the thickest sauce. Next wash and cut your tomatoes into quarters or like size pieces. Squeeze them into your stock pot so that you have some liquid to keep the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan

A lage pan of tomatoes cut and ready to be cooked.

Cooking the tomatoes

You will want to cook the tomatoes for at least an hour to draw out the liquid. If you are canning a large quantity, like we do (a couple of bushels), you will need to cook the tomatoes longer. My mother would cook them for about 2 hours.

A large pot of tomatoes boiling and read to be pressed.

Pressing the Tomatoes

Once the tomatoes are cooked you will have a good amount of liquid in the pot. Now it is time to put the tomatoes through a tomato press. You will need to have a pan or bowl for the skins to fall into and a pot for the puree to run into. If you are using a food mill, then you can just set it on top of the pan that you will be cooking the puree in. The first few passes will be watery. We like to pass the skins through until they come out almost dry, so that you are getting the thickest part of the tomato into your pan.

Tomatoes going through a automatic press
Tomato skins are being dispensed from the press

Now it’s time to cook the puree again! Don’t worry this is all worth it! For a 20 quart pan we add 1 ½ cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of salt to the pan. Taste the sauce and adjust to your liking. We let it cook another a minimum of two more hours. You won’t believe how much liquid there is in a tomato, so the more it cooks the thicker your puree.

 A large pot of tomato puree cooking in the last phase before canning

This would be a good time to prepare your jars. Make sure are washed and dried. Put several fresh basil leaves into each 1-quart jar.

Fresh Basil
Puree in jars

Ready to store

When the sauce is ready, fill the jars to the very top and place your lids on tightly. Turn the jars upside down and set aside to cool. This will ensure a good seal on the jar so you puree will last all year! My mother and grandmother used to make so much sauce each year that we would have sauce in the basement for a couple of years. You never want to run out! If you are going to make a large quantity, I would suggest putting a label on the jar with the canning date so that you can use the oldest first. Happy canning!

Jars of homemade tomato puree lined up and ready for winter!

Make Nonna’s meatballs and sauce and put these beautiful jars of puree to use!

Jars of homemade tomato puree lined up and ready for winter!

Nonna’s Traditional Tomato Puree

This is the canning recipe for traditional Sicilian style tomato puree that at least 3 generations of our family have used as the base for Marinara and Meat Sauces.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 4 hours
Press and Can 1 hour
Total Time 6 hours
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 18 quarts
Calories 260 kcal


  • Tomato press
  • 20 Quart stock pot
  • Large pot for gathering tomato peels
  • 18 One quart jars with lids


  • 1 bushel Roma Tomatoes washed
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. Salt
  • 3 cups Fresh basil leaves


  • Wash tomatoes and cut into quarters. Squeeze the tomatoes into a stock pot. Cook on medium high heat until boiling. Reduce heat to low and allow to continue to boil for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Prepare you tomato press with a pan to catch your liquid and a bowl or pan to catch the skins. Ladle the tomatoes and liquid into the press process the tomatoes. Repeat processing the skins through the press until the come out as dry as possible. Scrap any tomato off the press and into the pan
  • Once you have filled the pot return it to the stove. Add the sugar and salt to the tomato puree. Bring it back to a boil and cook for another 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add more salt or sugar to accommodate your taste as the tomatoes cook. You can allow the tomatoes to cook longer if you want the puree to be thicker.
  • While the tomatoes cook, prepare your jars. Place several basil leaves in each jar.
  • Bring a pan of water to a boil and place the lids in the pan. Allow them to boil for several minutes.
  • When the tomatoes are ready, ladle the sauce into the jars and fill to the very top of the jar. Place the hot lid on the jar and tighten. Carefully place the jars upside down to cool before storing. The lids and filled jars will be extremely hot when you handle them so please be incredibly careful.


This recipe is our version of puree.  By not making this into a sauce it allows this to be a versatile tomato base that you can use for many recipes. 
*Cooks note: The amount of liquid in a tomato is unpredictable so the cooking time will vary based on how much liquid you have in your tomatoes and how thick you want your puree to be.  Remember that this is your base, so you will be cooking this again when you make your sauce and you can allow it to cook down further at that time.  We generally cook this for a minimum of two hours at this stage and then cook it for another hour or two more when we make this into a marinara or meat sauce. 


Serving: 1quartCalories: 260kcalCarbohydrates: 57gProtein: 11gFat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 859mgPotassium: 2998mgFiber: 15gSugar: 41gVitamin A: 10707IUVitamin C: 173mgCalcium: 133mgIron: 4mg
Keyword Tomato, Canning, Puree
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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  1. 5 stars
    Oh my gosh talk about a blast from the past! You’re absolutely right, nothing beats canning your own tomato purée. This was a tradition in my family as well. The only thing that we did differently was to mill the tomatoes first and then cook them only once opposed to cooking them and then milling out the skins and seed. I’m going to try both ways next year. Thank you for being back such great memories

    1. Olga I am so glad that this brough back such good memories for you! It really does make such a big difference when you can your own sauce. There is nothing like Nonna’s canned tomatoes!

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