My Grandmother’s Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce

article image

As a child, I lived as close to my grandparents as one could without living under the same roof. I grew up on a small acreage in rural Iowa next door to my paternal grandparents and across the street from my maternal grandparents. Our proximity meant that I could bake chocolate chip cookies and deliver them to Grandpa Richard whenever the mood struck. It also meant that I could explore Grandma Judy’s flower beds as she taught me their names without the hassle of traveling. Often, I would show up unannounced and wake Grandma Rita from a nap. We would go out to the kitchen table and just talk. Other times, I would sit in Grandpa Larry’s swivel chair and watch him work in the shop.  

Today, out of those four, I have one grandma who is alive and doing well. Grandma Judy is more than just a grandma to me. She is my friend and source of gardening knowledge. She was my “what to do and not to do” guide when I first began gardening on my own. She encouraged me to stick to heirloom varieties, have my soil tested, and to build my own tomato cages. More than just a source of information, she takes the time to teach me important skills, like canning.

Although it is not currently the typical canning season, I enjoy this pasta sauce recipe of hers, especially this time of year when I crave the comfort of pasta. It beats store-bought products because her heirloom tomatoes are more flavorful, homegrown, and canned when they are perfectly ripe. When I asked her where the recipe originated, she said it most likely came from a canning recipe book and was customized to her and Grandpa Larry’s preferences over time.

Grandpa Larry was notorious for throwing ingredients into a pot and taste-testing what he had done while Grandma Judy was behind him trying to take down measurements. Like many recipes that come from anyone’s grandparents, its measurements are not always exact because the recipe evolves over the years and, eventually, becomes something they feel rather than read from a recipe card. I encourage you to save this recipe for later in the year when your own tomatoes are ripe and adjust it to your own taste. In the dead of winter, tasting the food that you grew yourself in your own garden makes all the work involved with canning worth it.

Grandma Judy’s Pasta Sauce Recipe

Yield: 14 to 16 quarts


4 large white onions, diced
8 cloves of garlic, diced
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 large bowls/approximately 48 heirloom tomatoes, peeled and quartered (such as the ‘Mortgage Lifter’ or ‘German Johnson’)
58 ounces of beef broth
8 beef bouillon cubes
8 to 12 ounces of (preferably homemade) tomato paste
1 – 3.5 ounce jar of dried basil
8 bay leaves
8 tsp. salt
4 tsp oregano

Directions: Caramelize the diced onions and garlic in the olive oil in a large pot, one meant for canning large batches. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot. Simmer for 3 hours. Remove the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to cool enough to jar. Bring a pot of water to a boil and allow the jars of sauce to cook in the hot water bath for 25 minutes.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.