I have a childhood memory of August that's filled with the smell of bushels of ripe plum tomatoes. I would sit out on my Aunt Fernanda's porch, enjoying the sharp taste of every tomato I could rescue from the hot kitchen, the air heavy with the aroma of simmering tomato sauce.
There are many good reasons for putting up tomatoes in August, but I'm never sure I don't just do it to experience that childhood memory. Still, I do wind up with inexpensive tomato sauce that's better than any on the market, and with the problem solved of what to do with all the tomatoes.
Tomato sauce and tomato paste are easy projects, even for the beginner. Tomato wine is more involved, but it's extraordinarily light, a delicious wine that's worth the trouble.
TOMATO SAUCE - Use plum tomatoes, or any bright red, high-acid tomato. The new, lower-acid tomato strains are not as safe to can. Wash and quarter as many red tomatoes as it takes to fill a large enamel pot. Don't use any with signs of rot. Crush the tomatoes and simmer until they're tender.
Put them through a food mill - or spin them in a blender, filled only halfway since tomatoes expand - until they have a smooth puree. Put the puree back into the pan, add some basil leaves and simmer until thick. Ladle it into clean hot jars, and put them in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Then you'll have basic sauce. When you serve it, you can spice it up with garlic, olive oil, meatballs or anything you like.
If you want to make tomato paste, put the pan in a 300 degree oven and stir the sauce occasionally until it's very thick. In hot, sunny weather you could even spread it on trays, cover them with cheesecloth and put the puree out in the sun to become paste. You can freeze tomato paste, or bring it to a boil, pack it into small, clean jars and process them in boiling water for 15 minutes.
TOMATO WINE - You'll need some supplies from a wine hobby store: Pectic enzyme to break down the tomatoes, wine yeast, nutrient to feed the yeast, citric acid and campden tablets to keep wild wine and vinegar yeast from contaminating your product.
Take 3/4 of a pound of ripe tomatoes, slice them and simmer in 3 pints of water until they're tender. Mash, add an equal quantity of cold water and a crushed campden tablet. Cover. Leave overnight.
Strain into a plastic pail or clean crock (never metal) and add 2 pints of hot water with 2 pounds of sugar dissolved in it. Add nutrient, 1 tablespoon of pectic enzyme and 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid. Add a package of wine yeast, good for a gallon, and mix. Cover and let ferment for 5 or 6 days.
Siphon off with a piece of clean hose or piping (I use new motorcycle fuel line). Leave the sediment behind and transfer the wine to a clean gallon jug, glass or plastic. Use a fermentation lock or a balloon to keep air out of the jug. Store it in a warm place. After a month, siphon it off again and put it back into a clean gallon jug. Fill with water if necessary, refit the lock or balloon, and let the wine work until it's finished fermenting and clear. Then siphon it into bottles and let them age as long as you can. Next spring isn't too early, but it gets better with age.