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What factors should I take into account when selecting tomatoes for sauces?

Background: I'm growing my own tomatoes, and I need to start germinating soon. Taste and production are my 2 first concerns. We usually can about 30 to 40 qt. a year but want to buy less from the stores to do it.

Vendors are pretty good about listing a dizzying array of growing factors and expected results... But I'm not entirely clear on what I should be focusing on when it comes to making sauce.

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From a production standpoint, you might actually be better off asking this question on the gardening site.

In general, however, for canning purposes you'll want to select a 'determinate' variety -- they tend to have all of their fruit ripen around the same time, rather than having it be spread out across many weeks. Indeterminate tend to be better for tomatoes that you might want to use for salads or other purposes, as you won't suddenly be stuck with a glut of tomatoes that you can't use all of.

Your other gardening considerations are if the plant is more bush-like, or more vine-like, as it'll affect how much you need to do to manage them. The vine ones you have to keep checking them every couple of days to make sure the vines are fed back through the tomato cages so they don't start drooping against the ground when they're laden with fruit.

In general, you're going to want to select a plum-style tomato. Sometimes they also label tomatoes as 'sauce' or 'paste' tomatoes. Other varieties of tomatoes tend to be a bit more wet and can require more cooking down, although other varieties may have some advantages.

As for the specific variety, San Marzano and Roma are two well known varieties, but there are now a large number of hybrids that I'm just not familiar with. I would personally select for varieties that do well in your local climate, and can deal with the specifics of your garden (eg, how much space you have to work with) ... but again, ask that on the gardening site.

In the article that I linked to above, they actually recommend blending multiple varieties, but this is more difficult in a home garden unless they all ripen at the same time. You could always plan for the bulk to come from a determinate variety, and blend in some from one or more indeterminate varieties, or plant a couple of determinate varieties, or stagger them some to try to get batch sizes that will be easier to deal with.

  • And I probably should've mentioned -- 'plum' refers to the oblong shape. It's possible that there are sauce / paste tomatoes that aren't plum. (I get most of my tomato seedlings as the ones my step-father can't fit ... he's the expert in tomatoes & peppers) – Joe Feb 1 '16 at 11:46
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San Marzano and Viva Italia make very tasty sauces if you grow your own, and boil down the seed-strained mash using only the ripe fruit. It doesn't take many green ones to make the taste too sharp.

  • Yes, we cook the tomatoes for a few hours then stain the seeds and skins before adding spices then reduce. – NKY Homesteading Jan 31 '16 at 19:06
  • I wasn't familiar w/ Viva Italia, and found this page comparing it to Roma : allthingsplants.com/ideas/view/Newyorkrita/1720/… . The important thing to remember is that you want a determinate plum tomato. Plums (aka 'sauce' or 'paste' tomatoes) have better meat to seed-gel ratio, and 'determinate' means that you get a single harvest vs. having then ripen over a period of many weeks. – Joe Jan 31 '16 at 21:18
  • @Joe that explanation makes for a very good answer. You should consider posting it. – Catija Jan 31 '16 at 23:36
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    Okay, well that was the point of my comment: your answer would be more useful if you suggested a broader category, or at least explained what about those varieties makes them work out well. (Also note that the "what's best?" question was pretty opinion-based and has been edited to ask for that kind of thing.) – Cascabel Feb 1 '16 at 2:36
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    Gardening might be a better place to ask this. There's a nice thread over there now, which includes several sauce variety tomatoes: Which tomatoes grow the best in high temperatures? gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/20138/… – Wayfaring Stranger Feb 1 '16 at 2:52

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