Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

I promised a few weeks ago that I’d share what I did with some of the tomatoes from my monster tomato plant. Well, I’m finally fulfilling that promise. I’ve used a handful of those tomatoes on salads and sandwiches, but what I love most is good ‘ol spaghetti sauce. This is no fancy original recipe, but an old classic that I grew up on.

My mom would make spaghetti sauce in what I thought was the world’s largest pot. There were six kids in my family after all, and we ate like there were 12 of us. Sometimes there actually were 12 of us for dinner—not all blood-related siblings, but high school seniors.

My senior year, a group of friends and I got it in our heads that we wanted to hang out every week and watch Monday night football. We promised our parents we’d finish our homework (not sure why they believed us) and we’d head over to each others’ houses for dinner and football. My favorite weeks were when everyone came to my house and my mom would make a huge batch of spaghetti. Since I’m the youngest in my family, all my siblings had since moved out…so my friends moved in, at least on Monday nights (and one of my friends actually did move in that year).

All 10-12 of us would sit around the table and have a family-style meal with my parents. When that NFL theme came on, we’d settle in to watch the game and pretend to do our homework. I think Tiffany was the only one who ever got anything done. I remember her walking around my family room trying to squeeze in that night’s philosophy reading during commercial breaks. The rest of us had already given up on academic productivity for the night.

Anyway, back to the spaghetti. As an adult, I look back and realize how rare my experience was. My mom, on a normal school night, hosted a bunch of high-school seniors for a huge meal. This was not just on one occasion. She made a home-cooked meal for all of us almost ever other week in the fall, and we loved it.

So here’s the recipe for spaghetti sauce that I grew up on. It’s taken from a sauce-stained, well-worn Betty Crocker cookbook that I still use when I’m trying to replicate the comfort food of my childhood. I’ve given you the original recipe, but you can see my tweaks as well. My mom would typically double it. The sauce freezes well, so make a huge batch and store some in smaller containers for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce
From Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (1972)
Yields 24 servings

6 medium onions, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
8 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
4 cans (1 pound each) tomatoes (I used fresh cherry tomatoes from my garden)
4 cans (15 ounces each) tomato sauce
3 tablespoons of parsley flakes
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon basil
4 pounds ground beef (I swap ½ of this for ground turkey. You can also replace the meat with veggies like mushrooms and green peppers.)

In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook and stir onion and garlic in oil until the onion is tender. Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the ground beef. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 1 to 1 ½ hours. The longer you let that simmer, the more flavorful it will be.

In large skillet, cook the beef until brown. Drain off fat. Stir meat into sauce mixture; simmer uncovered 20 to 30 minutes longer.

Serve sauce over prepared spaghetti and top with Parmesan cheese.

Do you like to cook meals from your childhood? What are some of your favorites?

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  1. Love your photos!

  2. Awesome post! One question….all the years of making this I never used olive oil. What do you use that for?

    • That’s just to cook the garlic and onions in the beginning. If you want to brown the beef in the same pot as the onions, you don’t really need extra oil (which Mom always did.) If you want to brown the beef separately, you need a little oil in the beginning in order to cook the garlic and onions.

  3. oh….now I see. I just brown and drain the meat, then saute the garlic and onion in the meat.

  4. love it! i’ve been making a lot of spaghetti sauce this summer too… if you have time, just double the tomatoes (slightly overripe ones) and let simmer for 2 ish hours until the juice has reduced by half. SO AMAZING! Next step: home canning to have it all year round :)

  5. Yummy, yummy! I am hoping for more tomatoes next year-and some sauce!


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