How do you use a vintage tomato strainer?


For home cooks and gardeners, few tools bring as much satisfaction as a vintage tomato strainer. These antique kitchen gadgets have been passed down for generations and allow you to easily separate tomato skins, seeds and pulp from the delicious juice and flesh. While metal tomato strainers from the early 20th century remain popular, some versions date back hundreds of years to when tomatoes first came to Europe from the Americas.

Learning how to properly use a vintage tomato strainer ensures you can enjoy the fullest flavor and versatility from your tomato harvest. With minimal effort, you’ll be able to can or freeze tomato juice, prepare sauce and salsa, and remove unwanted skins and seeds from whole tomatoes destined for salads, sandwiches and more.

Assembling and Preparing Your Vintage Strainer

Vintage tomato strainers consist of a few key parts that must be properly assembled before use:

  • Perforated cone or basket – This is the main vessel that holds the tomatoes. It’s riddled with small holes to allow the juices and pulp to drain through while holding back the seeds and skins.
  • Collection vessel – A pot or bowl that sits under the cone to collect the strained tomato liquid.
  • Pusher – A wooden or plastic pestle that presses the tomatoes through the perforated cone.

Before using your strainer, inspect each part for damage and make any necessary repairs with adhesive or metal wire. Ensure the collection vessel sits securely underneath the cone without wobbling. Wash each piece in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly to remove dust.

Choosing the Right Tomatoes

For best results, choose ripe, juicy tomato varieties such as beefsteaks, oxhearts and heirlooms. Standard grocery store tomatoes often lack the juice content to properly strain. Farmers market or homegrown tomatoes contain more liquid and will strain more efficiently.

Avoid tomatoes that are overripe or damaged, as they will not strain well and can impart unpleasant flavors. Hard, underripe tomatoes are also difficult to press through a vintage strainer. For peak flavor and juice yield, allow tomatoes to fully ripen on the vine before harvesting.

Wash tomatoes and remove stems before straining. For whole tomatoes, cutting in half may allow for easier pressing and straining. Cherry or grape tomatoes can be strained whole.

Straining Tomatoes

Step 1 – Assemble the strainer

Place the perforated cone into the collection bowl on a stable work surface. Ensure it sits flat without wobbling. Have the pusher ready nearby.

Step 2 – Fill the cone

Place your prepared tomatoes into the cone, leaving at least 2 inches of clearance from the top. Packing too many tomatoes in initially can cause overflow and clogging.

Step 3 – Press the tomatoes

Using the wooden pusher, apply firm downward pressure on the tomatoes, slowly working in a circular motion. Apply enough force to press the tomatoes through the perforations. Take care not to crush the cone.

Step 4 – Collect the juice

As juice accumulates in the bowl, periodically pour it into a storage container. To maximize juice yield, press pulp and skins against the cone walls before discarding.

Step 5 – Repeat until finished

Continue reloading the cone and straining remaining tomatoes until you have the desired amount of juice. Add any leftover pulp from the bowl to the juice for additional thickness.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Vintage tomato strainers are simple yet effective tools. However, a few problems can arise:


Small bits of skin and pulp can get lodged and clog the perforations. Use the pusher to force obstructions through. Avoid overstuffing the cone.

Metal Tines Bending

Applying excess pressure with the pusher can bend the metal screening. Use gentle yet firm force. Misshaped cones should be replaced.

Juice Overflow

Overfilling causes tomato juice to spill over rather than draining properly. Keep at least 2 inches of clearance in the cone. Strain in smaller batches.

Rust Buildup

Clean strainers after each use and hand wash (avoid dishwasher). Rinse thoroughly and dry metal parts well. Season cast iron with cooking oil. Discard heavily rusted strainers.

Serving, Storing and Freezing Strained Tomatoes

A vintage tomato strainer provides the perfect pure, seedless juice for enjoying fresh or preserving through freezing or canning.

Serving Fresh

Freshly strained and chilled tomato juice makes a refreshing and healthy drink on its own or mixed into gazpacho, sangria and tomato cocktails. Use immediately for peak flavor.

Short Term Storage

Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, strained tomato juice will keep for up to one week. The bright, crisp taste declines over time.


For long term use, tomato juice can be frozen for six to eight months. Freeze in rigid plastic containers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace for expansion. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.

Canning Juice

Using a boiling water canner, strained tomato juice can be canned in pint or quart jars for shelf-stable storage up to one year. Follow proper canning procedures for safety.

Making Tomato Sauces and Purees

In addition to juice, vintage tomato strainers excel at producing silky smooth purees and sauces:

Tomato Puree

Press whole tomatoes through the strainer, discarding skins and seeds. Cook the strained pulp briefly until thickened to make puree for sauces, soups and stews. Refrigerate up to one week or freeze.

Tomato Sauce

For a classic tomato sauce, strain chopped tomatoes and simmer the juice with olive oil, onions, garlic, basil and seasonings until thickened. Top pastas, pizzas and more. Refrigerate up to one week or can using proper methods.


Strain your favorite salsa ingredients – tomatoes, peppers, onions, lime juice and cilantro. Combine the chunky parts with the seasoned tomato juice to make a fresh homemade salsa. Refrigerate up to 5 days.

Tips for Straining Skinless Whole Tomatoes

For salads, sandwiches, relishes and garnishes remove just the skins from whole tomatoes using a vintage strainer:

– Score an “X” on the bottom of each tomato using a paring knife.

– Place 2-3 tomatoes at a time into the cone.

– Press firmly in a twisting motion to separate the skins from the flesh.

– Periodically remove the liberated skins from the cone before they clog the holes.

– Transfer peeled whole tomatoes to another container. Use within 2 days for maximum freshness.

Cleaning and Maintaining a Vintage Tomato Strainer

Keep your vintage tomato strainer performing well season after season with proper cleaning and storage:

– Disassemble parts after each use and hand wash in hot, soapy water. Do not clean in dishwasher.

– Use a soft brush or cloth to remove stuck-on debris and pulp. Avoid metal scouring pads.

– Dry metal pieces thoroughly to prevent rust. Apply food-grade oil to cast iron.

– Submerge wood parts in hot water to sanitize. Allow wood to dry completely before storing.

– Keep all parts together in a safe, dry place. Improper storage can lead to lost components, rust and damage.

– Inspect for cracks or holes before first use each season. Make any needed repairs.

– Replace heavily rusted, bent or fatigued parts. Vintage strainers can often be repaired and restored by skilled craftsmen.


With their elegant retro charm and durability, vintage tomato strainers provide an appealing way to process abundant tomato harvests into juices, sauces, and pulp-free whole fruits. Satisfying to use and easy to maintain, these traditional food preparation tools connect us to generations of cooks who came before while helping make the most of the season’s crop. A welcome part of any kitchen, a vintage tomato strainer is truly a thing of beauty that’s also highly functional.

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