Grampa Clarence’s Secret Sauce

I’ve mentioned before my love of all things pasta.  I also have a crazy love of garlic.  I LOVE garlic. One big reason is that it reminds me of my grandfather, Grampa Clarence. I have very vivid memories of walking into my grandparent’s house and the air would be filled with the fragrance of frying garlic. That was a sign that Grampa was making his spaghetti sauce. 

My Grampa Clarence

To this day, every time I smell garlic cooking I am immediately transported to my grandparent’s bright, warm kitchen, hearing my grandfather call me “Dolly” as he stirred what seem to me to be a huge amount of chopped garlic into a big pot. For dinner that night, we would have spaghetti with Grandpa’s homemade sauce.  It was heavenly. Don’t you love memories like that?

So I love garlic, pasta and really good homemade spaghetti sauce with an emotional intensity that borders on fanaticism. 

The bad news is that Grampa’s spaghetti sauce recipe was an “in his head” type of thing, most likely inherited from his father Pietro who emigrated from the Tyrol region of Austria in 1893. 

So I was left to piece together his recipe from childhood memories and quizzing family members. After a talk with my mom, I came up with a few of the basic ingredients: Salt pork, garlic, tomatoes, oregano. I also learned a few of musts. I must use Italian plum tomatoes. The salt pork must be removed before serving (don’t chop it small).  And, most importantly, the sauce must cook a long time. 

OK. I was ready. I started by browning the salt pork in olive oil. I cut my salt pork into 4 slabs, but feel free to leave it as one piece if it is easier for you. When the pork was browned on one side, I flipped it and added 1 chopped onion and 9 cloves (about 3 tbsp.)  chopped garlic and cooked it for about 5 minutes until they were soft and fragrant.

Yes.  That was the smell I remembered.  I was definitely on the right track. 

I then added tomato paste. This was definitely my addition. I remember Grampa’s sauce being on the thin side, and my Aunt Mary confirmed that she didn’t think he used tomato paste. But I like my sauce thicker. I think Grampa will forgive me. 

I cooked the tomato paste for about a minute and then added ½ cup of red wine. This is also my addition. I like the richness that red wine gives spaghetti sauce. 

After the wine cooked off for a minute or so, I added the tomatoes. I used Cento canned tomatoes. I couldn’t decide between the can that said it was specifically San Marzano tomatoes and the can that said plum “shaped” Italian style tomatoes. So I got 2 cans of each. I will probably go with all San Marzano tomatoes next time. 

Also, I got the whole, peeled tomatoes as the big juicy pieces of tomato are definitely part of what I remember. 

To this I added salt, pepper, oregano and basil. Mom didn’t remember basil, but she also only has 3 spices in her house…salt, pepper and paprika…so I improvised with this.  I also added a couple of tablespoons of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. This was a good call. After I made the sauce my mom said “oh yes. Grampa always sugared his tomatoes”.  (Note: if you use all San Marzano tomatoes, which are sweeter, you might not need the sugar.)

I brought the sauce to a boil and then reduced the heat to low and covered the pot. I cooked it for 2 ½ hours, honestly it could have been 3, stirring it every once and a while, breaking up the tomatoes as it cooked. 


Don’t skimp on the cooking time.  The longer the better. Grampa’s sauce making was an all-day event.

This sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. It also freezes well. 

If you have time, make it the day before you want to serve it.  My grandmother always said the sauce tastes better the next day. 

If you try Grampa Clarence’s Spaghetti Sauce recipe, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Follow me on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook for more stories and recipes from my family table to yours. 

Grampa Clarence’s Secret Recipe Spaghetti Sauce

Prep Time:  30 min.    Cook Time:  2 ½ hours       Total Time: 3 hours
Yield: approx. 4 quarts


  • 1/2 lb. salt pork
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 med. Onion, diced
  • 9 cloves garlic chopped
  • 12 oz. tomato paste
  • 4 28 oz. cans Plum Tomatoes
  • ½ c. red wine 
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 ½ tbsp. dried Oregano
  • 1 tbsp. dried sweet basil


  1.  Heat olive oil in large pot. Add salt pork and cook until browned. 
  2. Add onion and garlic. Cook 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant. 
  3. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add red wine and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano and basil. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low and cook 2 – 2 ½ hours, stirring frequently and breaking apart the tomatoes as they cook. Remove salt pork before serving.

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