Nanny’s Spaghetti Sauce And Her Secret Ingredient!


I wish I had a picture of my Nanny standing at the stove, her trusted big spaghetti pot in front of her – you know the one that all grandmothers seem to have just for the big stuff like spaghetti sauce or soup – stirring the sauce. She would have been in one of her many “house dresses – you know the ones right? Kind of a boxy silhouette with pockets . I have heard them called flour sack dresses or smocks – kinda like these…


I can totally see her in one of those dresses and that makes me smile!! I only remember her having one big pot that was always used for her spaghetti sauce and it always seemed to be on the stove. Now, this recipe is an estimation of her sauce because truth be told, her sauce was never exactly the same! The times were different and you used what you had. I will say that she had one, okay maybe two secret ingredients! You see, my Nanny would stand at the stove in her house dress, stirring the sauce with a cigarette in her mouth and the ash at the end of the cigarette was soooooo, sooooo very long! It has been a long-standing joke in our family that her secret ingredient was cigarette ashes! lol

Not true, although thinking back, it may have been part of it since nobody in the family has ever replicated the sauce %100! That’s probably because her sauce was never the same either, right?! lol I do know her secret ingredient because she told me one day when I was helping her make her sauce! She made me promise to never tell anyone and I haven’t! I’m sharing it now because my days are numbered and I want her secret to live on. That way she will also live on! Love you Nanny! xo


See her house dress and her big spaghetti pot on the stove?!

So, what is her secret ingredient you ask?! Relax cousin Shawn, I’m getting to it alright! My cousin Shawn desperately wants to know her secret ingredient. So much so that I have received many emails looking for the answer! Did I ever tell you the story of how my cousin Shawn saved my life when I was a kid? No? Well I have to tell you now! We were at a cottage, I think, with our parents. There was this river – or maybe it was a fast-moving stream? – no, I’m sure it was a river. Anyway, it was hot outside and I wanted to swim in it. My parents knew that I wasn’t a strong swimmer so they told me no. Well, I didn’t think that was very fair so I made my way to the river with the promise to keep out of it. Yeah, right, right?! lol Who actually trusts a kid on a hot summer day to stay out of the water?!

You see, there was this string or something that ran from one side to the other. It was tied up so you could use it to safely get across it. In my kid brain, I thought I would be safe to just dip in the river holding that string, right? I was only going to sit next to the bank holding it, I swear! I’m not really sure what happened to my kid sized brain while I was sitting, safely by the bank holding that little string. Some how I decided to take a trip across the river and, let me tell you how much I panicked when that tiny string gave way! Now, I don’t know if cousin Shawn had followed me and was waiting for me to screw up or what but when he grabbed my hands and pulled me up and out of the water – I was under the water at that point – I didn’t care where he came from! I was just thankful he saved my little butt! Thanks Shawn!! xo

Now, Nanny’s secret ingredient in her spaghetti sauce is…Brown Sugar! She said that it took any bitterness from the tomatoes away from the sauce. I always used from one to two tablespoons of brown sugar in my sauce depending on the tomatoes I used – same as her. The tomatoes are acidic and sometimes will taste a little bitter, especially to kids so adding the brown sugar takes that away. You have to taste it after one tablespoon to see if it needs another one. Let’s get to the ingredients…


  • 2 28 ounce cans of tomatoes – use your preferred kind. I often used whole plum tomatoes but only when I went shopping specifically for spaghetti sauce. Other times I used what I had.
  • 1 5.5 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp of brown sugar, to taste
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 or 2 small cooking onions – I sometimes added 1 to the ground beef when I was browning it and 1 to the sauce depending on how I was feeling lol , diced
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced – if I’m being honest, I used more than that because I love garlic
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 small container of white mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tsp of dried oregano – these are estimations because like my Nanny, I used my palms to measure
  • 2 tsp of dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • A few shakes of Worcester sauce


  1. In a frying pan – if you are using a slow cooker – or in a large heavy bottom pot brown your ground beef with some onion, garlic, salt, pepper and the Worcester sauce.
  2. Once the beef has browned, remove the fat from the pot or pan. If using a slow cooker, transfer the meat to the slow cooker now. If not, continue in the same pot.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to your pot, cover with a slight crack and reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer for an hour. Or, if using a slow cooker, add remaining ingredients to the slow cooker with your ground beef and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours.
  4. Remove the lid and allow your sauce to thicken. The tomatoes and veggies give you a lot of water so I always let it thicken for about 20 minutes at the end. You may need to raise the heat.

Well, I hope that you enjoyed my stories and I really hope you love my sauce. If I was making my sauce with the intention to make lasagna, I used more meat and added a can of tomato sauce.

Happy cooking! xo


My nephew Karrson and I!

5 thoughts on “Nanny’s Spaghetti Sauce And Her Secret Ingredient!

  1. Thanks for sharing! That sounds so close to the sauce we have always made… minus your now not so secret ingredient lol… I have memories of my grandmother cooking like you do, but my grandmother to this day considers herself a “fashion plate,” and dressed appropriately lol… whether the bright psychedelic colours/patterns from the 70’s to the white blazer compliments of Miami Vice and so forth. The only constant was her love of from scratch cooking that she passed on to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your so lucky to have your grandmother. I lost my Nanny when I was only 10 or 11. I still loved cooking with her and I loved cooking because of my time with her! I think a lot of people have a similar recipe from their childhood, at least ones from North America. I think it was a staple dish because it was so inexpensive to make. Now everyone can try it with Nanny’s not so secret ingredient! lol xo


      • I am very lucky…. she’s 97 and still living on her own and going relatively strong. My grandmother is Polish so I’m sure you can imagine all the good things that came out of her kitchen! Is it any wonder I love to cook? My go to recipe when I think about my grandmother would have to be her potato soup…. yum lol!
        You’re right, I think every family has that one recipe that takes them back and I hope to carry on that tradition with my granddaughter!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my goodness, I’m salivating just imagining your grandmother’s potato soup! I had a friend who had Polish parents and their potato soup, oh it was so good! I better stop thinking about it or I will need to call the nurse for this drool! lol xo


      • Lol. I apologize for the drool issue. If you have had potato soup made by someone Polish then you know exactly what I mean! While I will admit to taking creative license to make the soup my own, it still originates from my grandmothers recipe!

        Liked by 1 person

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