Tag Archives: tomatoes

Tomato preservation

As I said in my last post, there is nothing quite like a peak-of-season tomato, and the same thing goes for products — sauces, salsa, etc — made from them.  Additionally, I have concerns about  Bisphenol A contamination in store-bought canned tomatoes.     So each summer my husband and I devote quite a bit of energy to preserving the precious summer tomatoes that we cannot eat right away.

Canning

Canning crushed tomatoes is rather laborious but it has the biggest reward — versatile base for many soup, sauce, and other recipes, that you can use year-round.

The “software”

It is recommended that you start with a plum or roma variety — these have lower moisture content.  I just picked up a $10 box of “canning tomatoes” from a roadside stand.  I have no idea what variety they were.  Definitely not plum or roma.  But whatever, they worked!

You will then need to peel and de-seed the tomatoes.  I have this nice food mill which works well — simply coarsely chop the tomatoes, skin, seeds and all, and grind right into the pot.  It automatically removes the seeds.  A tomato press is another tool meant specifically for tomatoes.

You can also do it manually by blanching the tomatoes for about 30 seconds, which allows you to easily peel the skin right off, cutting out the stem and squeezing out the seeds.  Alton Brown provides a nice visual of this process at about 5:15 in this video:

Just cook down the tomatoes until the water cooks off and a nice, thick consistency is achieved.

Equipment

At a minimum, you will need a large pot, some sort of rack to hold the jars above the bottom, some tongs, and a ladle.  You can purchase a canner with a built-in rack designed specifically to hold jars:

I also have a set of utensils that include tongs for lifting jars, a headspace measurer, a large funnel, and a little magnetic lid-lifter.  You don’t really need these things, but they are helpful if you can frequently.

Obviously, you will also need jars, lids and bands.  Unfortunately, traditional Ball lids are also lined with BPA.  I have heard good things about these lids, which are reusable and BPA-free.  As I have a large supply of lids I need to use up, I haven’t tried these yet, but I definitely will once I need to restock.  I figure that unless you are holding the jar upside-down, the tomatoes don’t really come into much contact with the lid, right?

Directions

These instructions are from the Ball book of Home Preservation

Wash all the equipment, place the jars into the canner as pictured above and fill with water.  Place on heat and bring to a boil. Place lids in a small pot of water and let simmer to sterilize.

Carefully pick up your first jar with tongs, empty the water inside, and add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar.  Though the high acidity of tomatoes makes them ideal for canning, this added ingredient acts as an additional preservative.

Using the funnel and a ladle, fill the jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top. Remove a lid from the simmering pot of water and place on top of the jar.  Screw on a band.

Place all jars back in the canner.  Make sure there is at least an inch or so of water above the cans, and boil for 35 minutes.  Let sit 5 more minutes in the canner, and carefully remove.  Let sit until cool and check that each lid has sealed (should no longer pop up).

And now you have crushed tomatoes that will last up to a year in your pantry!

Other methods of preservation

(from The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, by Carol W. Costenbader)

Freezing

Tomatoes will last about 10 months in your freezer.  Just package the crushed tomatoes from the recipe above into small containers and place in the freezer.  Alternatively, you can place washed and dried whole tomatoes onto a cookie sheet, freeze, and then stick in a freezer bag.  The skin will peel off easily as they thaw.

Drying

We have a food dehydrator which we have used for tomatoes in the past.  They do not require any special pre-treatment, and can simply be sliced and placed in the dehydrator for 6-8 hours.  They will keep for 6-8 months when stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

If you live in a hot, dry climate, you can also dry tomatoes in the sun.  Stretch and secure cheesecloth tightly over a cookie sheet, place tomatoes on top — they should dry adequately within 1-2 days.

Preserving tomatoes isn’t terribly easy, I’ll admit.  Well, it is easy.  Just labor- and time-intensive.  But it really is so worth it.  I promise you won’t regret the effort you put in to canning your summer tomatoes come December!

–R

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Tomatoes!

For me, there are few greater pleasures in life than the taste of a ripe, summer tomato picked straight from your garden. It is an experience beyond compare to the one you get from off-season or store bought tomatoes. Even those from the farmer’s market just don’t measure up.

After a disappointing season last year, my family and I decided that we would overhaul our garden for 2010. This involved constructing raised beds, which improve soil drainage and pest control, and augmenting our soil. I consulted with some tomato experts at a local nursery to decide which varieties to plant. I explained that I wanted something with a high level of disease resistance, and he pointed me in the direction of several varieties:

Druzba

This is an heirloom variety developed originally in Eastern Europe, and supposedly is disease-resistant. It has medium-sized fruit that is an orangey-red in color. It was one of the later varieties to ripen in my garden this year; I didn’t pick my first druzba until mid-July. It is very rich in flavor, though not particularly sweet. It has fared pretty well in our garden, and I think I will try it again next year.

Jaune Flamme

Another heirloom variety, the jaune flamme plants produce golf ball-sized fruit that is a bright orange in color. This was my least favorite variety this year. It has a mild flavor and was rather watery, so it is not ideal for cooking. Additionally, they are too big to just toss in a salad, but due to their consistency I found them difficult to chop. These plants were hardy and prolific, and for that reason alone, I might include them in my garden next year — but not more than one plant.

Sungold

The sungolds were the clear favorite this year! A hybrid grape variety, the sungolds were extremely sweet, hardy, ripened early and are just as prolific as ever now in the dead of August. Will definitely be included in next year’s garden!

Tomato pest control

This afternoon picking some tomatoes I came across one of these:

Manduca quinquemaculata, also known as a tomato hornworm during its larval stage. It is a common defoliator of solanaceous plants, but this one here has been parasitized — meaning, a parasitoid wasp has used it as a host to lay its eggs. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillar will die. This is natural biological control at its finest, so if you find an infected hornworm in your garden, don’t kill it! Pull it off the plant and place it nearby, so that the wasps can emerge and find other hornworms to parasitize.

Tomato plants are also prone to a variety of fungal diseases, which seem to infect our garden every year. Fungicides are available, but I prefer to avoid using chemical pesticides on my garden unless absolutely necessary. Drip irrigation, which minimizes moisture on the leaves, helps prevent the spread of fungal diseases throughout the plant. Thus far, in spite of signs of infection on some plants, they seem to be holding up…I do recommend talking with experts at your local nursery to identify varieties which will thrive in your particular conditions.

Cooking with tomatoes


My husband and I have made several batches of crushed tomatoes — some of it was made right into sauce to freeze or eat immediately, the rest was canned to enjoy later on this year (a separate entry on canning tomatoes will follow). But eating them fresh is pretty awesome too. Tossing them with basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper and serving over pasta is an obvious and DELICIOUS way to eat them.

As an alternative, here is a simple recipe adapted from one my mother has always made:

Easy weeknight tomato sauce

Ingredients (amounts are aproximate! Adjust as desired.)

1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 tsp garlic

1 Tbsp white wine vinegar, or a dry white wine if available

Salt, pepper, basil to taste

Directions

Sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until tender. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Cook until tomatoes are soft and mixture becomes a little saucy, about 10-15 minutes. Add basil. Serve over pasta.

Enjoy!

–R