About this time of year gardeners have entered the tomato tsunami season. You’ve eaten them everyday in every way imaginable, but they just keep coming. Before you start giving away the fruit of your labor, or tossing it in the compost pile because you simply can’t eat another one before it spoils – stop! Don’t waste the bounty that can sustain you for months to come, perhaps until next summer.
Preserve ALL Those Tomatoes
Even the cracked ones, and those with bad spots. You might be surprised at the number of ways to save all the tomatoes your garden produces.
You’ve got two options for preserving tomatoes: canning, and freezing. But even more choices exist for preparing them for preservation. Not all of them require a lot of work either. And having a way to make the best of a bad season is always a plus, because fresh produce you worked all summer to harvest and put up is not the end of the world. When life hands you lemons – make lemonade 🙂
Cracked and punctured tomatoes are not good for canning. If the skin has been ruptured, the presence of bacteria could exist in your fruit before you get it into the jar. But plenty of those people out there walking around today that are 30 years old or more are a testament to the fact that high temperature cooking kills many forms of bacteria… and boiling for 10 minutes or more is high temperature. A lot of lightly damaged tomatoes used to be canned at home, and no one was made ill, poisoned, or perished. You have to know what is a possible problem and what is not, and if you don’t – its best to exercise extreme caution.
Preserving Damaged Tomatoes
These need to be frozen, and its the fastest, easiest way to put up tomatoes. You can freeze them whole, but they take up too much space, and tons of frost will set in rapidly, which means you’ll have shorter shelf life and a lot more cooking time getting dinner on the table. You’ll have to simmer these a long time to get rid of all that melted ice, not very good at conserving energy use!
It’s best to wash them, remove the cores, and cut out all the bad spots with enough extra flesh around the wound to be sure you’ve got no deteriorating spots left. Don’t bother removing the skins, though you might want to get rid of the seeds and the excess watery juice in their pouches – but if you’ll use them for soup they’re fine as is. Run them through your food processor to chop them up. Unless you left them in large chunks the skins are not noticeable in finished dishes, and if you do, the skins are easily removed once you start cooking them. Besides, tomato skins are edible, dietary fiber, and are probably part of the tomato’s nutrient value.
Once chopped to your liking, fill freezer storage bags that best fit your future recipe requirements. They come in gallon, quart, and pint sizes… just like canning jars. Remove all the air possible by squeezing it out through an unsealed corner of the bag. Very little frost can form in there even after a year! The bags freeze flat very nicely, and you can stack them in plastic baskets to keep the freezer organized.
You can freeze them raw, or cook them down by about 1/3 as you would before making soup, chili, or spaghetti sauce. Fresh tomatoes in your freezer is awesome. If you decide to cook them first – don’t fill plastic bags with hot food – let it cool off!
OR – you could experience the delights of slow roasted tomatoes. Those ‘sun dried’ things you buy at the store can’t hold a candle to these. There’s an entire summer packed into every bite. It’s hard not to devour them right out of the oven. Pack these in freezer bags too – the pint size, and suck the air out through a straw inserted in an unsealed corner of the zipper strip. The less air in the bag, the longer it will take for frost to fill the vacancy.
Making Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Slow roasted tomatoes take a long time to bake, but the oven is set really low at 225℉ – depending on the size of the chunks, it will take about 6-8 hours. The low heat and salt removes most of the moisture, leaving only rich, condensed tomatoey goodness behind. Make the most efficient use of your energy by doing large baking sheets with low sides (like a cookie pan or bigger), and 2 or more at a time. They are great with meats, on toast or baguettes with goat’s cheese or cream cheese, on a pizza, and in pasta dishes with buttery or creamy style sauces. You can use them whole or pureed.
What You Need
- Parchment paper – comes in rolls like tin foil from the grocery store
- Salt – kosher, sea … whatever you prefer
- Olive oil
- Garlic cloves – about 8 per tray
- Herbs – oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary, Italian seasoning blend … your choice
- Preheat the oven.
- Cut your cleaned, cored tomatoes into pieces lengthwise – from stem to blossom end. Cherry tomatoes: cut in half. Small tomatoes: cut in thirds. Medium tomatoes: cut in quarters or more. Large tomatoes: cut into 6 or 8 wedges.
- Put the tomato sections into a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Stir gently to coat as best as possible.
- Line the baking sheet with parchment paper to stop the tomatoes from sticking to the surface AND protecting their flavor from being ruined by direct contact with the metal.
- Sprinkle salt on the paper, lightly all over the surface, and lay your pieces on top. Too much salt won’t be good!
- Fill the tray in a single layer. Add your garlic cloves here and there. Sprinkle your chosen herbs over the top, again – don’t overdo it.
- Put the trays into the oven and set the timer for 2 hours for small tomatoes – 3 for larger tomato sections. The skins should easily peel off with a fork when the time goes off. Flip them over after removing the skins. If you’re doing cherry tomatoes or using them for appetizers, you might want to leave the skin intact.
- Return the trays to the oven – but switch their rack location. The pan on the bottom rack will be cooking faster than the one above it. Reset your timer for 1 hour. Switch the tray’s racks again, and return them for another hour. By this point cherry tomatoes and small tomato’s wedges, or tomato slices will probably be done. All the watery juice in the pan will have evaporated, and the meats will be thick and condensed. Larger tomato pieces will have to bake longer – just keep switching their spot in the oven so you have them all getting done about the same time.
- Let them cool before bagging them for the freezer or refrigerator. You don’t want steam putting water back into their container.
- You can discard the garlic, use it in whatever dish you’re making, or save them to use in something else.
Once you’ve done this a couple times you’ll have a feel for how long to bake different thicknesses and sizes of tomatoes. The smaller they are, the faster they dehydrate. The salt helps to draw out the water content much faster than without it.
It’s okay if they get a little brown around the edges – it actually makes them even better tasting.
A lot of people don’t remove the skins. With a cherry tomato doing so would be pointless, but the skins are tough, and with larger tomatoes there’s enough meat that the skin isn’t necessary. The longer you delay in removing the skins – the more time it will take for the water to leave the tomato meat. The same can be said about turning them over – if you don’t, it means more time in the oven or improperly roasted tomatoes.
How do you know they are done? The first image below (left) is hopefully a beauty shot – They’re not done: the tomatoes are still juicy (Courtesy of Veggies On The Counter). The second image shows properly finished roasted tomatoes – reduced to moist, not juicy fruit-meats. (Courtesy of The Cook’s Pyjamas) If you do this right the tomatoes – even after defrosting – will not be reduce to slop. That is – if you’ve not allowed frost to form in the packages. A vacuum sealer is perfect, but if you don’t have one, the freezer bag and straw method works out pretty good.
Now you don’t have to throw perfectly edible tomatoes away because you can’t eat them fast enough, and no one wants a gift of wounded fruit. And if you’ve run out of steam or cupboard space for canning, freezing is the way to go.
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