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Preserving Your Harvest - Tomatoes

Posted: May 23, 2012

I had a very hard time deciding the topic for this article. There are so many things to preserve in July and August. Most herbs are at their peak; drying racks will be full. Peaches, melons, nectarines, and plums are in season. Your garden will be overflowing with summer squash, beans, cukes, and root crops. (Don’t forget that zucchini can be made into wonderful pickles, as can green beans.) I settled on tomatoes. What do you do with all of those tomatoes?!
What to do with all those tomatoes!

What to do with all those tomatoes!

Tomatoes can be preserved though drying, freezing, or canning. It is impossible in this limited space to describe in detail each and every step in these three methods of preservation. I will instead give you some tips and ideas and refer you to reputable sources for the details. Let’s Preserve Tomatoes by the food scientists at Penn State is a great reference for both safely freezing and canning tomatoes. You can also turn to The Ball Blue Book or So Easy to Preserve from the University of Georgia. The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving is available online. Links are at the end of the article. There is nothing that improves when it is preserved. Use only unblemished, disease-free, ripe, flavorful tomatoes.

To dry tomatoes, choose a meaty variety – a Roma tomato works well. I have grown ‘Principe Borghese’, a variety specifically for drying, in the past. It is a great tomato, but hardly the only variety that works well. Wash, de-stem, core, scald in boiling water to loosen the skin, and remove the skin. Based on the size, you can cut in half or slice into ¾ inch sections or slices. It may take up to 12 hours in a dehydrator to remove enough moisture so that the tomatoes are safely dry. Tomatoes do not need to be fully crisp, although I like them that way. I also dehydrate cherry tomatoes. I just cut them in half and prick the skin a few times before placing in the dehydrator.

Freezing tomatoes is an easy option. For best results, peel and cook your tomatoes first. But – you can freeze raw tomatoes. Just be aware that the thawed result will not have good structure. But what it will have is the flavor and nutrition of the original. Any recipe that you find in a book that requires canning can be frozen instead. I found a great recipe for pizza sauce that requires pressure canning. I just freeze the pizza sauce!

Tomatoes – whole, crushed, juiced – are a relatively easy crop to process and those canned tomatoes are so incredibly versatile in the kitchen! Tomatoes can be safely processed in a hot water bath, but ONLY if you add a little acid to your jars. For pints, add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice. For quarts, add 2 tablespoons. Use only bottled lemon juice as the acidity is reliable.

While you can “put up” any and all varieties, start with paste/Roma tomatoes for a thick, rich sauce. Denise Schreiber, Allegheny County Greenhouse Manager, gave me a wonderful tip last year that saves time and improves nutrition. Wash well and then de-stem and core the tomato. Squeeze the tomato to remove most of the seeds and gelatinous pulp surrounding the seeds (out through the core end). Place in a food processor and puree. Cook down the result. You have saved the laborious step of peeling the tomato and you have also retained the nutrients in and near the skin.

I like to slowly roast Roma tomatoes. I core and slice in half through the core, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs. After roasting and cooling, they go into the freezer in a freezer-safe container. These are particularly yummy as a base for an interesting pizza sauce or a simple pasta dish.

When the season is at its end, and you are weary of processing another batch of tomatoes, simply wash, de-stem, put in a zip lock bag, squeeze out the excess air and freeze. Use these frozen contents in a soup, stew, or chili. If they bother you, you can fish out the skins from the pot on the stove in January. You will be thankful that you froze this batch as you smell summer’s bounty in the dark of winter. Your mind will wander as you start to plan next year’s garden.

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Prepared by Penn State Master Food Preserver, Susan Marquesen and used courtesy of the Allegheny County-Master Gardener Update.

Photo credit: Free Digital Photos.net