Sunday, September 6, 2015

Preserving the tomato harvest

Sunday, September 6, 2015
It is peak tomato season!  There are so many recipes that fresh tomatoes can be used in-salsa, salads, bruschetta, cucumber/tomato/onion salad, on burgers, on sandwiches, on pasta, the list goes on.
So, what to do when you are eating tomatoes at every meal and still have them coming?  It is time to preserve them!

I freeze, dry and can my excess tomatoes.  

Be sure to put the date and description on each freezer bag and quart jar.  You may think you will remember the date they were frozen, but to be on the safe side write the type and date you bagged them.  Use the oldest first and all within a year.
Tomatoes sliced and in quart freezer bag

During peak season for any produce, you can get the lowest prices at your neighborhood farm or farmers market.  In many cases you can get a huge discount for any bruised or blemished tomatoes.  These are great to use for preserving, just be sure to remove any soft spots.

Right now, I prefer to freeze them because it is so hot that I don’t want to turn on any heat generators inside the house.  For cherry type tomatoes, I just half them and throw them in a quart freezer bag and put in the freezer.  For larger tomatoes, I slice then put them in freezer bags.  They thaw much quicker this way.  They will have a fresh taste when thawed and used for salsa, sauces, or chili.  

When it cools, I start drying and canning.  I take all the tomatoes still left from last year and can those.  I use this year's for freshly frozen and dried.

I just love “sun dried” tomatoes right out of my own dehydrator.  You can dry them in the oven too if your oven temp goes down low enough. 150-200 degrees F is recommended and the lower the temp, the redder the dried tomato.  The higher temps will cause the dried fruit to darken.  It will take 6-10 hours for the tomato to dry.  You want to make sure they are completely dry or they will mold in the jar.  You store your dried tomatoes in a quart jar to use until next year.  
Chocolate and black tomatoes oven dried

Only a water bath is needed for canning tomatoes because they are acidic.  Make sure you follow a sauce recipe exactly as it is critical for keeping to the right acid level.  I use Weck's canning jars.  They are all glass so no worries about what is in the lining of the lids.  And they are a really pretty shape.  They are made in Germany.  I haven't found any all glass canning jars made in the USA, unless you get the antiques.  

All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel, and tongs.  A pressure cooker is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes.  Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.  For more on canning, see  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty

I throw the entire tomato (without the stem) into the food processor.  Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds because they can impart a bitter taste.  I have not had any bitterness in my sauces and there are lots of nutrition in the seeds and peels so I make use of the entire fruit.  This is a good time to save the seeds from the best, biggest, tastiest tomatoes for your garden next year.
Sauce in Weck canning jars

Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.  I'll also toss in some of my dried mixed herbs for flavor.  About a tablespoon or two per batch.

I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours.  Remove the bay leaves and garlic.  Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.

Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using.  Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes.  Remove from canner.  Let cool.  Test the seal after the jar is completely cool.  It should not lift off.  That’s it!  

I will can any frozen tomatoes I have left over from last season as I start brining in the harvest for this year.  I canned 12 quarts of frozen tomatoes yesterday and this gave me 1 gallon (4 liters) of sauce.  I use the half liter Weck's tulip jars which is almost the exact size of a pint jar.

Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes.  Consult with a canning book for more tips and always be sure to follow the recipe exactly to ensure they safely keep.

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