Who doesn’t love tomatoes?!
Oh. You? You don’t love tomatoes? You crazy person! You may leave now.
Okay, now that we’re alone, let’s gush about the zillions of ways tomatoes improve our life. They can bring bright, rich, acidic flavor to any dish. A plethora of staple dishes from many different cultures have been built around this prolific fruit. But, the truth is that when tomatoes come in, they REALLY come in and you have to think fast about how to use and store all those ripe fruits. I hope to leave you with a few good tips on how to overcome this very excellent problem.
Tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches (a Valentine family favorite), caprese salad, BLT’s, tomato soup, heirloom Bloody Marys, made into salsa, baked in a quiche, stuffed with meatloaf and roasted with cheese on top, garden pizza, Italian pasta sauces, or just sliced and eaten with your fingers. I’m sure you could add more.
The Joy of Gardening Cookbook – an oldie (the copyright date is the year I was born), but a goodie. I was gifted this book from a friend and grew to love it for it’s simplicity and variety, then came to find out that my mother-in-law had been using (and loving) the same recipes for as long as I’ve been alive. When I need some simple inspiration in the kitchen, this is a go-to.
And, I have to mention Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South again because he is just fabulous at cooking straight from the garden.
When it comes to putting tomatoes away for later, there are many options: canning, freezing (yes, freezing!), lactic fermentation (lacto-wha?), drying, preserving with salt, vinegar, or oil… you get the idea. I recommend these two books to get you going: Stocking Up and Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning. Use those resources for a more exhaustive and specific guide to putting away your tomatoes (and other produce). I really try not to practice acting like I know something when I don’t, so I’m not going to talk about lactic fermentation. But, below, I’ll go through the few simple tricks and methods we’ve adopted into our stocking-up routine. This is usually all we have time for, until I learn something new.
I hate to see a good tomato go bad, so we keep a bucket in our freezer (we actually have a second fridge/freezer in the garage) where we put the remnant of tomatoes whose bad spots we’ve cut out (and given to the chickens). We also toss some whole cherry tomatoes in there, too. If you have an immersion blender, this is an ideal way to make a big batch of quick tomato sauce later. Use your big, healthy whole tomatoes for other purposes. If you have limited freezer space, just freeze a few whole tomatoes at a time by placing them on a baking sheet in your freezer, then transferring to a bag. The skins will crack when freezing, making them easy to peel off when they’ve thawed.
Every year Luke and I put away quite a bit of tomatoes. It’s like a second job, honestly. But it saves us so much time and money in the winter when we’re making food. We’ll can heirloom tomato-and-basil sauces, whole or diced peeled tomatoes, and salsas. The trick with preservation by canning is acid content. Tomatoes are so acidic that you don’t have to worry about adding any extra acid (for example, you would use citrus or vinegar with other things like squash or beets) which makes them relatively easy to do. Because of this fact, you also can put them up in almost any way you can think of: whole, peeled, diced, stewed, as a sauce, paste, or salsa. I recommend following a canning recipe so that you have all the other necessary components right: time and temperature for the volume you’re using, proper safety instructions, and exact measurements. At a glance it may seem like a daunting amount of information and steps, but it’s actually pretty darn easy once you get the hang of it.
You can absolutely make naturally sun-dried tomatoes. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t. But, I, personally, don’t have the time right now to build a drying table with a screen (fun winter project?) in order to do this properly, so we’ve started making “overnight” tomatoes. In all our work at fancy restaurants, Luke and I have picked up a few tricks – and this is one of them. We’ve been using our sungold cherry tomatoes and love the result. Simply cut them in half, toss or drizzle with olive oil (or other low-temp friendly oil), and put on a baking sheet in your oven at the lowest temp it’ll go for a minimum of 6 hours. They will dehydrate very nicely into leathery, pliable pieces, while maintaining a concetrated form of their flavor. They can be stored at room temp in oil or in the refrigerator.
Enjoy your tomatoes this season – and best of luck in your efforts to enjoy them in other seasons!