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Storing and preserving garden tomatoes

Eventually every year there comes a time when you can’t keep up to the tomato patch

Is there anything better than the first bite of a vine-ripened, sun-kissed garden tomato?

As our first tomatoes ripen, we enjoy them just as they are on buttered toast or BLT sandwiches. As more become available there’s bruschetta, pasta dishes, pico de gallo (fresh salsa) and endless salads. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Inevitably, there are more tomatoes than we can eat. At this point, harvesting, storing and preserving become the challenge. It’s not that preserving tomatoes is difficult, it’s just tricky to harvest enough ripe tomatoes before the frost hits on a day when you’re not needed elsewhere. The tomato harvest is always at the busiest time of the year!

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Once you do harvest them, here are some tips and recipes for storing and preserving tomatoes.

Storing and ripening

If your tomatoes are being threatened by frost, pick them and ripen them inside. Store tomatoes in a single layer in a newspaper-lined, shallow box. The warmer the storage temperature the faster the tomatoes will ripen. Storing them with ethylene gas producers like bananas or apples will ripen them even faster. To slow their ripening, store them away from other produce in a cool, dark, dry space. They’ll keep even longer if you wrap each tomato individually. Check and rotate them frequently and remove any that show signs of decay. Never store cut, bruised or frost-damaged tomatoes as they will spoil very quickly.

Freezing

When time is limited, tossing handfuls of ripe tomatoes in the freezer is a quick and easy solution. You can use them as is, or can them later if you need to free up freezer space.

Raw tomatoes can be frozen whole, chopped or puréed, without any blanching, by simply placing them in a freezer container. They can be frozen with or without the peel, which slips off easily when thawed. While they retain their flavour, frozen tomatoes will be quite mushy when thawed.

Any style of cooked tomatoes can also be frozen by simply placing them in a freezer container.

Drying

According to the USDA, tomatoes labelled “sun dried” do not actually have to be dried in the sun. In fact, very few actually are. You can make your own sun-dried tomatoes in an oven or dehydrator. The best tomatoes for drying are paste tomatoes that aren’t as juicy as slicing tomatoes, but given enough time, any variety can be dried.

To dry tomatoes in an oven, cut tomatoes lengthwise in quarters, remove liquid and seeds, place on cooling racks and bake at 65 C to 95 C (150 F to 200 F) for 10 or more hours until tomatoes feel leathery throughout. For bigger quantities a dehydrator is a good option.

Canning

Canning tomatoes using a hot water bath is my preferred way to preserve tomatoes. It takes a little more prep, but it’s a convenient way to store a large bounty of tomatoes. Because tomatoes fall on the border of safe acidity levels, extra acid is required to make them safe for hot water bath canning. Always use trusted sources when canning tomatoes or tomato-based products.

When canning salsa or tomatoes with herbs extra care should be taken to ensure proper acid levels are met. Canning prepared tomato products like soups, stews or anything with meats, fish or poultry requires pressure canning.

Here are some tasty canned tomato recipes to try.


Tomato Jam

A delicious savoury jam to serve with cream cheese and crackers. Makes an excellent gift.

  • 4 lbs. tomatoes
  • 2 – 3 tsp. hot pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1 box no-sugar-needed powdered pectin
  • 1 c. sugar

Wash firm ripe tomatoes (any type). Scald, peel, and chop tomatoes. Place in saucepan and heat stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should get 4 cups of liquidy tomatoes. While tomatoes are simmering, sterilize jars by boiling in water for 10 minutes. In large saucepan, combine 4 cups of the prepared tomatoes, hot pepper flakes, ginger, lemon juice and no-sugar-needed powdered pectin. Stir until pectin is fully dissolved. Over high heat, bring mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar. Stir constantly and return mixture to a full rolling boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour into hot, sterilized jars leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rim of jars and apply two-piece lids tightening ring finger tight. Place jars in hot water bath and process for 5 minutes. Allow jars to rest in canner for 5 minutes, then remove and cool.

Makes: 5 jam jars (250 ml) or 10 125-ml jars
Source: GettyStewart.com

Canned Chopped Tomatoes

Hot packed, chopped tomatoes without the peel. You could leave tomatoes whole, with peel on if you prefer.

  • 10 kg (22 lbs.) tomatoes
  • 210 ml lemon juice

Wash tomatoes and remove any blemishes. Peel tomatoes. Make a small X on bottom of each tomato with a knife, place in boiling water for 60 seconds, transfer immediately to ice water bath and peel. Chop tomatoes and add about 500 ml into a large stock pot. Bring to boil while stirring and crushing to extract juice. Continue adding 500 ml at a time to ensure even crushing. This technique helps prevent tomatoes from floating later. Boil for 5 minutes. Pack hot tomatoes into clean, hot jars, leaving a 1.3-cm headspace. Add 20 ml lemon juice to each litre (quart) jar. Seal with hot sealing lid and add screw band tightening only finger tight. Place in hot water bath for 45 minutes. Allow jars to rest in canner for 5 minutes, then remove and cool.

Makes: 7 litre (quart) jars
Source: GettyStewart.com

Canned Tomato Salsa

Enjoy homemade salsa year round with this hot water bath canned salsa.

  • 7 quarts peeled, cored, chopped paste tomatoes
  • 4 c. seeded, chopped long green chilies
  • 5 c. chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. seeded, finely chopped jalapeño peppers
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 c. bottled lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. ground cumin (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. oregano leaves (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro (optional)

Combine all ingredients except cumin, oregano and cilantro in a large sauce pot and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel. Apply two-piece metal canning lids.

Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (pint jars).

Makes: About 16 to 18 pints (500-ml jars)
Source: National Center of Home Food Preservation

About the author

Contributor

Getty Stewart is a professional home economist, speaker and writer from Winnipeg. For more recipes, preserves and kitchen tips, visit www.gettystewart.com.

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