It’s not a great garden year here. I said that last year, too, but I mean it more this time around. It’s not so much the drought — we’ve had some rain and we’re able to water in between — but the temperatures have been widely unpredictable. Stiflingly hot and humid one day, it feels like autumn the very next. The plants don’t seem to know what season it is any better than Mother Nature does, and thus they’re uncertain with their production.
Still, there’s a harvest to be had and for that we’re grateful. We’re not drowning in tomatoes as we like to be this time of year, but I thought I’d share some tips for preserving the summer’s bright red bounty for those of you that are. I’ll try to keep a lid on my jealousy as I write.
First and foremost, for those tomatoes you want to can the old-fashioned way, don’t under-blanch. If they’re hard to peel, you’re not blanching long enough. Leave them in the boiling water until the skins split and wrinkle. Those skins should slip right off, no real work involved. And no, you don’t have to score them first. Remember, we’re doing this the lazy way.
Or even better, roast them for sauces and salsas. Not only do you not have to blanch and peel — the skins will separate easily once the tomatoes are roasted — roasted tomatoes (and garlic and onions for that matter) make for a smoky taste undertone that is to die for.
Oh, and as long as we’re talking about sauces and salsas, don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Freeze some of your tomatoes to make more sauces and condiments this winter. This way instead of heating up your house in the middle of summer, you can warm it up and make it feel homey when it’s snowing outside. The skins can be separated when you pull them out of the freezer and they’ll also naturally drain off a lot of moisture as they thaw saving time in cooking thick sauces and condiments down.
Still swimming in ‘maters? Sun Dry or Dehydrate them. No skin removal necessary, just spread them in a thin layer on a screen, dehydrator tray or cookie sheet and dehydrate. Pack them up in ziplocs, ball jars, or use your vacuum sealer for even better storage. Come winter they can be chopped finely or ground to be used as seasoning or rehydrated in soups and stews.
Of course, if you’re a fan of soups, you may also want to run a few dozen through a juicer. No skin removal and the end product can be canned or frozen to your liking. Season before storing or store straight and season as you’re cooking for added flexibility.
In fact, as long as we’re on the topic of flexibility, it doesn’t hurt to make up a few batches of your family’s favorite tomato based meals now and store for later — either in the freezer or canned in the pantry. Both individual and family-sized portions are handy for those grab and go meals every family ends up needing.
And last, but certainly not least, if you’re still overrun with tomatoes you can make tomato paste for use in goulash, homemade pizza sauce, sloppy joe sauce and just about anything else that suits your fancy. Tomato paste takes forever and a day to cook down, but it makes short work of a lot of tomatoes.