Putting Up Tomatoes

26 Sep

Sungold, Black Cherry and Martino Roma Tomatoes, prepped and ready to roast.

Sungold, Black Cherry and Martino Roma Tomatoes, prepped and ready to roast.

The summer has gone by at warp speed—seems like just last week we were celebrating summer solstice.  This week-end I was on the receiving end of some of the bounty from my friend Sylvia’s garden.  The garden’s wispy vegetable shoots have matured into sweet fruits and vegetables exploding with flavor.  The afternoon started with samples of Sungold, Black Cherry and Martino Roma tomatoes plucked from vine less than 24 hours earlier. The sweetness of the bite-size orbs was candy like—but really really good for you. Once they were rinsed in cool water they were cut in half and heaped into a shallow pan for the first step in their transformation into fresh tomato sauce.

Roasting at 400° was a two-step process. The first roast reduces the fruit, creating a more concentrated flavor.  As the master gardener whose expertise nurtured the bite-size fruit, Sylvia stirred thyme, oregano and basil into the oven-roasted tomatoes. “The flavor of the roasted tomatoes can stand alone, Sylvia shares, but the balsamic vinegar is my secret ingredient.” Sylvia continued, “once seasoned with herbs and a splash of balsamic, they go back into the oven for a second roast—about 90 minutes.”

Freshly canned tomato sauce. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia  Ruffin

Freshly canned tomato sauce. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Ruffin

After cooling  the tomatoes we spooned them into glass canning jars. Sylvia relies on a pressure canner to seal in the flavor safely for year ’round enjoyment of her tomato sauce, salsa and more.

Now if you want to ease into “putting up” tomatoes you can preserve them by freezing. Choose tomatoes at the farmers market that are firm, free of blemishes, and hefty—juicier tomatoes are more dense.  Good tomatoes should also have a fragrant, sweet somewhat earthy scent. If you can’t freeze them right away, avoid storing them in the refrigerator. When you store them in the ‘fridge, they can loose flavor and become mealy. Store the tomatoes at room temperature.

Once you’ve selected the fruit, place the tomatoes briefly in boiling water—just until the skins begin to split.  From the boiling water, plunge them into a cold water bath to stop the cooking action.  After these two baths, the tomatoes practically peel themselves.  Cut them into chunks and spoon them into freezer-safe containers.   If you’ve selected different varieties of tomatoes, label the chopped tomatoes with the date and the variety in each container. The frozen tomatoes can be used for about ten months.

Tomatoes taste good and are good for you. They are technically a fruit and they’re a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant which can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration. When tomatoes are cooked, the lycopene increases, making the cooked fruit a more significant source of  They also contain vitamin C, iron, potassium and vitamin A, which helps maintain eye health.

With a little pre-planning and an afternoon “putting a few things up,” you’ll have richly flavored tomatoes at your fingertips for year ‘round.


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