I love harvesting the garden. Homegrown vegetables taste (and smell) so good and fresh. But nothing compares to the lovely tomato, so unlike what I can buy in the store that it seems wrong to call the store-bought variety a tomato at all.
Because I so love fresh tomatoes, even in my small raised bed spaces, I plant lots of them in all sorts of varieties. Living in the Pacific NW is an iffy place to really excel at the tomato growing business (last year, for instance, only a handful of tomatoes ripened before I had to pick them before the frost and let them ripen in the garage)…but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
The efforts of growing tomatoes are greatly rewarded as we stand out in the garden, pick the ripe, warm fruit from the vines and bite into pure heaven. I also bring them in to add to salads, bruschetta, soups or a variety of sauces.
This year, I’m pleased to report (even though summer didn’t show up until around July 1st) my nine tomato plants are thriving. They just started ripening in earnest a week or so ago and now that they’re actually ripening faster than we can eat them, it’s time to do some preserving.
Tomatoes preserve well. In all sorts of ways. Generally I can salsa and stewed tomatoes. And often, I also dry them in the dehydrator. This week, however, since I was out of town for several days (which put me behind in everything), I took the fast and easiest route in dealing with the over abundance of ripe tomatoes: freezing.
Freezing tomatoes is easy. Painless, even. (Especially if you own a high-powered blender like a Vitamix and like them pureed—which I do, since I use them in sauces and soups all winter).
There are several ways you can freeze tomatoes. Here are some ideas:
Pureed (unpeeled): I wash, stem and cut off any questionable looking areas on my tomatoes. Then, I throw them halved (or even whole) into my Vitamix. Ten seconds of blending and they’re ready to go. I dump them into quart-sized freezer bags or other containers suitable for freezing. And wa-la. I’m done. (Can it get any simpler than that?)
The Vitamix purees the tomatoes in such a way that no skinning beforehand is required. It also works wonders (and the same way) for making pureed applesauce (which is great since there’s essential vitamins in the peels).
If you want, you can add spices, etc. to the tomatoes before freezing, but I usually don’t do that. I wait until I thaw them and add ingredients fresh when I’m cooking.
Halved (unpeeled): Another simple freezing technique is to freeze the tomatoes whole (or in large chunks) with the skins on. In the thawing process, the skins will slip off the tomatoes effortlessly. This technique is good for people that don’t want to take the time to blanche the fruit, and also don’t want completely pureed fruit.
Skinned (pureed or chunky): If you prefer to skin your tomatoes first, this is an easy extra step that just requires a pot of boiling water and a bowl of cold (even iced) water. Simply dump the tomatoes into the boiling water for a few seconds (up to about a minute). Once you see the skin split, pull the tomato out and put it in the cold water. This will allow the skins to slide right off with little effort. From there, you can decide how you want to prepare the skinless tomatoes—whole, chunked or pureed.
Spiced: To any of the above methods, you can add your favorite seasoning and freeze them ready to re-heat. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving offers several spice blend ideas (they’re using dried herbs in this recipe (since it’s for canning), but you can substitute fresh herbs if you want for freezing):
Italian Blend: 1 teaspoon each basil, thyme, and oregano. ½ teaspoon each of rosemary, sage and garlic powder. Optional 1/4 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes. (Use 2 ¼ teaspoons per pint, or 2 teaspoons if omitting hot pepper flakes)
Mexican Blend: 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon each cumin, oregano, garlic powder and coriander. Optional ½ teaspoon seasoned salt. (Use 2/5 teaspoons per pint, or 2 teaspoons if omitting seasoned salt)
Cajun Blend: 1 teaspoon chili powder and paprika, ½ teaspoon each of onion flakes, garlic powder, ground allspice and thyme, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. (Use 2 teaspoons per pint)
Of course if you’re freezing tomatoes, you don’t have to worry about closely following any recipes (like you do with canning)…so have fun and experiment.
As I quickly pureed my tomatoes for the freezer yesterday, I also made a massive batch of spaghetti sauce out of veggies from the garden: tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, thyme and Italian parsley. I also added a splash of red wine, some tomato paste and some organic Italian sausage. Mmmmm.
Working in a kitchen with the smell of fresh pasta sauce, while freezing quarts of tomatoes in record time, I was feeling blessed to live in a place where I can have at least a few tomato plants, even if the weather doesn’t always full cooperate with their ripening.
This year the tomatoes are full-on, though, and I plan to make the most of it!
What do you do with all your tomatoes?