It's that time of year again, all the stuff, well at least a large majority of it, that you planted is flooding you with an abundance of produce. You have given away vast amounts of it; your neighbours draw the curtains and lock the doors if they even SEE you picking more zucchini, what to do with it all? Hopefully you have remembered your local food bank, they love getting fresh produce!
There are some things that you just can't find at a supermarket, and at the top of that list is fresh vine ripened tomatoes. In my humble opinion, there is nothing that tastes as good as a tomato warm off the vine, and those tomato facsimiles sold in supermarkets are not worth taking home even if they gave them away.
Remember back to last February, the nasty cold wind blowing the snow around, if you were anywhere near Nova Scotia we were having a blizzard every Wednesday. Now imagine this coming February; sitting down to peruse one of the seed catalogs which has recently arrived in you mailbox, the wind is howling and its freezing outside, but you are sitting down to a lunch of fresh baked bread, some of your own chevre seasoned with basil and rosemary and a bowl of roasted tomatoes and thyme spread which you lovingly made and stored last August. Sound like a good way to spend a February afternoon? Well to get that February afternoon, you need to preserve your tomatoes now. Yep even though you think that you are sick of tomatoes and you really can't imagine ever wanting to eat another one! So let's get started.
There are three main ways to preserve tomatoes; freezing, canning and drying. You should utilize all three for the greatest variety of use during the coming winter. Freezing and drying are the easiest ways, canning tomatoes requires some experience, as tomatoes tend to be on the border when it comes to acidity levels. Remember last week when I talked about high acid and low acid foods? High acid foods can be canned safely in a water bath canning process, low acid content foods require a pressure cooker to safely preserve them.
I don't fool around with tomatoes, they are done in the pressure cooker. If this terrifies you don't worry, I think pressure cooker stories have become the rural version of an urban myth. Every family had an aunt or a friend of a grandmother who was injured in a pressure cooker explosion or a large dent in a ceiling that came from a launched pressure cooker lid. Some are true, but the truth is all modern pressure cookers are so absolutely safe that you would have to seriously tamper with one to even get it to explode. I promise I'll walk you through it.
There are four main products I make from our tomato harvest: salsa, tomato sauce, tomato paste and tomato soup. It used to be a guessing game of how much of each to make every year. However a couple of years ago I realized that I only needed to make canned tomatoes. I could then take the jar of tomatoes and make a sauce, soup, or paste from my canned tomatoes. They also make a fabulous paella.
My favourite way to prepare tomatoes is to roast them and then freeze them. This makes a wonderful base for sauce, especially good on pizza, it also makes an amazing spread that works on crackers, or the afore mentioned fresh bread of a February afternoon. All things being equal, I would prepare all of our tomatoes this way. However we simply do not have the freezer space to do this, and with the planned switch over to off grid living I am trying to drastically cut our reliance on deep freezers. So this method is now reserved for about 30% of our harvest. This is a very simple recipe and you can use any variety of tomato, from meaty roma variety to those so sweet little cherry tomatoes, try putting a couple of different varieties together to get a mix of flavours.
As many ripe tomatoes as you have
Fresh Thyme or Rosemary (optional)
Salt & Pepper
Wash your tomatoes, pat dry and cut off any skin blemishes, Slice them in half,
even the little cherry ones. Drizzle a moderate amount of olive oil in the bottom of your roasting pan and place the tomatoes cut side down in the pan. Don't be afraid to jam them in as they will shrink up in the oven. Peel and slice, or mince, your garlic. The amount will vary depending upon how much you like garlic and how many tomatoes you have. Sprinkle the garlic over the tomatoes, and drizzle more olive oil on top. To encourage the flavours to mix, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Hopefully you will give these a try, they are so easy and in the dark of winter will bring back the taste of summer.
Tomorrow we are going to make canned tomatoes with the pressure cooker. I know they are intimidating, but they really are the safest way to can pure tomatoes; and if you have any asperations of canning meats, stews, soups or vegetables they really are a necessity. Once you take the plunge you will be suprised how easy it really is. I was, and I let my pressure cooker sit in the cupboard for a full year before I attemped to use it!
If you put any whole tomatoes in the freezer last week, take them out tonight to thaw we can use them tomorrow. Have a great day everyone.