Saturday, October 11, 2008

How to Store and Use Fresh Tomatoes

These days most people who cook with tomatoes used canned ones from the grocery store, but since this is a gardening blog, let's talk about using fresh ones instead. First, what do you do with a zillion fresh tomatoes? Soon I'll post some recipes for spaghetti sauce and tomato soup, but for now let's consider storing tomatoes till you have time to do something with them. If you'll be able to use your tomatoes within a few days, just store them on your kitchen counter, covered with a cloth or in a paper bag to avoid attracting fruit flies and hasten ripening. Do NOT store them in the refrigerator! Refrigeration destroys much of the home-grown taste, leaving you with something little better than those abominations they sell in the supermarket.

The biggest annoyance with fresh tomatoes is peeling them. Blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds, and the skins should slip off easily. Or, you can score a shallow "X" in the bottom of each tomato, then blanch them in boiling water for about 15 seconds.

If you have more tomatoes than you can use before they'll rot, you have two options:

  1. Freeze them. Freezing is the quickest, easiest way to deal with a tomato invasion, though you'll need quite a bit of freezer space. Just rinse the tomatoes, pat them dry, put them in freezer bags, and freeze them. When you're ready to use them, thaw them partially and squeeze them out of their skins. That's the most fun part--kind of like popping a giant red zit (er, sorry... I have a gross sense of humor). Then use them as you would canned tomatoes. If you're like me and forget to thaw them till you're ready to use them, just drop them in boiling water till their skins start to peel (about 5-10 seconds), then squeeze them out of their skins.

  2. Can them. Canned homegrown tomatoes are better than the canned tomatoes in the grocery store, and they'll keep indefinitely. Also, tomatoes can be canned in a boiling water bath, so you don't need a pressure canner (though processing times are much shorter with a pressure canner, so if you have one, you'll probably want to use it). There are lots of web sites with instructions for canning tomatoes, but to be safe, choose one from an extension service, so you get current, USDA-approved methods. You want to avoid botulism unless you have a large life insurance policy with me as the beneficiary. Here are a few reliable sites:

With these techniques, you can enjoy your tomato harvest well into winter. Have fun!

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