I grow a lot of tomatoes. A lot. In fact, some people might say I have a bit of a tomato growing problem. But you know, some people buy what might be considered excessive pairs of shoes, have closets full of handbags, or perhaps a dozen too many tech gadgets. I…grow tomatoes. And I’m pretty good at it, so that means I have a lot of tomatoes to deal with.
As far as problems go, I don’t think that’s a bad one. We eat our way through a significant number of toasted tomato sandwiches, tomato and feta salads, and tomatoes with just a bit of salt, but at a certain point the number of tomatoes ripening exceeds the number we can consume.
In case you’re blessed with a similar abundance of tomatoes to deal with, I’m going to share with you my favourite way to preserve the incomparable taste of fresh tomatoes for that very sad and long season when there are no fresh tomatoes to be had (and by fresh, I mean grown in this province, outdoors–you know, edible).
I start by washing and then chopping them up in big chunks–generally I just halve them. I also remove any significant blemishes (Tomatoes crack and get scars, depending on the weather and the variety, but they’re still perfectly edible. I like to think it gives them character. The hard dark parts that have calloused aren’t very nice to bite on, so I trim them off.) and pile all the pieces on a parchment lined baking sheet.
I roast them at around 400 for as long as they take to brown a bit on the edges, somewhere around an hour. Once they’re out of the oven I have two choices. If I have a lot of freezer space I will let them cool a bit and then put them into a big zippered plastic bag or plastic container and freeze them. If freezer space is at a premium, I’ll can them.
If you’re thinking, ugh, canning is a lot of work–you have to peel them and everything–please note that with my method you don’t. It really doesn’t take a lot of active prep time. I keep a pretty busy schedule and lately, I’ve found myself doing a lot more canning than freezing. Or, I’ll freeze a few batches of roasted tomatoes and then thaw them out and can them when I have enough to make it worthwhile.
In this photo, you can see that I’m working with (from left to right) a container of tomatoes I roasted a couple days prior and then refrigerated, a container of roasted tomatoes I froze, and then the tray of tomatoes I just took out of the oven:
I pour all of them into a big stock pot, and set it to cook down. When I have frozen tomatoes it takes longer than if I just have hot tomatoes out of the oven. What I look for is that they come to a boil, then I turn them down to simmer, and cook them (stirring as needed) until they’re all hot and have broken down a bit. Then I turn off the heat and use my immersion blender to puree them:
Then I pour the hot tomatoes into clean quart sized glass jars, add in 2 tbsp of lemon juice (to make sure they can be canned safely), remove air bubbles, wipe down the rims, apply the lids, and then immerse them in a boiling water bath for an hour and 25 minutes. That’s a long time to process canned anything, but the reading I’ve done tells me that you need to do it that long in order to be safe. And since the jars are just simmering away, I do other things in the kitchen while they process. If you would like some good detailed instructions on hot water bath canning I recommend the ‘Canning 101’ section on this blog.
After the hour and 25 minutes, I take the cans out of the water and leave them to cool. Then wipe and label them:
And now I have a wonderful stash of jars of roasted pureed organic heirloom tomatoes from garden. They don’t take up valuable space in my freezer, and they won’t go bad if there’s a power failure. They just sit there, looking beautiful, waiting for me to crack them open.
My favourite way to use them is to heat a little bit of olive oil in a pan, add quite a bit of finely diced garlic for a couple minutes, and then pour in a jar of tomatoes. I let it all heat through, add some salt, and then serve over pasta. It tastes like summer, even if it’s February. And makes me grateful that I planted too many tomato plants. Again.