Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Put Up or Shut Up Episode 6: Tomatoes

Where did the locavore pirate purchase his vegetables?


Straight from the fAARRRRHHmer.

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

I'm sorry I've been absent for so long.  I didn't even realize that it had been so long.  Canning season is in full swing, and it takes up a lot of my free time.  On top of that, my dance troupe has our "big show" of the year coming up this weekend, so I've been busy crafting things to sell.  (Yes, in addition to being a tremendously talented cook and witty blogger, I'm also quite handy with a crochet hook.  I am a woman of many talents - none of them exceptionally marketable...).  Make sure you come check us out at Tribal Union this Saturday.  It's going to be a sweet show.

Technically Fall starts on Saturday, but the chill of fall has been in the air the past few nights.  I woke up with cold toes this morning.  I like summer, and I like being warm, but fall is by far my favorite season in terms of both clothing (I love me a sweater dress!) and food.  There is nothing like a warm stew that's been in the crock pot or oven all day.  The oven now makes me even happier, since my wonderful mother got me one of these for my birthday:

Everything I make in it is automatically fancy.

And, with the end of summer and the start of fall, sadly and naturally comes the end of tomato season.  It's been a good year for tomatoes for me.  When we reach this point in the year, however, tomatoes start to turn a little ugly.  They get spots, or end up oddly shaped, or just don't taste as great as they did in the middle of the summer.  They tend to get soft spots easier.  They don't seem to last as long on the counter.

While sad, all of these things are good for you - the industrious, over achieving, borderline food hoarding, obsessive compulsive canner.

Oh, wait, that's not you, that's me!

Anyway, you should now be able to find a 10 or 20 lb box of tomatoes at your local farmer's market for far less than the normal price.  Some farmers also offer "seconds," which are those ugly tomatoes that you probably don't want to put on your BLT.  Okay, so you'll need to cut a few bruised spots off.  They're still good!

I do a few things with my tomatoes.  The first and easiest is to freeze them whole.  Just wash them and stick them into the freezer.  Once you've got a stack of them, I'd recommend putting them into freezer bags for long term storage.  Once you're ready to use them, just thaw them enough to cut them (I would cut them before they thaw all the way though, because they'll get mushy) and then use them in any recipe that calls for cooked tomatoes.  You don't want to eat them raw though - again when they thaw all the way they get really mushy and weird.  You can't tell the difference when they're cooked, though.

You can also use these tomatoes anywhere it calls for canned tomatoes.  And the skins remove really easily, too.  Just throw them into a pot of boiling water fully frozen, and the skins pop right off on their own!  This also helps thaw them out enough to cut them too.

I tend to save tomatoes all summer this way.  When I've got a big stack, and one or two looks like it's going to get old before I can eat it, I just throw it in the freezer.  I'm up to about 3 and a half gallon freezer bags.

This year, for the first time, I've also canned whole and diced tomatoes.  I haven't done this in the past because it seemed like a waste of canning time - since the frozen tomatoes can be used in place of both of these items.  But, I found the frozen tomatoes were taking up too much room in my freezer.  And, on top of that, when I'm making something in the crock pot in the morning before work I don't always have time/want to make the time to be dealing with frozen tomatoes.  It'll be nice to just dump a jar of tomatoes into the crock pot and go.

Spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, and salsa rounded out my "regular" tomato canning.  One thing I did this year that I didn't do last year was I saved all the skins from all the tomatoes I canned, and threw them into the pot when making my tomato sauce.  I really felt it thickened the sauce up and gave it an extra tomato-y texture.  It also made me feel good to think I was getting as much as possible out of all parts of the tomato.

I say "regular" tomato canning, because this doesn't include the green tomatoes.  Green tomatoes are, in my opinion, highly undervalued.  Fried green tomatoes are not even close to being the best thing about green tomatoes.  First off, you can pickle them. Pickled green tomatoes are an amazing treat.  I've made a winter caprese salad (that's your tomato, mozzarella cheese, and basil salad) using pickled green tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes.  They're also good for just eating.

But maybe you don't like pickled things the way I do.  That's fine (you're wrong, but it's fine).  Here's another suggestion.  This may be hailed as food blasphemy, but you can also can whole green tomatoes and substitute them for canned tomatillos.  They're not going to be exactly the same - they're not as tangy or as acidic.  If you are going to substitute them, I would recommend adding a good amount of lime juice to up the sass, but I can't find local tomatillos for less than $4.99 a pound, and that's far too much when I need a bunch for my famous green pork chili.  So I'm going to substitute green tomatoes, and it's going to be amazing.  If you've got a problem with that, you don't get any chili!

So pick up some tomato seconds at the farmer's market, and get canning!

Canned Whole Tomatoes - Red or Green (or yellow.  Or orange.  Or whatever)
For each Quart of Tomatoes:
  • 3 pounds tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice 
 Remove the skins from the tomatoes by boiling briefly and dipping in ice water.  (We've been talking about this for a year now - do I really need to explain it to you?)

Put 2 tablespoons lemon juice into a one quart jar.  Pack the tomatoes into the jar one at a time, pressing firmly enough to compress the hollow core and release enough juice to cover the tomatoes, but not enough to crush the fruit.  Continue to pack the tomatoes in this manner, pressing out any air pockets.  Tomatoes should be covered by 1/2 inch with their liquid.  Leave 1/2 inch of headspace between the top of the liquid and the lid.  Top with a little boiling water, if necessary, to achieve the proper headspace.

Use the boiling water method and process jars for 85 minutes.  Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes.

If you are using green tomatoes to substitute for tomatillos, consider replacing the lemon juice with lime juice.

Canned Diced Tomatoes
Same as above, but dice the tomatoes instead of pushing them into the jars.  Save the any tomato juice to cover the tomatoes in the jar.

Chunky Spaghetti Sauce
Makes about 8 Quarts
  • 20 lbs of tomatoes (preferably plum or Roma)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb onions, diced
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 large carrots, diced
  • 4 large green peppers
  • 1 cup fresh oregano
  • 3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice per quart
  • 1 tsp salt per quart
  • 1 bay leaf per quart
 Blanch and shock tomatoes to remove peels.  Dice into about 1 inch cubes, and set aside.

In a large pot, sweat down onions over low heat until soft and translucent - about 15 minutes.  Raise heat to medium, add garlic, carrots, and peppers, and saute until veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and oregano and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a low and simmer for 1 hour.  The sauce should be reduced and slightly thickened.

Ladle into jars (adding lemon juice, salt, and bay leaf), leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process using the boiling water method for 45 minutes.  Turn off heat, remove the lid from the canner, and let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes.

Tomato Basil Sauce
Makes about 6 pints

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 head garlic, chopped
  • 10 lbs tomatoes, cut into large chunks (don't worry about the skins this time)
  • Any skins you have from other tomatoes you've canned (you can freeze these to use later, too)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
In a large pot, warm the oil over low heat.  Add the onions and sweat until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium, add the garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes longer.

Add the tomatoes, skins, and wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thickened - about 1 hour.

Pass the tomato mixture through a mesh sieve set over a clean, large pot.  I like to really work the remaining solids to work out any pulp in order to get a thicker sauce but that is your choice.  Bring the tomato sauce back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.  Stir in the basil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Ladle the sauce into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.  Process using the boiling water method for 30 minutes. 
Tomato Basil Sauce (front) and Chunky Spaghetti
Sauce (back) in progress.  I need bigger pots...

Heirloom Tomato Salsa
Makes about 7 pints
Using a variety of tomatoes in different colors creates a pretty salsa, but isn't necessary.

  • 1 cup white viegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 lbs heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 pounds onions, diced
  • 1 to 2 hot peppers of your favorite variety, diced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a large, nonreactive sauce pan.  add the tomatoes, onions, and peppers, and return to a boil for 5 minutes.  Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

Ladle into clean hot pint or half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process for 15 minutes.  Turn off heat, remove the canner lid, and let rest in the water for 5 minutes.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
Makes 6 pints (use pints or half pints)

  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 12 bay leaves
  • 24 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp dried oregeno
  • 1 small yellow onion cut into thin slices
  • 12 small hot peppers (optional)
  • 6 cups green tomatoes, cut into large chunks or slices (or use whole cherry tomatoes)
In a large pot, combine the vinegar and salt.  Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt.

Meanwhile, divide bay leaves, garlic, spices, and onion amongst jars.  Pack tomatoes tightly into the jars, within one inch of the rims.  Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  Wipe the rims and seal tightly.  Because of the high level of acidity, these pickles do not require a boiling water bath - but make sure the brine is boiling when you ladle it in so they seal properly.

Let the jars sit for at least two weeks for flavors to develop.


  1. We've gotten 6 large tomatoes and about 2 dozen cherry tomatoes out of our garden. All summer! And they're all currently sitting on my counter, waiting for me to decide what to do with them. Maybe I'll freeze them since I'm going to be busy all weekend!

  2. I just got my first Le Creuset pan--excitement! Perfect now that it's cool enough to cook more again! Happy Birthday (late)!