Okay, maybe it wasn’t tomatoes galore, but we still had a good year with our tomatoes. It just dawned on me that I never wrote about what we did with our tomatoes and I said I would. I’m sorry for failing you 🙂 But better late than never, right?
We had a pretty good tomato harvest and would have had more, but we had (what felt like) a plague of mosquitoes that kept me out of the garden for a time, and then I was worn out near the end of garden season and the frost beat me to the last of the tomatoes. Which was sad because that was when the bulk of the tomatoes ripened. Even so, I was happy with what we ended up with.
This year we used a few tomatoes fresh, but most of what we used them for was for canning. We made tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and with some skins I made tomato powder. I think we had about 24 quarts of tomato sauce, 16 pints of diced tomatoes, and about a pint and a half of tomato powder. It’s not nearly enough tomato for what we usually cook with, but it is a lot, and considering this was our first time doing tomato canning, I’m pretty pleased.
We (and when I say we, I am referring to my sister-in-law and myself) diced tomatoes one evening, and I finished the canning. Cutting them all up was a bit slow, but since we get together every week, it’s nice to be able to have the help getting more work done. I added a bit of fresh basil and garlic into half of the jars of diced tomatoes. I’ll pour one of those into a blender to make a super simple pizza sauce. This is a bit tangy since there isn’t any sugar in it, and it’s kind of watery, but we like it. And I also use the diced tomatoes for throwing into soups or other dishes that call for it.
For the rest of the tomatoes, I wanted to make as much tomato sauce as possible. We go through a lot around here, and to make things simple, I figured we could just do a basic sauce since I can then turn that into ketchup or spaghetti sauce or whatever my heart desires. And it’s great for adding to chili. There were no added seasonings, just straight up tomatoes. Because we were getting a small batch of tomatoes here and another there, we decided to freeze the them. We had heard that freezing your tomatoes is a great way to make your own sauce because once they thaw, the peels slip right off and a lot of the water can be drained right off instead of cooking it off. This also gives you the freedom to work on canning the sauce whenever you have time.
With that in mind, I cut all of the tomatoes into halves or quarters, making sure to hull them as I went (well, at least most of them). They got put into zip lock bags until the bag was very full but could still be zipped without making a mess. Then everything went into the freezer. We had to wait quite awhile to get to the tomatoes because life just got away from us, but in the middle of November, we finally got to work.
A day or two before we were ready to can, I took all of the tomatoes out of the freezer and put them into the refrigerator to thaw gradually. I forgot to take into account that so much frozen food packed together wouldn’t thaw, or at least not completely, so we ended up working with a lot of frozen tomatoes. This ended up being both a good and a bad thing. We discovered that it was easiest to peel the slightly frozen tomatoes. The skins came off really nicely. The fully thawed ones were not terribly hard to peel, and the skins did come off nicely but if the skin ripped or didn’t want to come off, you had to try and peel it off of a blob of mush. The downfall to doing all of those frozen tomatoes was that our fingers got nice and sore from the cold. I also realized after the fact that we should have just let them finish thawing after they were peeled because they took a lot longer to cook in that frozen state (obviously, right?), and because when the tomatoes thaw, they loose all of that excess water and it takes a lot less time to boil them down.
We cooked the tomatoes according to the Ball Canning Guide for a water bath canner, and I had to finish cooking late into the night…lesson learned…start a lot earlier! (We meant to, but it didn’t work out.) I haven’t used a lot of the sauce just yet, but I will as winter wears on. It’s perfect for making an easy batch of chili or soup, and I turned some into spaghetti sauce which the kids said they liked more than the store bought stuff. A win for me! (I am so used to the store bought stuff that it may take me a year or two to make that claim…or maybe just more experimenting.)
I have been wanting to make my own tomato powder for about 6 years now, and every year, I forget to try. Well, lucky for me, right before we canned, I read a tip somewhere that you can just dehydrate your tomato skins to make tomato powder. Tomato powder makes a great seasoning, especially when combined with basil and garlic and onion powder. It is fantastic on chicken dishes. So we saved a bucket of skins and put them onto my electric dehydrator (it was too cold outdoors to dehydrate anything here with the solar dehydrator). I let them sit over night, and the next day I put them into the blender. I ended up with a pretty fine powder with some small flakes left in. I made a second batch and didn’t dry them quite as long (because the kids kept unplugging the dehydrator), and it was a little brighter and flakier, but it still turned out well.
I learned a lot in doing all of this, the things about the frozen tomatoes being most important, but this year I may get a bit more adventurous and can jars of pasta sauce and ketchup, and maybe even some tomato paste. I know…so daring, right? Most importantly, I really, really want to get a pressure canner because it will cut the canning time in half for the tomatoes (and we will be able to can soups and meat and veggies, which I can’t do right now). Oh, and in my humble opinion, you should try and find a friend or family member who is willing to help you with all of this canning…maybe in exchange for a few jars or a home-cooked meal, but it’s a LOT of work for one person.
How about all of you? What do you do with your garden tomatoes? Do you can lots of sauces and paste or do you mostly use yours fresh? Don’t forget to leave your comments below!