What to Do with All Those Tomatoes!
One tomato plant can produce approximately 10 to 20 pounds of tomatoes, enough to feed a small family for a month. And that's just one plant. What do you do with all those tomatoes when you have a dozen plants?
Putting Up Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be "put up" for the winter in a three ways: canning, freezing, or drying. In all three ways, the tomatoes must first be picked, cleaned, and peeled. Tomatoes that are cracked or blemished should be eaten fresh rather than preserved. (Only preserve the best of the best.) That way, you won't end up with spoiled jars or frozen tomatoes that are overripe. Wash tomatoes in a tub of cold, clean water. The kitchen sink is a good place for this. First empty and clean the sink; then fill it with about three inches of water. Use a clean dishcloth to physically wipe each tomato. your Rinse tomatoes and set them aside. To remove the peeling, dip the tomatoes into boiling water for one to two minutes or until the skins crack. Then dip the tomatoes into cold water (to stop them from cooking any further). Cut the stem out and slip the peelings off.
Tomatoes that will be used for canning can be left whole or cut into pieces. There are various methods for the canning process, and here we will feature the "hot pack" method.
Essential Canning Equipment: In order to correctly preserve tomatoes in jars, you need the correct equipment.
- Jars, lids and rings
- Stainless steel kettle
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Canning funnel
- Magnetic canning wand or kitchen tongs (to pull lids and rings from hot water)
- Wooden spoon (to stir the tomatoes)
- Old towel (Fold the towel in half and place it on the counter as a barrier between the hot jars and your countertop. It will keep the jars from cracking when it touches a countertop that may be cold. It will also keep the countertop from being scorched.)
The hot pack method involves cooking the food before canning it. For tomatoes, use a stainless steel kettle, and bring the tomatoes to a slow boil. After simmering for two to five minutes, remove them from heat. Jars can be sterilized in the dishwasher on the hot setting, or by boiling them in a stove top pot. If you boil them, keep the jars and covers in the hot water until you're ready to use them. Place lids and rings into a kettle of hot, but not boiling water until ready to use. To prevent burning your hands, remove the lids and rings, one at a time, with a canning wand or kitchen tongs. Jars, lids and rings should remain hot until filled. Be sure there is no water remaining in the jars. Place a canning funnel into the mouth of a clean, sterilized jar, and fill it with tomatoes and juice to about 1/2 inch from the top.
Add one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice. While tomatoes are acidic vegetables, there are so many low acid varieties available today that it's hard to know which tomatoes you're working with. The added fresh lemon juice ensures a high enough acidity level, and doesn't change the taste of the tomatoes. Because the acidity level in the soil has changed over the years, the United States Department of Agriculture suggests that canning low-acid foods in the open bath method is no longer safe, and to can them in a pressure canner. Follow the directions that came with your pressure canner.
After removing the skins, freeze the tomatoes separately (on a plate or cookie sheet) to make individual thawing easier. Once they're frozen, place peeled tomatoes into containers. Glass jars are preferable, as the acid in tomatoes can cause plastic containers to leach chemicals into the tomatoes. Freeze until ready to use. Frozen tomatoes are ideal for soups and sauces, as they tend to be mushy after thawing.
Tomatoes can be oven dried and stored in plastic bags for several months. Use peeled tomatoes and an oven that is heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the tomatoes into thin slices, and sprinkle with sea salt or additional spices. Put the slices on a cake rack that is placed over a cookie sheet (to catch drips). Leave the tomatoes in the oven for six to 10 hours, or until the tomatoes are dry. Dried tomatoes should be flexible but never hard or crumbly. Now you can enjoy your fresh, homegrown tomatoes throughout the winter months!