The trophy for your effort of growing tomatoes is getting to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I always say the first and last tomatoes of the season are the best and everything that comes in the middle can feel a bit overwhelming.
Depending on how many tomatoes you planted, eating all the fruit fresh is great. Sliced with salt or chopping it into fresh salsa are two of my favorite ways to enjoy the taste of harvest. But if you are an ambitious planter like me, you may need a plan to stash them away for eating throughout the year.
I learned this lesson about five years ago when I was faced with hundreds of pounds of tomatoes covering every surface in my kitchen and dining room. I thought back to my grandmother spending entire days cooking tomatoes down into sauce to be canned and realized, I do not have time for that. So, out of necessity, I started experimenting with how I could process and preserve this abundant harvest without spending hours at my stove.
Processing and Preserving Tomatoes
Start by washing and coring the tomatoes. Then cut them in quarters and load them into a food processor. I separate mine by color to ensure it doesn’t all turn brown. Do not remove the skin and seed—no one should have time for that tedious work. Then pulse the raw tomatoes for about 30 seconds. What you now have is tomato slurry.
One of my first “aha” moments was realizing the reason it takes all day to cook tomatoes into sauce is because they are 94 percent water. So, by food processing the raw fruits I can easily separate the juice from the paste, thus reducing my cook time significantly.
This is a simple process of squeezing the raw tomato paste between two fine strainers and collecting the juice in a bowl. The juice extracted is a delicious base for Bloody Mary’s and can easily be canned in a 15-minute stove top water bath. Always consult with proper canning instructions. I love the classic “Ball Book for Home Preserving.”
Now place the remaining paste into a roasting pan and cook for 45 to 60 minutes at 400 degrees F. This roasted paste can be transformed into tomato soup, marinara, pizza, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, and salsa—basically anything that requires cooked tomatoes. You have probably noticed that I have not added anything to the paste – no salt, sugar, oil. This is also from experience. It is easier to add flavoring when you are preparing the meal, rather than in the large patch processing.
Once the paste has cooled, fill up quart-sized freezer bags, lay flat and stash in your freezer. This has proven to be the easiest, most versatile way to preserve the tomatoes and use them long term.
Make Your Own Bloody Mary
Growing tomatoes requires time, energy and attention, so be sure to celebrate your harvests and share them with loved ones. We love to serve homegrown Bloody Mary’s at our annual summer celebration, The Tomato Tasting. I like to set up a make-your-own station so guests can enjoy a custom drink. Serve in a jar over ice with a lid for regular shaking.
-Fill a quart jar halfway with tomato juice.
-Add 1 tablespoon dill pickle juice, 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce, 1 tablespoon hot sauce, 1 tablespoon grated fresh horseradish, 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar, and a dash of freshly ground pepper to taste.
-Add a shot of vodka or gin.
-Screw on lid and shake. Keep lid for regular shaking.
Brie Arthur is an author, horticulturist and international speaker living in Fuquay-Varina, NC. She has been dubbed a revolutionary for her leadership in the suburban foodscape movement. For more information, visit BrieGrows.com or email Brie@BrieGrows.com.