This week, my favorite local vegetable CSA, Two Small Farms, is delivering another load of tomatoes, maybe the last of the year. As I was encouraging others to participate in the buy, I thought it might be nice to write up the different ways you can preserve tomatoes for the winter, especially since I have tried all of them with the 80 pounds I have processed so far! Here are the methods I chose:
1. Canning (either water bath or pressure)
Within this category, there are a couple ways to process tomatoes, including a general peel, chop and pack. Sometimes I will pack whole tomatoes, but mostly I prefer quarters. You can also make your favorite sauce or salsa, and even tomato paste, but be careful about the canning method you chose, as tomatoes are one of those vegetables with sometimes low acidity, and so you will need to add lemon juice for a water bath canner or use a pressure canner. I have followed, with good results, the tomato guidelines at the National Center for Home Preservation.
2. Slow Oven Roasting
This method is super easy, and recommendations abound on various food blogs to help you get started. I am not very picky, so I just cut my tomatoes in half, lay them cut-side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment (makes the cleanup much easier) and drizzle with olive oil. I pick a little thyme from the garden and sprinkle those bits on the top, and the whole thing goes into a 225F oven for 8-10 hours, until the tomatoes are super crinkly and done. I then pop them into freezer bags in 1 cup increments and put them in the freezer. Some folks peel them, you can make your own choice. To use, I pull out the 1 cup chunk, defrost and whirl in my food processor, then add to whatever I am making that needs some super awesome concentrated tomato flavor.
3. Slow Cooker
Once I have done some canning, and then prepared 3 sheets of oven roasted tomatoes, and I realize I still have a long way to go, I like to utilize my slow cooker. I put in a full load of tomatoes that have been washed. Lid goes on, heat on low, and I let them do their business overnight. In the morning, I put the now softened mess through a food mill, which removes seeds and skins, then back into the crock pot. Using Marisa from Food In Jars idea for fruit butters, I let the sauce cook, cook, cook, without the lid on, until it has reduced way down. This can take 12-24 hours, depending on how thick you like it.
Then I scoop into a muffin pan, freeze, and when frozen, transfer the little discs to a freezer bag. And whenever I need tomato paste, I pop out a little disc and there you go!
This is new for me this year – I peeled the tomatoes (cut an X in the bottom of the tomato and drop into boiling water for 30 seconds. Rinse with cold water and the skin slips right off), placed them individually on a cookie sheet, froze them whole, then packaged into freezer bags. I can then pull out what I need when tomatoes are called for in a cooked dish. I am not sure I will use these for anything requiring fresh tomatoes, since I think they will break down upon defrosting.
Another technique new to me this year, but Audra from Doris and Jilly speaks so highly of cherry tomatoes in the dehydrator that I decided to throw in a basket of cherry tomatoes. They will shrivel and shrink and resemble sun dried tomatoes, except they are going to taste a whole bunch better. I might throw those into pasta dishes or accent salads.
Hope this helps you when faced with a bunch of tomatoes to preserve for the winter. There are not that many weeks to take advantage of all this!