Thursday, August 11, 2011

What to do wtih all those lovely Tomatoes? (with recipes and instructions)

One of the most delicious part of summer in  New England is when the tomatoes are ripe. I have several varieties of tomatoes big and small growing here in our garden. My CSA farm shares from Many Hands Farm Corps and Red Fire Farm have also brought a large variety of beautiful tomatoes into my home. So what do you do with all those tomatoes?

Tomatoes should be picked when ripe and used within two days. Store them at room temperature away from the sunlight with the stems facing down. Don't pile them on top of each other as they make each other mushy this way. Resist the urge to refrigerate tomatoes as this changes their texture and makes them mealy.

Freezing Tomatoes
Small cherry tomatoes can be frozen on a tray or cookie sheet and then put into jars or (gulp, please avoid plastic) plastic freezer bags and frozen. They can then be used later for soups, sauces or even a winter salsa.

Large tomatoes can be frozen whole peeled or unpeeled. The tomato peel adds thickness to sauce or soups. The skins will slide off easily as they thaw so I don't bother blanching and peeling tomatoes. Just core them (remove the stems) and place on a tray and freeze. When they are solid toss them into a jar, seal and freeze.

For sauces or stewed tomatoes you can just make your sauce, fill canning jars, let them cool completely and freeze. To stew tomatoes, wash, core, quarter and simmer in a heavy covered saucepan. Once they are soft cook them for an additional 20-30 minutes. Then put in jars, cool and freeze. Sauces need to cook longer, usually 4-6 hours, and stir them every 20-30 minutes. You can also use a crock pot of the oven which makes burning the sauce less likely. Just use an oven proof container uncovered at 350 degrees and stir occasionally. Again just jar, cool and freeze.

Canning Tomatoes
The USDA currently recommends that tomatoes are pressure canned. This is because the acidity of different varieties of tomatoes differs greatly. You can still use the water bath if you add extra acidity to your tomatoes. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice of 1/2 teaspoon citric acid per quart of whole, crushed or juices tomatoes.

Tomatoes should be canned using the hot pack water bath method. To do this:
  1. Get your jars ready, clean and put in hot water. Don't boil the lids. 
  2. Get your canner pot filled with water, put the lids on and heat so its ready for use. 
  3. Choose your tomatoes, wash, remove the stems and drain.
  4. Option step: If you want to remove the skins blanch the tomatoes for 30-60 seconds in boiling water and dip into cold water. Slip off the skins. (The skins will add thickness to sauces and soups and there is no reason you can't just leave them on)
  5. Put tomatoes in a sauce pot and cover with water. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove a canning jar from the hot water with a jar lifter.
  7. Add citric acid or lemon juice to the jar.
  8. Pack tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2" head space. 
  9. Ladle boiling water from cooking over the tomatoes (again leaving 1/2" head space)
  10. Add 1 teaspoon salt per quart jar. 
  11. Wipe the rim, remove lid from hot water, screw the band down evenly until just firm.
  12. Add the jars to the water bath canner. Water level must cover all the caps by 1-2"/
  13. Put a lid on and bring to a boil. Once it is at a rolling boil process for 45 minutes for quarts and 35 for pints (adjust for higher altitudes) 
  14. WHhn processing is done take the jars out with a jar lifter and set them on a towel about 1" apart to cool for 12-24 hours. 
  15. Check the lids when they are cool.
  16. Label and store in a cool dark dry place until needed.
For tomato sauce, juice or stewed tomatoes add the citric acid or lemon juice to the hot jar, add hot sauce and follow directions as above.

dehydrated dried tomatoes
Tomatoes can also be sun dried, oven dried or put in the food dehydrator. Dried tomatoes make great snacks and can be vacuum sealed for winter. You don't need to skin tomatoes to dry them unless you want to powder them to use later for sauces or ketchup.

Choose smallish tomatoes and slice or slice larger tomatoes into lengthwise pieces. Sun drying take 1-2 days, the oven or dehydrator 6-8 hours. Post drying they should be put in a paper bag or open non aluminum container for 10-14 days to finish drying. Then they can be packed in clean glass jars and seal. I like to use glass canning jars and vacuum seal them with the food saver attachment for jars. Dried sealed tomatoes will last 6-9 months, twice that if you vacuum seal them. You can also freeze the dried tomatoes.

Recipes to Enjoy your Tomatoes

Basil & Sun Dried Tomatoes in Olive oil
  1. dry your tomatoes
  2. boil pint jars and let cool
  3. start placing dried tomatoes in the jars and after each layer add a few basil leaves. 
  4. when the jars are full pour olive oil over the tomatoes until full.
  5. use a chopstick or the back of a spoon placed down the side of the jar to remove any air bubbles
  6. seal the jar and refrigerate for up to 1 month (again twice as long if you vacuum seal it)
Easy home-made Ricotta Cheese to go with those Tomatoes
  1. heat 1/2 gallon of milk to 185 degrees
  2. remove from heat
  3. add 1/4 tablet of vegetable rennet dissolve in a tablespoon of water 
  4. add 1/6 of a cup of white vinegar
  5. stir just to mix the rennet and vinegar in then do not stir again.
  6. cover with a plate or lid and let sit for 8-12 hours (over night works great)
  7. pour into a strainer lined with cheese cloth or butter muslin and hang to drain for 4-6 hours
  8. add cheese salt to tast
  9. optional - add minced garlic and fresh basil or oregano
  10. chill for 1 hour
  11. eat and enjoy