What to do with extra
tomatoes in your garden












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The Heart of New England
Take Advantage
of the Tomato Deluge
by Jeanne Sable

It's always hard to resist setting out that extra flat of tomato plants in the spring,
when they appear so tiny and innocent. You can never have too many tomatoes,
right?

Of course there's a limit to how many you can use fresh. But over-production of
tomatoes in the home garden needn’t be a problem if you are willing to try
"putting by" the best of your tomato deluge. We do this in a variety of ways—
some new, some tried and true.

Here’s a quick and easy method you can use if freezer space is sufficient. Simply
quarter or slice the tomatoes and toss with crushed garlic. Drizzle with olive oil,
and sprinkle with your favorite herbs. We use fresh oregano and rosemary.
Separate the tomatoes on a cookie sheet and flash freeze the way you would
strawberries. Once frozen, zip the tomatoes into plastic freezer bags and return to
freezer. These make an excellent side dish or zesty addition to casseroles, sauces,
or dips. You'll be surprised at how well they retain their flavor.

If you haven't yet tried canning, tomatoes are a great way to begin. A simple
water bath process does the trick, thanks to the tomato's high acid content.
Canning books provide easy instructions, or you can request information from
your local county extension service.

If you prefer sauce to stewed tomatoes, you might try a shortcut Charlie
developed for making a rich, thick sauce without all the "cooking down"
normally required to eliminate excess water.  After washing and trimming the
tomatoes, simmer them in a large pot with the lid on for about 40 minutes. Then
turn off the heat and let cool. The pulp will begin to settle to the bottom, while
the liquid rises to the top. Using the back of a ladle or large spoon, press the
tomatoes down in the center, making a depression. Then ladle off all the clear
juice as it rushes in. Let the mixture settle again until more liquid rises to the
top. Repeat the process a couple more times. Charlie considers it sufficiently
thick when a wooden spoon will stand in it straight up. Finally, run the pulp
through a sieve. The sauce is then ready to be placed in jars and processed in a
hot water bath.  This method saves not only time but vitamins and cooking fuel.

A neat by-product of this method is the nearly clear juice we call "tomato water"
— actually an incarnation of the water lavished on your garden all summer—
moisture that traditionally would have escaped into your kitchen during hours
of simmering. After ladling it off, we save this liquid and process it right
alongside the jars of sauce for future use in meatloaf,  rice, soups, and other
recipes calling for liquid when a hint of tomato would be welcome.

With sun-dried tomatoes all the rage in gourmet cooking, it also pays to
preserve some of your tomatoes via drying. We do this in three ways, only one
of which actually utilizes the sun. The quickest is with a convection oven set at a
low temperature (about 150 °F). We also use an electric food dehydrator—the
round, plastic type. One drawback is that it uses more power. We also found
that ours yields somewhat uneven results from the top tray to the bottom.

The actual solar dehydrator is one Charlie built according to a design by
Leandre Poisson in the book, “Solar Gardening” (Chelsea Green). It is
constructed from a horizontal 55-gallon drum in a wooden enclosure painted
flat black. Light reaches the drum through a sturdy transparent plastic dome
top.  Air enters the unit through a space at the bottom on one side. As the
trapped air heats, it rises and circulates around the drum, finally entering it
through holes in the bottom. Openings in the wooden ends of the unit create a
draft which draws the warm air through the drum, across screens onto which the
food is placed. It heats to roughly 110°F on a sunny summer day. Halved
cherry tomatoes or larger slices dry in two to three days in ours.

Follow one or more of these methods of preserving your tomato harvest, and
you’ll be tasting summer all year round. Just remember to save seeds from any
non-hybrid varieties for next year. You can never have too many tomatoes.

About the Author:








Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance writer
specializing in farming and environmental issues, with hundreds of articles
published in local, regional, and national publications. She has written
environmental scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the Web.
She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville, her first novel.
 
One can never have too many tomatoes, right?
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