Monday, July 25, 2011

Processing tomatoes

   It's peak tomato season, and today the kitchen was a furnace of tomato processing (making the heat outside not feel so bad).  There were tomatoes roasting in the oven, a crock pot simmering sauce, and two water bath canners going, full of whole canned tomatoes.  Canned jars are now cooling on the counter filled with the colorful array of the tomato rainbow.  But the effort of capturing this peak tomato flavor will be well worth it for all the other nine to ten months, when we can open a jar of tomatoes and taste summer.
   Here's a quick preview of how we preserve:
   For most of our tomato processing, we prefer to use the "paste type" San Marzano redortas.  As our tomato patch is as much for ourselves as it is for you, we grow about seven times as many of the San Marzanos as our average, far more than any other variety, and this despite the fact that they're poor sellers.  With their almost solid flesh and their low seed and juice content, we think they're the perfect type for canning whole, for roasting, for making sauce or paste or ketchup, for drying, for salsa...  But as we wind up with cracked tomatoes and extras of every variety, they all find a preserving purpose.  We mostly use the slicing  types for juice -- the ripe-green or the cherry tomatoes make really good, out-of-the-ordinary juice -- but roasting is a quick way to process tomatoes, so we'll use any varieties for additional roasting tomatoes, too.
   The most basic way we preserve tomatoes is to can them whole.  Simply drop the whole tomato (as is) into boiling water for about 30 seconds.  You'll see the skin start to crack.  Remove the tomatoes and cool in cold water.  At this point, the skin will easily slip off.  Then we core them and put them in jars.  We can them as recommended by the Ball Book of Canning in their own juice in a water bath for 1 hour and 25 minutes.  Instead of canning, these whole peeled tomatoes could easily be slipped into a freezer bag and frozen.
   A couple years ago, we were introduced to roasting tomatoes, and it has changed the way we enjoy tomatoes.  We'll load a couple cookie sheets with mixed tomatoes cut into about one inch pieces.  Then we might throw on some garlic or quartered onions, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with some salt.  Then we'll roast them at 325 for about an hour or until the pieces are concentrated but not burned.  At this point we might enjoy them as an appetizer with bread or cheese, or we'll put them as is in jars and can or freeze.  Or we'll puree them together with the onions and whatever else we added for a thick sauce, then run them through a food mill to take out the seeds.  It's thick and has a wonderful roasted tomato flavor.  Sometimes we add herbs and more garlic and onions.  Then we'll can or freeze the sauce.
   Drying tomatoes is a great way to concentrate tomato flavor and store it in a really small space.  We run several loads in our dehydrator then store the pieces in the freezer just in case they didn't get dry enough.  Then we'll pull them out as we need for meat or bean dishes.
   We make a lot of juice which we really relish in late winter and early spring.  Simply cut off any bad spots from the tomato then quarter, put in a large pot and cook until soft.  We have a small hand food mill we'll then run it through to get out the seeds and peel or we have a larger Victorio strainer that is useful for large quantities.  We especially enjoy separating the different colored tomatoes to end up with the different colored juices.
   And finally we make salsa.  This is basically chopped tomatoes, peppers and onions with some vinegar added.  Cilantro, of course, is a normal addition, but cilantro is a cool season crop, so we can our salsa without cilantro and then add fresh, chopped cilantro in the fall, early winter, or spring as we enjoy it.
   We'll probably have another big day or two of tomato processing in the next week (maybe two), so if you'd like to come help out and learn firsthand how we preserve our tomatoes, let us know, give us your phone number, and if we can plan ahead well enough, we'll get in touch and invite you to spend some time in our very hot kitchen with us!

No comments: