This has been one of the best ever summers for tomatoes! At least in my garden! Since we had been busy getting ready for a trip earlier this year, all my tomato plants came from a store. In addition, our departure was a bit before the “ideal” transplant outside into the garden date. The varieties I got were a mix of favorites, have to try a new variety, and hardy, should-survive-a-little-cold-weather-if-temps-went-down. Lucky for me, the weather was good. In addition to getting the plants off to a good start, my friend Misty kept an eye on the garden and watered when needed.
Upon our return from Europe, I was greeted by my tomato jungle. The plants were huge, and loaded with gorgeous tomatoes.
Ever since the first batch ripened, I’ve been picking a huge, and I mean huge bowl of tomatoes several times a week.
Despite eating tomatoes every day for weeks, we never tire of them. How many ways are there to enjoy them?
- Tomato salad with thinly sliced red onion, a sprinkle of salt, a little good olive oil and some good vinegar.
- Tomato sandwiches with avocado, arugula, a little gunpowder on good crusty bread.
- Check out my recipe for the Summer Garden Casserole! Yummy!
- Straight from the vine and warm from the sun, while picking them.
- Roasted in the oven at low temperature, with a little olive oil, salt, chopped garlic and herbs until concentrated in flavor.
- Make an Indian style tomato rasam, a spicy soup made with red lentils, curry leaves and some basmati rice.
- Cooked into pasta sauce to be savored during the cold winter months.
- Transformed into various types of salsa and preserved to enjoy with latin style food when tomatoes are out-of-season.
- Sliced the bigger tomatoes and halved the cherry tomatoes and dehydrated them.
- And of course, share some with friends who don’t have a garden.
It’s been a busy summer around here, so when I decided to preserve some of my tomatoes, I did take a few shortcuts. Many stores carry canning equipment and all the items needed to successfully preserve the harvest. I picked up a few pouches of Mrs. Wages spice mixes for salsa and pasta sauce. All I had to do was wash the produce, chop it in the food processor and follow the directions on the back of the package.
This salsa was simple, wash and chop the amount of tomatoes needed for the mix , put into a pot, add the salsa blend and cook according to the recipe. When finished, I cooled it, filled it into small canning jars, put on lids and labels and stuck them into the freezer. It’s that simple. And so tasty come winter!
What I really like about these mixes, is the option to can or freeze. I did a little of each.
For the pasta sauce I chop up the required amount of tomatoes, put them into a non-reactive pot along with the seasoning mix and cooked it. Then I canned it all according to the package directions in pint jars. A few of the jars I froze. Nothing better than a taste of summer when the blustery winter storms visit us.
And for those who don’t have a garden, growers at local farmers markets or roadside stands often have produce they sell by the box (whole or partial) for very little money. I have gotten to know my favorite vendors, who will often sell me boxes of amazing produce for a fraction of the cost at the store. I often ask if they have anything they don’t want to take home, that’s getting maybe just a bit on the ripe side or doesn’t look perfect! I’ve come home with boxes of perfectly ripe white peaces, that were perhaps a little bruised. Peppers (the hot ones!) by the gallon, apricots, plums, you name it … It really pays to ask.
I dehydrate all types of tomatoes, big and small. I especially like the cherry tomatoes dried, the almost taste like candy. A few slices added to a soup or stew adds a ton of flavor, without salt or preservatives. My first dehydrator gave out after 15 years, and I replaced it with the same one (newer model, but the trays are compatible), and use it to dry fruit as well.
If you feel like all this is too much work on a hot summer afternoon, think about the enjoyment you’ll get out of the results. Try just one of these suggestions. Preserving doesn’t have to be done in huge batches. Even a handful of jars packed with summer flavor in your freezer or pantry, will delight you in a few months.