Preserving the Bounty: Freezing Tomatoes

| 7/23/2011 4:54:03 PM

Originally I was going to use one post to cover all the ways we can preserve tomatoes, but it was getting awfully long. So instead I'll beak it up into smaller chunks that are easier to chew. You're welcome!

Unlike cucumbers, there are many ways to preserve tomatoes so you can enjoy the bounty of your harvest all through the winter and spring until your next crop is ready for harvesting. We planted lots of tomatoes because we use lots of them in cooking, salads and as side dishes. Preserved tomatoes will not have the same look and texture of a fresh from the garden tomato, but if done properly, much of the flavor will be retained. 

Speaking of Flavor…Have you ever wondered why store bought tomatoes lack the exuberant flavor of a fresh-grown one? That’s easy.

Commercial tomato field
Commercial Tomato Field, By Marie Bittinger

Most commercially grown tomatoes are picked while they are green and rock hard so they will travel better and not become over-ripe before they get to their destination. At the foot of our mountain – and scattered all through our county – are commercial tomato fields. As we go from here to there we watch them working in the fields, planting the sets, stringing the maturing plants dousing the crop in pesticides, picking them green, then spraying the field with something that causes the plants to wither to mush overnight. They have to post POISONOUS signs to keep poor people from trying to glean the fields. 

The trucks used to transport the tomatoes from distributors to their final destination are pumped full of ethylene gas to make the fruit turn red and (sort of) ripen. Ethylene is produced by most fruits as part of the ripening process; in miniscule amounts. Exposing them to concentrated amounts of the gas forces them to undergo the ripening process very quickly. When they get where they are going they look nice, but never had the chance to develop the flavor of a properly ripened, sun drenched fruit. 

Actually, a tomato is classified – botanically - as a berry, not a fruit, but I figured that would confuse most people, since most folks consider it to be a vegetable if anything. 

Whether you think of them as vegetables, fruits, or berries, they taste great, are good for you, and are fun to cook with. So, lay up plenty for use throughout the year. 

Freezing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are easy to freeze. They can be frozen in many forms, depending on your intended usage. One thing to remember: their skins will become tough after freezing, so in most cases you will want to remove the skins before using the ‘maters in your cooking. You can do this easily before freezing by popping the tomato into boiling water for just 45 seconds to a minute, depending on size, fish it out and ease it into a bowl of ice water for 5-10 minutes. This will cause the skin to split and it will peel off easily; just peel it with your fingers like peeling a grape. You can then chop it into cubes, dice it, or puree it before freezing. You can freeze them whole if you like, but they take up a lot of room in the freezer this way. If you will be cutting the tomatoes into wedges, you may want to wait to remove the skins; when they thaw out the skins will slip right off. No need to fuss with blanching and icing now. 

I’m going to demonstrate freezing them in wedges because we feel this will give us the most versatility when we thaw them out again, and because it’s warm this evening and I don’t want to heat up the house more with a big pot of boiling water on the stove. 

Mess of Maters 

Robyn Dolan
7/28/2011 11:04:50 AM

Good info on the freezing prep. I just usually throw them whole into quart size bags, then thaw a bit and throw in the food processor to chop for use as sauce. May try your way if I get the time and gumption. Have a bunch of dried toms I'm getting ready to make sauce from. Can't wait to read about your drying process and tips;)

Nebraska Dave
7/25/2011 9:57:07 PM

Allan, All good information. I just don't trust the electrical grid in my area. We have blackouts every year the longest being 5 days. Some are storm related and some are not. I never tried drying tomatoes so the next post will be interesting for me. Most of my tomatoes are canned for winter soups. Being a high acid vegetable, water bath canning is used. Even though I haven't had a ripe one yet, it looks as if I will have plenty this year. Have a great tomato preservation day.

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