Food

How to Use up All Those Tomatoes You Grew

Here’s how to keep your blessing from becoming a burden

Cover art from 19th-century seed catalog (public domain)

So your tomato plants outdid themselves this year. Congratulations! Mine did, too. I have seven indeterminate plants and, although I didn’t bother to weigh everything they produced, it was a lot. Certainly a lot more than my husband and I can eat.

Eat and share some fresh, preserve some for later

So far, I’ve made several quarts of pasta sauce, 5 pints of salsa, an untold number of Caprese salads, and tomato paste. (Click the links for the recipes.) I shared some with my sister and my neighbors. I also canned 2 quarts in 8-ounce jars to use in soups and stews over the winter.

Photo by Luke van Zyl on Unsplash

I find canning to be an awful lot of work for what you get. If you have the freezer space, I suggest you opt for freezer bags instead. I recycle sour cream and deli containers of different sizes to freeze just the right amount for single, double, or more servings.

If you have more shelf space than freezer space, The National Center for Home Food Preservation website will tell you everything you need to know about canning safely. Jars of salsa make great hostess gifts. Remember to give a bag of chips to go with them!

The right tomato for the right purpose makes all the difference

What you do with your tomato bounty depends on the type of tomatoes you’ve grown. Cherokee Purple, for instance, makes fantastic Caprese salads, while a mixture of both sauce and slicing tomatoes is great for tomato sauce. I like slicers like Big Beef for salsa. If you don’t want your heart broken, do not use slicing tomatoes to make tomato paste. (More about that later.)

Make tomato paste

Making tomato paste is time-consuming, and you need a lot of tomatoes to make even a cup of paste. I still make it because it’s worth it. The flavor is far superior to anything you can buy in a grocery store. There are quite a few sites online that describe the process in detail.

Last year, I reduced 20 lbs. of tomatoes to 8 oz. of paste. My husband could not stop laughing. This year I got smart and grew Amish Paste tomatoes. It took less time because they have very little water in them. I processed 5 lbs. and came up with four tablespoons, which I froze in individual lumps and put in a bag in the freezer. My husband’s still laughing.

Photo by Denise Shelton

Paste making tips:

  • Use Amish Paste, Roma, or other paste tomatoes only. You will be horrified if you try making it with slicing tomatoes because they reduce down so much you won’t believe it. Save those you don’t eat fresh for salsa, sauce, and canning.
  • Unless you have a lot of plants, you probably won’t have enough all at once to make a batch of paste. Freeze them as they ripen until you have at least 10 lbs. (I core mine first.)
  • When you’re ready to make tomato paste, put the frozen tomatoes in a colander and let them sit in the sink for a few hours. A lot of the water will drain out, saving you time in the reduction process. The skins will slip off. Don’t let them thaw entirely, or they’ll be too mushy to handle effectively.
  • You can make tomato paste using a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds and any bits of peels you may have missed, but it’s labor-intensive. I highly recommend getting a food mill. After cooking the sliced peeled tomatoes for about a half an hour, I process them through the mill using the fine-holed disk. (The seeds will slip through the bigger-holed ones.) Seeds are okay in sauce but a big no-no in tomato paste.

Bless someone with tomato goodness

Check with your local food bank to see if they will accept your unwanted produce. Please do not give them blemished, spotted, or deformed tomatoes. They’ll throw them away. Another idea is to put a box out in front of your house with a “free” sign on it.

You can also post to online neighborhood bulletin boards and mention the availability of free tomatoes to your Facebook friends. Nearly everyone appreciates homegrown tomatoes. When you get a bumper crop, it can be challenging, but it’s better than those years when everything dies, or the yield is low. Winter is coming, so quit stalling and stock the pantry!

©2020, Denise Shelton. All rights reserved.

Poet, scribbler, actor, and all around great gal. Available for freelance assignments. Visit me at denisesheltonwrites.com.

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