Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
September, 2011
Regional Report

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Preserve your home-grown tomatoes for savoring throughout the year.

Tomatoes Year-Round

Luscious tomatoes, in all their wonderful shapes, sizes, colors, and forms, are the signature food of summer for many of us. For those who want to extend that pleasure to those many months when tomatoes are not available fresh from the garden, preserving them in various ways is the solution. No, it won't be the same as biting into a freshly picked, home-grown tomato, but they will be so much better tasting than any store-bought tomato this winter. Plus, variously preserved tomatoes can be used in many ways this winter, including a steaming bowl of chili, old-fashioned stewed tomatoes, or herb-roasted tomatoes garnishing a salad.

Canned Crushed Tomatoes
Jars of canned crushed tomatoes are the backbone of my tomato preserving efforts. Depending on the size of your family, use quart or pint canning jars. Thoroughly wash the jars and place in a deep canning kettle with a wire rack placed on the bottom. Fill the kettle with water and bring to a boil. The jars should be covered by at least an inch of water, or 2 inches when the jars are filled with tomatoes. Place new canning jar lids in a small pan of water and bring to a simmer.

Working in small batches, immerse tomatoes in another pan of boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, until the skins start to loosen or crack. Immediately remove and plunge into a bowl of cold water, then slip the skins off and remove any bruised or discolored portions. Cut out the cores and quarter the tomatoes. Transfer to a large stainless steel pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once you've added sufficient tomatoes to the pan, boil gently for 5 minutes.

Remove a jar from the canning kettle, emptying the water from it and adding one-quarter teaspoon of citric acid or 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice to each pint jar or one-half teaspoon citric acid or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each quart jar. I like to also add several fresh basil leaves and a peeled garlic clove. If desired, add one-half teaspoon of Kosher salt to each pint jar or 1 teaspoon to each quart. Pack tomatoes into the jar, leaving a half inch of head space. Wipe the rim, center a lid on the jar, and attach the screw band to fingertip-tight. Place the jar in the canning kettle. Once the kettle is filled with jars, cover and bring to a boil. Process 35 minutes for pint jars or 45 minutes for quart jars. Remove canner lid, wait five minutes, then remove jars, cool, remove band, label, and store.

Tomato Salsa
To make 8 pints of salsa, combine 16 cups of peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes, 4 cups chopped onion, 1 cup cored, seeded, and minced fresh jalapeno pepper, 8 minced cloves garlic, 2 cups minced fresh cilantro, 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice or red wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon Kosher salt in a large stainless steel pan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Follow the directions above for preparing jars, lids, and canning kettle. Fill the jars, leaving one-quarter inch of head space. Wipe the rims, attach the lids, and process in boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid, wait five minutes, then remove jars, cool, remove band, label, and store.

Slow-Roasted Herbed Tomatoes
Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle on several teaspoons of dried herbs, such as parsley, thyme, oregano, and parsley, and one-half teaspoon each of salt and ground black pepper. Cut Roma-type tomatoes in half lengthwise and arrange them cut side down in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Tuck in a few garlic cloves, if desired, and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Roast at 200 degrees F for 10 hours, or until the tomatoes have collapsed and the peels are shriveled. Let the tomatoes cool slightly, then peel, and pack tightly into freezer bags or containers. Label and freeze. For easier cleanup, line the baking sheets with aluminum foil.

Whole Frozen Tomatoes
If you don't want to bother with canning and have the freezer space, raw tomatoes can be washed, dried, and placed whole into freezer bags. When you want to use a few, simply remove them, run cold water over them, and the peels will easily slip off. They will not taste like fresh but more like canned.

There are innumerable other ways to preserve tomatoes, included juices, ketchups, chutneys, relishes, and sauces. Have fun and experiment to new ways to enjoy tomatoes year-round.

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