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Methods to Tomato Madness

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This time of year, August through fall, tomato growers develop Tomato madness. It actually begins to develop in early spring when we are standing at the local garden center trying to decide what varieties of tomatoes to plant, and more importantly how many. I have always fallen victim to the Romas, the Cherokee Purples, the Chocolate Cherries, the Better Boys, the Early Girls, the Beefsteaks, the Kickstarts, all the colors of the beautiful tomatoes. Standing in the garden center on Mother’s Day weekend (when we typically plant the garden) I become overwhelmed and sometimes lose my vision. Last year in the height of the pandemic it seemed every time I went to town I came home with another four tomato plants, of course a different variety than I already had, and packed them into the garden. I think the tomato madness got me close to 30 tomato plants….

The beginning of tomato ripening season kicks off the Tomato Madness with the burning question “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” Whether they come on all at once, or a few here and there I have some methodical advise for you! We are in this together!

GATHER and FREEZE

When life is busy with back to school nights, new sports practices, and the like there is a way to save your harvest for the days that you are less busy! All you need is large gallon ziploc bags! In years past I’ve done this, so believe me the method works great for delaying the preservation process of your choice.

I simple gather what is ready, wash them, and freeze them in large ziploc bags. When there is more time to preserve, and the tomatoes are thawed it makes easy work of removing the skins. They just fall off! I keep the tomatoes in the bags until they are completely thawed, then just reach in (with clean hands) and pull out the skins!

Frozen tomatoes will keep for a while in the freezer, which delays your preservation process, and you don’t lose all of your hard work, no rotten tomatoes! SO even if you can’t find time to preserve until the cold months of winter this method has you covered! Preserving your harvest should not, and does not need to be stressful!

DEHYDRATE

This is the first year I’ve actually had a GOOD functioning dehydrator, and I’ve been using it for everything! Dehydrating tomatoes is actually another way to make sun-dried tomatoes! Yes, I know it doesn’t sound right, but in fact sun-dried tomatoes is the term that describes the process! You don’t need to put your precious red orbs out into the sun, only to be ruined by flies, mold, and the unforgiving elements! Using a dehydrator is a simple alternative to the old method of sun drying tomatoes. You can even use the oven to cook the tomatoes down to those delicious wonders we add to liven up soups and stews in the winter months.

In the olden days of Italy, tomato growers would simply throw their tomatoes onto their clay tile roofs to be dried out by the sun, and then retrieve them after a day or two! Today’s dehydrators let you essentially set it an forget it in a similar method of our ancestors. Simply wash the tomatoes, cut them lengthwise, put them on the dehydrator tray seed side up, put them inside, set it and forget it! Once dried out you can freeze them for further safe keeping, can them, or simply place in an air tight container, and place in the cupboard for later use.

SELL or GIFT

If all of the typical varieties of preserving seem overwhelming at the moment, you can always sell your red treasures at a local farmer’s market, or even at work! People LOVE fresh tomatoes, and will gladly pay you for them. Another idea is to gift them. You know the older lady up the road that can no longer garden? How much do you think she will appreciate the gift of tomatoes? While these methods of “unloading” your tomatoes it may be time to consider cutting back on next years tomato patch if you are completely in over your head. Nothing against selling or gifting, but there is no shame in realizing that you’ve gone overboard with 30 tomato plants, a full time job, kids events, and the daily chores of life.

CANNING

Canning. The age old process of preserving our tomato hoard! The right of passage for any gardener is being able to preserve your harvest for the months to come! Often learned by a family elder, and accompanied with family recipes from the old country; canning tomatoes is a great way to keep the flavor of those delicious wonders we have broken our backs over all summer.

There’s pressure canning and water bath canning. I only use the water bath canning process because honestly I am terrified of pressure cookers. There is no specific memory or tragedy when it comes to pressure cookers and canning, I just don’t feel knowledgeable enough, or comfortable using them. Fair enough? Needless to say I love my Instant Pot for everything else, just not canning.

Just think of all the tomato canned goodness…. spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, ahhhh the list goes on and on.

FIRE ROASTING

This process is super fun! I did this last year as an experiment and loved the results. I canned them after the fire roasting, but you could always just freeze them to plop into chili later. This process was so simple it blew my mind, and after some trial and error I’ve got the perfect set up now. Which of course, I will share with you here.

First, like usual, wash the tomatoes!

Gather two large bowls, tongs, a bit of paper towel, a small dish of olive oil, and your handy dandy grill. Charcoal or gas, it doesn’t matter use whatever you are comfortable with. In one large bowl place all of the washed tomatoes you can manage. Place the other bowl under that, grab your tongs and head to the grill. On the left side of the grill place your tomato bowl, and the empty on the right.

Fire up the grill, and let it get good and hot. Once it is good and hot, oil the grates with the olive oil using the tongs, and paper towel. If you’ve never done this before it’s pretty easy. Fold up the paper towel and grab it with your tongs, submerge the paper towel in olive oil, and wipe the grates.

Now this is where the magic happens. Simply place your tomatoes on the hot grill, you will probably want to use the tongs to do this so you don’t singe your knuckles, and close the lid. In about five minutes turn the tomatoes with the tongs. Another three minutes later start checking on your tomatoes. They should be getting yellow singe marks on the skin, if they have broken open no worries, the skins will then begin to blacken. Once they begin to blacken begin carefully moving them to the empty bowl to your right. Once all of the tomatoes have been removed; simply repeat, until all of your tomatoes are fire roasted. Word to the wise… be gentle when grabbing your tomatoes, or they will pop all over the grill, and you’ll be scrubbing guts and skins off of the grates before your husband finds out you’ve used the grill.

These fire roasted tomatoes were amazing. One batch I cooked over charcoal, and liked the results even more because of the extra smokiness that charcoal provides. Side note on charcoal fire roasting… do not use typical charcoal with lighter fluid additive, stick with an old school lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is just like it sounds, lumps of charred wood, and offers a better taste (in my opinion) than briquettes.

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I hope this has given you some more ideas, and saved your harvest. The fruits of our labors should be enjoyed, and our labors less stressful maybe even enjoyable. Have fun with it, enjoy it, experiment and learn! At the end of the sweaty day it’s important to remember to….. live a simple life.

Happy preserving!

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