Friday, September 18, 2009

Food Firsts: Freezing Summer's Harvest

Every winter as I open can after can of organic tomatoes, I think back to summer's unparalleled fresh tomatoes. Every winter I promise to preserve the summer's bounty. Since I've declared this year as my year of doing not talking, I've been trying it out....

I started with a canning class at the Studio for Urban Projects and followed up with big tomato orders from Mariquita's Ladybug Buying Club. I love the Ladybug Buying Club--you can pick up bulk orders of your favorite things like Padron peppers, basil, and of course, tomatoes!

My friend Edna and I jumped in with a first order of 20 lbs of San Marzano romas. Then upped it to 40 lbs of Early Girls and added another preservation newbie, Tanya.

Instead of investing in canning equipment, we invested in freezer bags and tried both food milling some sauce and roasting up individual tomatoes. While we don't have enough tomatoes to last us through the winter, we learned a lot and had more fun than I imagined. And tomato season isn't over yet...

Here's a step-by-step to get you through. BTW make sure you have a full afternoon ahead of you as this can take a few hours!

Cooked tomatoes: a good base for sauce and substitute for canned tomatoes.
  1. Wash & coarsely chop your tomatoes
  2. Put a tiny bit of water in the bottom of a large stock pot, add the tomatoes and cook for about 30-45 minutes until they begin to breakdown
  3. Process through a food mill--the tinier the setting the less skin and seeds you get, but the more watery your sauce.
  4. Cook processed tomatoes for another 45-1hour Add a bit of basil, salt and pepper--just to give it a good base to make a great sauce later on.
  5. Let it cool completely.
  6. Fill freezer bags with the sauce--make sure to get all the air out or else you'll become a victim of freezer burn! From 20 lbs of tomatoes we ended up with about 4 large freezer bags full of sauce.
Perfect twin tomatoes.

First attempt at roasting didn't go well. We didn't de-seed them.
I'm still experimenting.
The food mill in action!

Sauce in full effect. Just imagine the smells....

Edna's beautiful pizzas that got us through the sauce making. Roasted peppers + carmelized onion. Yum.

  • Food preservation is best done in the company of good friends, with some good wine and delicious snacks along the way.
  • Before choosing your technique, carefully consider your tomato. This is what I've found to work so far: Roma=roasting or cook into sauce, Early Girl or other deliciously juicy variety=cook into sauce or can whole.
  • Next time I'm going to try peeling and freezing them whole--I think this may take less time...we'll see.
  • If you're canning -- just peel and can the whole ones, it's just too much work otherwise.
  • To save $$ find a local, organic pick-your-own spot. It turns food preservation into
  • Be prepared to have your dreams overwhelmed by tomatoes. It's true.
  • Any advice from other tomato preservationists? I'm battling a bit of freezer burn--would love some tips on that front!

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