Friday, September 2, 2011

Tomatoes, Tomatoes...They're Everywhere!

In this part of Northern Illinois when the weather gets hot and we get at least a minimum amount of rain, the tomato plants go into full production. With the odd spring we've had (hot, then cold, hot then cold)  the tomatoes took their sweet time producing anything. But with the two plus weeks of high heat and humidity in August, they finally took off.  I've only got three plants, and I picked a bucketful yesterday and in a few days I'll have another bucketful.

So after the initial blush of tomato eating and after your mouth gets sore (literally from the acid in the things) what do you do when they keep producing? There's only so many you can give away.  Well, some folks can them.  That's what my Mother did, and with a family of seven kids it made sense. I remember her canning the darned things, always in the heat of summer in a kitchen with no air conditioning. it's a hot job to say the least.  Or you can break out the food mill and make some tomato sauce. Another hot, nasty job cooking the tomatoes down.  When I make my tomato sauce I don't use a food mill to remove the seeds and skin. I use a Squeezo.

It's a great tool that separates the pulp and juice from the seeds and skin, all with the turn of a handle.  You can freeze or can the pulp and juice as-is and cook it down later, or to save room in the freezer or canning jars you can reduce it down immediately.  I like to add chopped onion, garlic, celery, oregano, salt and pepper and cook it down. I put it up in plastic containers that are about as big as commercial jars of sauce and freeze it. That way it's ready to go when I want to use it for spaghetti or pizza.

You can also freeze tomatoes whole. I like to do this and use them for chili, stew, soup.  It's the easiest way to preserve some of those tasty tomatoes for later in the year.  Before freezing them , the skins need to be removed. All you need for that is a sharp knife, an ice water bath and a boiling water bath.

 First, wash all your tomatoes under cool running water. DON'T CORE THEM, just wash them well. With each tomato, you want to make two cuts in the blossom end (or bottom) of the tomato in the shape of a cross.  Place a deep pan (such as a dutch oven) half filled with water on the stove to boil.  Fill a large bowl half full of ice and water and put it on the counter near the boiling water. When the water is boiling,VERY CAREFULLY lower 3-5 tomatoes at a time into the boiling water with a large spoon or strainer. Leave in the boiling water 15-20 seconds, then lift them out with the large spoon and put them into the ice water bath immediately. The sudden change in temperature will cause the skins to loosen from the tomato and they will easily slip off.

When you get all of the tomatoes peeled, you can then core them and cut the tomatoes in pieces any size you want, or freeze them whole. They'll add a lot of flavor to soups and stews, and be perfect for making a big pot of chili on those cold winter night.

My Zimbio