It’s tomato season here at Happy Acres, and I am keeping busy harvesting and processing them. I’m not complaining, since it looks to be a great year for them and last year they had lots of issues with splitting and rotting. I’ve hauled in over 70 pounds of them already, with lots more on the vines ready to ripen in the coming days and weeks. In addition to eating quite a few of them fresh, we also preserve lots of them for later use. I suspect there are other gardeners with lots of tomatoes coming in now, so here are some of my suggestions for how to deal with them all. I’m sharing five of my favorite ways to process and preserve tomatoes.
Dehydrating is one of my two favorite ways to preserve the smaller tomatoes, though larger ones can also be dried. Dehydrating them concentrates the flavor, and the dried tomatoes can be used as-is or rehydrated in water. I use all colors and varieties for drying, depending on what is available at the moment. Orange and yellow ones lose some of their bright color, but not their flavor. The red ones get a deeper shade of red.
I’m often asked about which dehydrator we have. We have been using an Excalibur dehydrator for about 10 years now and are quite pleased with it. In my experience it takes between 8-18 hours to dry the tomatoes to the desired leathery consistency, depending on the size of the tomatoes and their initial moisture content.
Slow-roasting is my other favorite thing to do with the small ones. Like drying, the roasting concentrates the flavor. But when roasted the tomatoes keep more of their moisture than when dried. It’s important to keep the oven heat low, around 250°F or the tomatoes will burn easily.
After roasting, I freeze the tomatoes with a little olive oil added. They make a tasty addition to pizza, pasta dishes and salads.
I also turn quite a few of the tomatoes into sauce. In the past I would heat the tomatoes and then pass through a food mill to remove the skins and some of the seeds. These days, I just put them in the blender, skins and all. I do remove the cores on those that have one, but smaller plum type tomatoes like Juliet (one of my favorites) go in whole.
I cook the tomatoes down until the volume is reduced by half, which usually takes about 1 to 1-1/2 hours to make a nice thick sauce. I make most of my tomato sauce of unseasoned, with only one ingredient: tomatoes. That way it can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups and chili to enchiladas, marinara sauce and other dishes. I freeze the sauce into pint or smaller containers for later use. I’ve never canned it so I can’t really give any details for processing it that way.
I also make a tomato sauce that is seasoned with onions, celery and garlic, along with a bit of sugar and salt. It can be used in any recipe calling for canned tomato sauce, though it has a much better flavor when made with ripe homegrown tomatoes!
Last but certainly not least, my wife and I always make a batch or two of Homemade Tomato Ketchup every year. That is a long process, and usually takes us around five hours from start to finish. It’s worth it though, because the ketchup is unlike anything you are likely to buy anywhere! The finished product is processed in a boiling water bath canner, and keeps on the shelf with good quality for at least a year.
I hope you have enjoyed these ideas of how to deal with a lot of tomatoes when you have them. If you have your own favorite ways with tomatoes, I’d love to hear about them. And if you try any of my methods I’d like to hear about it too. A list of the recipes with more details follows:
- Dehydrating Tomatoes
- Slow Roasted Tomatoes
- Vitamix Freezer Tomato Sauce
- Freezer Tomato Sauce
- Homemade Tomato Ketchup