Many of us are up to our elbows working with the bounty of garden tomatoes. There are so many ways to preserve tomatoes and even more recipes to enjoy them: Canning, drying, fermenting, and freezing all work well with the mighty tomato. Last Fall I wrote about tomatoes but this year, I’ll add a few more bits of information to inform your preserving efforts.
We start, of course, with an analysis of the tomato. These fruits have been traced back to the Aztecs in 700 BC but it is not until the 16th century that they were admired by Europeans. At that time many believed they were poisonous as members of the Night Shade family. By the mid 1800s, tomatoes were well ensconced in the culinary habits of Italians which, through migration, became a North American staple.
For food preservers, it is important to understand that tomatoes range between 4.3 and 4.9 depending on variety, growing conditions, age, hybridization. This means, of course, that sometimes tomatoes are acidic and other times they are alkaline. Thus, the acidity level must be considered when choosing a preserving method and recipe.
For drying, freezing, or fermenting, the acidity level of tomatoes isn’t a concern. Tomatoes can be simply cleaned, cored, and processed in a dehydrator or packed away in the freezer. Dried tomatoes are super on pizzas or can be rehydrated in soups or sauces. They also make a great “fruit” leather. Frozen tomatoes, when thawed, will enable a quick slip of the skins making for an easy sauce, soup or addition to chili, stews or braises. And fermented tomatoes or tomato juice are packed with nutrition. Fermented tomatoes are a popular Russian item eaten alone or with potatoes as a condiment.
Where acidity levels play a critical part is when canning. For water-bath canning, tomatoes need to be acidified to make them safe. Modern recipes for salsas, chutneys, chili sauce, or canned tomatoes always add acidity. For example, for canned tomatoes, juice or simple tomato sauce, add 1 TBSP of bottled lemon juice or a ¼ tsp citric acid to each 500ml jar. Double that amount for liter jars. This year I made an oven roasted marinara sauce from the 2016 New Ball book of Canning and Preserving. I’ve made many tomato sauces but this version is superb. Here’s the link:
https://www.healthycanning.com/roasted-marinara-sauce#The_recipe. (Note that Ball doesn’t have much of an online presence but Healthy Canning is an excellent, science-based site.)
For those of us who also pressure can, tomatoes are the base of some great recipes. Stewed tomatoes, tomato and vegetable soups, tomato-meat sauces, stews, chili and so on which are super for quick one jar winter meals. The pressure canner increases the internal temperature to 240 degrees which is necessary for safe canning of foods that are above 4.6 on the pH scale which includes, vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish among others. Pressure canning opens a universe of possibilities.
Tomatoes are abundant right now. Grab the opportunity to freeze, dry, can or ferment. Any way you look at it, tomatoes can fill the bill. They are tasty, flexible, readily available in summer and fall and are filled with lycopene and many vitamins. Enjoy them now and well into the fall and winter.
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