We’ve certainly been lucky this year with the weather. Tomorrow is the last day of September and amazingly, there is still basil growing in my garden and my pepper plants are laden with big, crispy fruit. Still, no two ways about it: when October begins summer is well and truly over. What to do with all the green tomatoes? Let me share my own favorite way of preserving the summer in the cold months.
Most people probably know that you can ripen green tomatoes indoors. I just put them on a shelf, but I hear that many people get better results putting them in a box with apples and bananas – the ethylene gas they put off is a plant hormone that will help them mature. Here’s my tomato shelf right now:
Notice that they are at various stages of ripeness. Whenever there’s a batch (maybe twice as many as are red-ish in this picture) ready to go, I cut a small X in the blossom (ie bottom) end of the fruits and put them directly into a large pot of boiling water about three at a time. Let them boil for a few seconds (20 or 30 is usually enough, but they may take longer) until you see the skin start to split all the way around. Then, take them out and plunge them into cold water and put in the next batch. This process is called “blanching” and is used to deactivate enzymes when processing a lot of foods for preservation. In this case, though, you mostly just want to make it easier to remove the skin.
Next, take a sip of your wine (forgot to mention that – this process goes marvellously well with a full-bodied red) and begin to peel and core the tomatoes. Just grab them one by one and the skin should slip right off. Take a sharp paring knife and take out the core, and if you’re fussy, cut the tomato in half and scoop out the seeds and juice. I sometimes do this for extra finesse if I’m making soup, but it’s not completely necessary. Then, just cut the tomatoes roughly into quarters. Don’t forget to put the cores, skins, and juice into your compost. Your garden will make them into more tomatoes next year!
Now, my favorite part: Turn the heat on medium high and stir gently once in a while until they start to simmer. This will make your house smell awesome, but will also reduce the tomatoes into pulp. How long you cook them depends on what you plan to do with them. If you want to make tomato soup (I recommend gazpacho) then simmer until they are mushed and leave it at that. Usually, though, I let them simmer for half an hour to an hour until they are reduced in volume a bit.
At this stage, I put the paste into small ziplock bags and freeze them without adding anything else, because I like the versatility – you can use it for Indian curries, pizza sauce, soup, or salsa. However, if you know you are making pasta sauce, for example, you might want to add parsley, oregano, garlic, and thyme while they simmer.
So get out to the garden and pick as many as you can carry before the frost makes them go to waste! Of course, you can also dry them, can them, and freeze them whole. Pasta sauce made with home-grown tomatoes and parsley in January will lift your mood, guaranteed! Mmmmm…
Speaking of parsley, does anybody want any of mine? I have a LOT!