The tomato harvest is in full swing as is the proverbial glut that inevitably occurs.
I remember my first tomato glut summer - it was overwhelming to say the least. There were tomatoes on every surface of the kitchen and I simply could not keep up. It was stress overload.
The one thing that I've learned since then is that, for me, there is no single "best" method for putting up the harvest. What works well for me one week may not work that well the next, depending on the circumstances. So I like to use a multi-pronged approach and which "prong" I use depends on a number of factors including how many tomatoes I have to deal with, how many jars/containers I want of each preserving method, how much I have already put up and, most importantly, how much time I have.
For this post, I thought I would share the different methods I’m using this season to keep on top of and make the most of the harvest, ordered from most labour intensive to the least.
First, of course, is the quintessential tomato sauce/puree which involves straining the tomatoes to remove skins/seeds and then cooking down the puree to thicken it up. In the past, I used my Kitchenaid strainer attachment to remove the skins and seeds, which worked quite well, but I found the process to be somewhat messy and time consuming, especially when it came to cleanup. So what I would wind up doing was waiting until I had a big chunk of time available and an equally big load of tomatoes to warrant the time & cleanup.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I purchased a new gadget that has made the process much easier:
|Oxo Food Mill|
So now I can do a batch of tomatoes pretty much any time with minimal fuss. After cooking it down, the sauce is then either frozen or canned in various sized jars/containers. I find that using a combination of 1, 2 & 3 cups gives me a good amount of flexibility.
|Tomato puree ready for the freezer...|
Also, I have found that splitting up the cooking and canning over two days instead of trying to do everything at one time cuts down dramatically on the stress. On day one I make the sauce & it then goes into the refrigerator. The next day, I either portion it into freezer containers or I can it.
Salsa, although not overly labour intensive in itself, becomes a bit of a task when you want to can it. Although you don't have to deal with cooking or straining the tomatoes, you do have to skin & seed them. Also, unlike tomato puree/sauce, salsa needs to be made and canned the same day, so it's more of a "to do", so to speak, as you can't split the tasks between two days. We don't use a lot of salsa compared to plain pureed tomatoes, so I haven't made any yet this season, but it's on the list, perhaps for next week.
Freezing Chopped Tomatoes
Next is freezing peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes. I did this last year and found myself reaching for these quite often over the winter as we really enjoy "fresh" tomato sauce.
I remove the skins from the tomatoes using the score & dunk in boiling water method, then chop them up and plop them into a large bowl. To minimize the amount of work, I only use larger tomatoes for this method - I'm sure Juliet's would make a wonderful fresh sauce, but there's no way I'm peeling those tiny tomatoes! Once the batch of tomatoes are peeled and chopped, I use a slotted spoon to portion them into the containers as quite a lot of liquid is released since I don't bother to seed them.
Chopped tomatoes ready for the freezer
I use this method for both large and cherry tomatoes, although the end result for each is different.
When it comes to the cherry tomatoes, I cut them in half and then roast them for about 2 hours or so at a relatively low heat - 225F/110C - until they are almost dry. Once cooled, they are loosely packed into containers. "Loosely" is the key word here as I want to be able to grab as many or few as I need, so I don't want them freezing into a solid mass.
For larger tomatoes, the goal is a roasted tomato sauce, an idea that was inspired by one of Michelle's posts. The tomatoes are quartered, tossed with some onions and garlic, drizzled with olive oil and slow roasted until slightly charred.
These guys are almost done
And lastly is the “I have a whack of tomatoes on the counter but am too (busy, tired, in a hurry) to deal with them” method of plonking them into a zip lock freezer bag and freezing them whole. If I have time, I’ll wash them first, but as they are run under warm water to remove the skin when you go to use them, I don’t think this is technically necessary unless they are dirty for some reason.
The interesting thing about this last method is that you can use it even if your end goal is to have a cabinet full of jarred tomato sauce/puree. I did this last year, as I simply had no time to can during the summer, and several bags of frozen tomatoes were transformed into sauce once the gardening season was over.
There is one other benefit to this last method and that is when you have the opposite of a glut. If you are having a bad tomato year or if you want to make sauce from a particular variety of tomato but the harvests are just not big enough to warrant making sauce, freeze the tomatoes until you have enough for a sauce making session.
Having a range of options to choose from definitely makes putting up the tomato harvest a lot easier and less stressful. And that's it. I'm sure I'll discover some new and different methods to add to my tomato preserving arsenal as time goes on but, at the moment, these are my go-to tomato glut saviors.
Now on to my tomato troubles. I have 3 beds with tomatoes and 2 of them are sick. It all started with the Taxi tomatoes - the leaves on top of the tomatoes (sepals) turned black:
A few of the stems also have speckled markings:
|Speckled markings on Orange Blossom plant|
Now, I've had blight in the past and neither the infected tomato nor the stem lesions looked like blight to me. This is a photo of blight lesions on a tomato stem a couple of years ago and they look quite different from those I'm seeing this year:
Late blight lesions on infected tomato plant in 2014
Taxi tomato plant
|Orange Blossom, which is in the bed beside Taxi|
So in short, I have no idea what this disease is. I've picked all of the ripening tomatoes off the Orange Blossom plants and pulled them. For the Taxi plants, one was pulled but the 2nd doesn't look that bad, actually. It has a few large tomatoes on it so I've decided to hold off on that one until those tomatoes start to ripen. Of course, all of these pulled plants were relegated to the burn pile, not the compost pile.
There is some progress of the disease to a couple of other plants in each of the two beds, but I'm hoping that it will slow down now that I've removed the diseased plants and trimmed out many of the infected leaves on the remaining plants. Time will tell.
Update: Most photos of Septoria Leaf Spot, not surprisingly, concentrate on the diseases effect on the leaves, but I came across a photo of a stem infected with Septoria Leaf spot on this site (bottom left, photo S21) - it looks a LOT like the stem photo I have above, so I'm wondering if my initial impression a few weeks ago (based on the leaves), is actually correct...