Monday, August 1, 2011

Preserving Summer Bounty The Easy Way

Tomatoes are one of summer's most joyous food gifts.   They are nothing like the awful, mealy, mushy, tasteless things we buy in the winter.   Summertime tomatoes are red, juicy, meaty and a wonderful addition to any dish, sandwich or salad.  Summer tomatoes are fabulous eaten sliced with just a pinch of salt sprinkled on them, or maybe with a drizzle of olive oil and a little fresh basil.  Oh, add some fresh mozzarella and you have a wonderful Caprese salad.  The options are endless.

But, it's time to think ahead.  It's time to think of the cold winter days that will be upon us and how we will miss these wonderful summer delights.  There is a really simple way to preserve them for those cold days when you can only dream about the juicy, red, ripe, meaty, full of flavor tomatoes you enjoyed in the summer.

Tomatoes are so plentiful right now that you can purchase them at farmer's markets for such a reasonable price you can't pass them up.  I purchased a bushel of beef steak tomatoes for $10.00 this weekend at the Nashville Farmer's market.  They are not the big huge tomatoes that you often see, but are a great size to freeze.  Yes, I said freeze.  It is so much easier than canning, cheaper because all you have to buy is freezer bags, and  safer too if you don't know what you are doing.

All you need are ripe tomatoes and a box of quart sized freezer bags.  Simple.  No sterilizing of jars, no water bath canner or pressure canner needed.  Here is what you do.

A bushel of tomatoes is a lot of tomatoes, so first sort through them, remove any that may have bad places on them or may be getting really soft and discard them.  I had a few in that category.  Next, wash them in the sink to remove any stems or dirt.  Fill a stock pot or deep pan with water and put it on the stove to boil.  I used two large bowls to hold tomatoes,one for before boiling and one for after boiling, a smaller bowl to hold the cores and skins and a large bowl filled with ice water.  I also used my canning funnel to fill the bags and a large long handled spoon to put the tomatoes into the boiling water and remove them from the boiling water.

Be aware when filling your pot with water that the tomatoes will displace the water, so you don't want to fill it to the top so that it overflows when you put tomatoes into the water.  You want the water to be at a rolling boil when you add tomatoes.  Don't do too many at a time, because you boil them for only 1 minute and then quickly remove them to a bowl filled with water and ice cubes to quickly stop the cooking.  Boiling the tomatoes loosens the skin so you can easily peel them with your hands.

The hot tomatoes will quickly melt the ice cubes, so I kept a pitcher filled with replacement ice to add to the bowl.  Because the ice melts and adds to the water level in the bowl, pour some of it out at intervals so the bowl doesn't overflow.  (Pour the water out with NO tomatoes in the bowl.)  Leave the tomatoes in the ice bath for a minute or two,  remove the tomatoes from the ice water and begin to core them and peel the skins.  The skins will slip right off.  Place the cored and peeled tomatoes into another big bowl until you are ready to quarter them and place them in bags.

I did this whole process sort of "assembly line" style.  I kept the clean tomatoes in a large bowl in the sink.  I filled a bowl with tomatoes then transferred them to the counter near the stove.  I placed some tomatoes in to boil for 1 minute.  I quickly removed them with my big long handled spoon and dunked them in the ice water bath.  I then put them on a cutting board to core and peel.  After coring and peeling, they were placed in another large bowl waiting to be quartered and bagged.    So, I had some tomatoes boiling, some in the ice bath while I peeled and cored tomatoes and then into the holding bowl.  It only took me about an hour to do the bushel of tomatoes.

Once all of the tomatoes were done, I used a tupperware bowl that holds 3 cups of liquid and quartered tomatoes until the bowl was full.  Each time the bowl was filled,  I took a one quart zip lock freezer bag, placed my canning funnel (which has a very wide mouth) inside the bag.  I held the bag and funnel in one hand while I poured the quartered tomatoes into the funnel with the other hand.  You may have to shake the funnel a bit to get all of the tomatoes into the bag.  Leave about 1 inch of headroom in the bag, pull the "zipper" almost closed, squeeze the bag to remove all of the air and finish closing the zipper.  I quickly filled the bags this way and there was no spillage or mess everywhere.

Just look at the beautiful red color on those tomatoes.  I had 8 quart bags when I was finished.  Place these into the freezer and you will have delicious, juicy, flavor filled tomatoes to use for soups, stews and sauces all winter long.  Yes, I am heading back to the farmer's market for more tomatoes now that I know how easy this process is!  Perhaps you have a bounty of tomatoes coming in from plants you are growing and don't know what to do with them all.  This is a really easy method to save that summer goodness.

Tomorrow, there will be more dipping, dunking, peeling and bagging going on in the kitchen at the little yellow cottage.  Who knew freezing tomatoes could be so easy?  Give it a try.  You will thank me in December.  I know I will thank me all winter long.

Everyday Donna

Things To Remember:

"A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins." - Laurie Colwin

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