Posted by: yogavet | September 18, 2010

Tomato love

I used to think I didn’t like tomatoes.  Raw tomatoes, that is.  I loved tomato sauce, and salsa, and all that.  But I always picked the tomatoes out of my salads, I didn’t want them on my sandwiches.  I thought tomatoes were mealy, and kind of tasteless.  Then, I experienced the sheer bliss of a perfectly ripe tomato, grown locally, in season. 

Turns out, I’m just kind of a tomato snob.  I started growing my own tomatoes.  Heaven.  Now, I’ve been known to eat a sandwich consisting only of tomato slices, salt and pepper, and mayo on white bread.  Maybe add some provolone cheese if I’m feeling frisky. 

 

But, tomato season is almost over.  Which makes me very sad.  The unfortunate thing about developing a taste for really good, ripe, local tomatoes, is that the season is relatively short.  Virginia might have started by the fourth of July, but up here we didn’t really get them until late July/August.  And now we’re into mid September, and the tomatoes are going by.  What’s a tomato loving girl to do? 

Make sauce, of course. 

In case this seems like a daunting task to anyone, let me assure you a monkey could make tomato sauce.  It may take a little more planning and organization to can this tomato sauce, but that’s not too hard either.  But if canning stresses you out, or you want to make your sauce more complex (with peppers and onions and garlic, etc), you can always freeze it in bags or containers, and it lasts for 6 months or more that way, too. 

Now, plum or “Roma” tomatoes are traditionally used for sauce, but you can use any kind that’s fresh, ripe and cheap.  This is my batch from last week, I’m not sure what kind of tomato I was working with but it was a medium sized regular tomato, like an Atkinson.    This week I’m doing a huge batch of Romas, because they were plentiful at the farmer’s market.  Whatever you’ve got on hand. 

Wash your tomatoes in cool water, and inspect them for bruises, black spots, or ones that have already gone by.  Toss anything suspicious, especially if you’re canning. 

Now, there’s a bunch of ways to remove the skin and seeds from your tomatoes.  You can core each tomato, slice an X on the bottom, drop it in boiling water for 30 seconds, then an ice bath, and easily peel the skin, then slice in quarters and remove the seeds with your hands before popping the flesh in a pot.  A bit of a process.  I’ve gotten a bit lazier as I’ve done this, and also got my hands on an old fashioned food mill.  So this is how I do it….

Slice ’em all up in quarters – cores, seeds, skins and all.  This week, I cored my Romas before slicing, but that was mostly because some of them had become a tad soft on top, and I wanted to be able to remove any suspicious sections.  Now, toss them in a pot with a splash of water, and cook on medium until they become soft.  If you’re working with a lot of tomatoes, it helps to do this in batches.  Start with about enough slices to cover the bottom of the pot, then add more as they soften.  Stir often to keep the raw tomato slices in contact with the heat.

Smells like heaven!  Once you’ve got all your slices in, and they’re all soft, use a potato masher or wooden spoon to help everything break down.  Then turn off the heat and let it all cool until you can handle it without burning yourself.

Now’s the fun part.  If you have a food mill, great.  If not, you can accomplish the same thing with a blender and a fine mesh strainer.  I like the old-school charm of the food mill.  Plus, it’s great exercise. 

Dump a few cups of your cooked tomatoes into the food mill, set over a clean bowl.  Crank the mill until all you have left are seeds and skins, and all the rest of the pureed tomato flesh is in the bowl.  Remove the skins and seeds, dump the puree into a clean pot, and repeat until you’ve passed all the cooked tomato through the mill.

Viola!  Bitter seeds and skins removed, and you’re left with lovely sweet tomato puree.  

If you want, you can heat this puree back up and just can it or freeze it as is.  Or, you can keep cooking it down until it thickens up as much as you like.  Can it when it’s thicker, or add a bunch more veggies, herbs, spices, etc, and freeze in baggies. 

For this batch, I canned into pint jars.  Here is probably not the space to teach anyone how to can, since if you mess things up you can make yourself fairly ill.  But, there are lots of books out there, and I suggest reading one or learning from someone who has been doing it for years.  It’s not tricky, but you need to make sure to get it right.  I always acidify my tomato sauce with citric acid, and add salt to each pint jar.  Some people skip the acid, but tomatoes are on the line of not being acidic enough to water-bath can, and I’m not a fan of botulism.  🙂 

Seems like a lot of work for 4 pints of sauce, hmm?  It’s a labor of love  🙂

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Responses

  1. Great foodie post Ash! Not sure I will be canning in the near future, or ever, for that matter, but I thoroughly enjoyed your picture book of tomato-ism.


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