Tomato season is just about to come to a close and I’m just a few pints and quarts away from being okay with that. Here is how I have been busily preserving the tomato harvest this year.
First, dry them! You can leave the skins on or off depending on your preference. Sauce tomatoes work best since they are not too watery. If you use slicer tomatoes, remove the seeds and excess water. Use a food dehyrator set to 130-140 degrees and arrange thin slices in a single layer on each sheet. Dry them for about 4-8 hours until they are leathery, but not moist (times vary so much because tomato water content can vary so much based on which variety you are using). You can store them in a plastic bag or glass jar for a couple months at least. I mostly use mine in stews to add some nice flavor depth – beef stew, chicken soup, chili, etc.
Homemade marinara sauce flies off our cupboard shelf every year – we probably use over twenty quarts a year. It saves a ton of time later in the year when we can pop open a lid and add to freshly cooked pasta and meatballs. We layer it in for lasagnas or spread over pizzas. My recipe has everything but the kitchen sink in it. I usually simmer it for a couple hours so it’s nice and thick, although some folks might prefer it a bit thinner. We can them in quarts since we usually need that much for pasta dishes.
Simply canned tomatoes are probably the easiest and fastest way to can them up (if there is such a thing as a fast canning, that is…). You peel and core them, add a bit of lemon juice, then smoosh them down into the jars until almost full. Use them whenever a recipe calls for diced or whole tomatoes. I find quarts are the most helpful size.
One of the easiest ways to preserve tomatoes is to freeze them. It still works best to core and peel them, but just thrown them into a gallon sized freezer bag and pop into the arctic abyss. I often use these for slow-cooker recipes or homemade tomato soup in the winter.
But after all those ideas, I have saved the best for last: sauce. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I discovered my deep and undying love for homemade tomato sauce. It puts all that salty, acidic stuff from the store to shame. And it’s super easy to make if you have a slow-cooker.
Peel and core the tomatoes like you normally would. Then dump the tomatoes into a slow cooker until you reach the very brim. Cook on high with the lid off overnight (more or less depending on how many tomatoes you have and how watery they are). The excess liquid will evaporate leaving behind a thick, super concentrated tomato-jam-sauce.
I added about a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint, but nothing else – no salt, no seasoning, no nothing. I used this sauce last year for tacos, casseroles, chicken dishes, pizza, everything. I find pints work best as I don’t often use them in dishes where they are the main star, like pasta. For those dishes I use marinara.
Hope this gives you some ideas of new things to try. So much canning and so little time left this season!