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8.14.2011

Putting Up: Tomatoes

I have been waiting for this all summer long. This is why I garden. I love tomatoes.

I love fresh, warm from the garden tomatoes. I love the way they smell. I love them sliced on a BLT, or diced in a salad with blue cheese dressing, or simply sliced with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. But I love tomato products nearly as much- it would probably be a stretch to say that I love peeling and seeding tomatoes to can, but I love the way that tomatoes keep- simple tomatoes in a jar, with a little lemon juice to assure proper acidity. Nothing else. And they keep. And they don't loose all of their nutritional value- it is true that they loose a good bit of their vitamin C content, but I've also read that the nutrient lycopene is actually more available from cooked tomatoes than from raw. And the applications that can be canned- most without a pressure canner- are so many and varied... stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, salsa, tomato paste. Don't want to can? Fine- you can simply blanch and peel tomatoes, stick them in a freezer bag whole, and freeze. Or dry them in your food dehydrator or oven for sun dried tomatoes. There are also many recipes out there for pickled tomatoes, tomato relish, tomato aspic (fancy name for jelly...). So many possibilities, so few tomatoes. I only planted 49 plants, and I'm certain I won't have enough!

I won't be making all of those things. I would rather buy organic tomato paste than make it myself. If I have enough tomatoes I will make, in order or priority, pasta sauce (done), tomato sauce, salsa, diced tomatoes, pizza sauce (yes, there is a difference between pizza and pasta sauce!), and sun dried tomatoes. If I don't have enough, I will cry.

:)

For more on basic tomato canning, check out this link from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
I can't pass on a salsa recipe, because I haven't perfected one yet. And my pasta sauce recipe will be shared tomorrow for make it yourself monday (tune in!). So, quick and dirty, I will share my method for sun dried tomatoes. Because, you know, you wouldn't figure this one out yourself:)

Sun Dried Tomatoes

You can dry any tomato, but romas and other paste tomatoes result in the best product, as they have more flesh and less juice.

Slice the tomatoes thick, about 1/4 inch or thicker. If you don't have a food dehydrator don't fret! Get a half sheet pan or rimmed baking sheet, find a cooling rack that fits in it, and lay your tomatoes out on the rack. If you want, you can sprinkle them with salt, but it's optional. Turn your oven on to 170, or whatever your lowest heat setting is, and place the tray in the oven. Leave the oven open a crack, and let the tomatoes dry, well, until they're dry. I would start checking on them after a few hours. The tomatoes are done drying when they are leathery and dry, but not crisp. It may be necessary to remove tomatoes a few at a time as they dry, leaving the others to finish.

You can store the tomatoes, as long as they are fully dry, in a jar or ziplock bag in your pantry, or you can freeze them. It's not generally recommended to pack them in oil at home because of the possibility of bacterial growth.

Happy tomato preserving!

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