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What to Do When 50 Pounds of Tomatoes Lands in Your Kitchen

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Note: this post first appeared in January during Florida’s tomato season. We’re posting it again since it’s tomato time in places that don’t have crazy seasons.

You never know when life is going to drop an improbably large amount of produce on you. In my case, it was an unbeatable deal on tomatoes: because of some unseasonably hot weather, Hunsader Farms was offering 5 gallon buckets of tomatoes for $2 each. Google tells me that a five gallon bucket holds 25 pounds, so I went to the farm grabbed two of those.

Fifty pounds sounds like a lot, but, it’s small potatoes (um, tomatoes?) when it comes to canning recipes. So, to make sure I have a good deal of variety, I decided to go with a few different small batch ideas. I’ve had a chest freezer and water bath canner for awhile, and recently picked up a pressure canner on Amazon when I found one on sale.

What I did to tackle the tomatoes:

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes for the Freezer

This is one of my old standby recipes. I make a big batch pretty much any time I find a good deal on tomatoes. The recipe couldn’t be simpler. Slice tomatoes in half. Arrange them on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Then, cook in a 250 degree oven for four or five hours. The result is semi-dried, super flavorful tomatoes. I let them cool and package them in 1 quart freezer bags.

Canned Diced Tomatoes

Several times a week in my house, diced tomatoes go into dishes like curries, chili and pasta dishes. So, it made a lot of sense to stock up on this staple. I went with pressure canning since the processing time is a lot shorter than it is for water bath canning, and, unlike freezing, the results are shelf-stable.

All tomatoes were peeled and cored before being diced. I didn’t bother removing seeds as they don’t really bother me. Peeling tomatoes is sort of magic. Just core and cut a shallow X in the bottom. Dip into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then drop into an ice bath. The skins slip right off. While I’ve seen equal shares of instructions that recommend coring before or after peeling, I found that it went faster coring a whole, raw tomato first than a slippery wet one after.

Salsa

I used Ball’s Zesty Salsa recipe from their Fresh Preserving site. What didn’t get canned was eaten for dinner with leftover ropa vieja and tortilla chips and it’s a pretty damn good salsa. While I definitely recommend this recipe, it’s one of thousands online. Whatever you do, though, make sure you make a recipe meant for canning. Ones meant to be served fresh are probably not acidic enough to be safely canned.

Tomato Jam

This recipe from Food in Jars is great for when you’ve reached the point where the thought of peeling or seeding another tomato makes you feel like you’re about to cry. The recipe specifically states that skins and seeds should be left in to reduce the sweetness and add interest to the texture. You mean I can get a better result with less work? Where do I sign up?

The recipe calls for smaller quantities than other tomato-canning projects, which is also good when you are approaching burnout. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it smells wonderful while it’s cooking. The sweet/tart/spicy scent is a nice change of pace if you’ve had days of tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.

I wound up with just under three pints. The flavor is incredible. Tart, sweet, a little hot. The recipe author says to use it anyplace you’d use ketchup (or in my case, where non-ketchup haters would use the stuff) plus as a topping on bread with goat cheese, spread into grilled cheese sandwiches and the like. I also think it’d make a fantastic glaze for chicken or salmon.

Crock Pot Marinara

This one’s bound for the freezer so that I can go hog wild with additions like olive oil, onions and fistfuls of garlic without the possibility of poisoning my family. I don’t really have a recipe for this and it changes every time. This time, it went kind of like this:

1. Core and dice tomatoes. I didn’t measure, but, it was enough to mostly fill my 4 quart Crock Pot.

2. Mince a small onion and 2 – 4 cloves garlic and toss those in.

3. Add some salt, a big glug of olive oil, a bay leaf, some oregano and that last lonely red pepper from the back of the fridge.

4. Cook on high for about 5 hours.

I typically like mine chunky, but, I put about half in the blender to smooth it out a bit. If you manage to burn yourself doing the same, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The sauce will be used as a topping for spaghetti tonight. What doesn’t get eaten will get stored in quart-size freezer bags.

Tomato Wine

Okay, stay with me. You know all those smart asses who are constantly reminding people that tomatoes are a fruit? Well, botanically speaking, they’re right, even if, in culinary use, Westerners tend to treat it as a vegetable. And, there’s enough sugar in there to make a pretty decent dry wine.

This is my first time making tomato wine, but, I’ve wanted to make my own since trying Hot Sun, the surprisingly good tomato wine from Florida Orange Groves Winery. While you’d probably expect a tomato wine to be red, Hot Sun is a really crisp white wine. It’s one of the few options available for Florida wine drinkers who want to drink local but who aren’t fond of the sugary sweet wines made with muscadine grapes. And, with 8 cent per pound tomatoes, I figure I can’t go wrong.

I’m improvising a recipe based on the thoroughly entertaining Redneck Wine Makin’ Guide. The directions there are presented in a loose narrative form. If you prefer a more broken down, step by step approach, this is how I’m doing mine:

Ingredients

  • 10 pounds tomatoes
  • 5 p0unds white sugar
  • water
  • 2-3 campden tablets
  • wine yeast

Equipment

  • 5 gallon fermentation bucket
  • cheese cloth
  • non-metallic stirrer
  • lid with air-lock
  • second fermentation bucket
  • bottles

I cored the tomatoes,then lightly chopped and mashed them before adding them to the fermentation bucket with the sugar. Crush the campden tablets and add those. Add water to make about 4 gallons. Stir and cover with cheese cloth.

I’ll be following the rest of the recipe over the next couple of weeks and will report back on my progress as I go.

(Note about wine: Many wine recipes that start with fruit also call for pectic enzyme. This is an enzyme that helps break down pectic, the material in the cell walls of fruit. Using pectic enzyme can make fruit give up more juice and also helps clarify fruit wines. I didn’t have any, so, I left it out.)

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