For many of us, gardens produce abundant quantities of tomatoes. There can be too much to eat, and when we start getting sores in our mouths, we know it’s time to stop.
But what can be done with the rest? Tomatoes are a great item to preserve for later. Your preservation choices include water-bath canning, dehydrating, pressure canning, freezing or combining them with other ingredients such as salsa for canning.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene – that miracle antioxidant that can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration. When tomatoes are cooked, the lycopene availability increases, making cooked or canned tomatoes a more significant source of the antioxidant. Tomatoes also contain antioxidants such as beta-carotene to help fight cell damage as well as several vitamins and minerals.
The easiest way to preserve them is to freeze them. Choose tomatoes that are firm, free of blemishes and juicy. If you are going to use them within the next six months, put them on a cookie sheet, freeze and then transfer them to freezer containers. If you plan to keep them in the freezer for a longer time period, blanching and skin removal is recommended.
To do this, cut an X across the bottom of your tomatoes and place them in boiling water – just until the skins begin to split. From the boiling water, plunge them into a cold-water bath to stop the cooking action. Peel off the skin, cut them into quarters and spoon into freezer-safe containers. Label the container with key information (product, amount and date).
Canning tomatoes begins with the blanching process. To fill the canner with nine pints, figure an average of 13 pounds is needed.
A second key piece of information is that because the acid level of tomatoes varies so much, we now recommend putting 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice into each pint of tomatoes before inserting them into the water bath. If you prefer not to add the lemon juice, I suggest using a pressure canner.
For specific details about the length of time they need to be processed and specific techniques, visit nchfp.uga.edu/how/can3_tomato.html. The U.S. Department of Agriculture contracted with University of Georgia to provide this excellent website that is full of quality information. It even has a video available to help you with the home-canning fundamentals.
The third option for preservation of tomatoes is to dehydrate them. I suggest this be done using an electric dehydrator because outdoor temperatures have started to cool. Start by blanching the tomatoes and then slicing them evenly into three-quarter-inch slices. In an electric dehydrator, I suggest dehydrating between 10 and 18 hours, which will take 80 percent to 90 percent of the liquid out. It is not recommended that tomatoes be dehydrated outdoors.
It is always nice being able to enjoy quality produce when the snow is swirling outside.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.