Category Archives: Preserving

Tomatoes

bag of tomatoesFreezing is probably the easiest way to prepare a supply of tomatoes.  In season, buy a large quantity of them or grow your own.  At other times of the year, look in the reduced food bin for bags of tomatoes priced for quick sale.

Blanch to remove skin – or not

If you’re a purist, heat a pot of water to boiling.  Keep it simmering and put the washed whole tomatoes in it for 20 seconds or so (blanching).  Use a big slotted spoon to put them in and take them out.  Run cold water over them to stop the blanching and cool them.  Then cut the core out and use your small knife to gently peel the skin off.  It should just slide off.  Plum tomatoes are especially easy to peel, and make the best tomato sauce.  If, like me, you’re not a purist and don’t mind pieces of tomato skin in your sauce, just wash the tomatoes and cut the core out.

Cut – or not – and cook

Cored whole tomato ready to halveThen half or quarter the tomatoes or, best for flavour retention, leave them whole and cook them.  Add a tiny bit of water to your pot in order to keep the tomatoes from burning or, better yet, turn the heat on very low until they cook a bit and produce their own liquid.

You can add herbs and seasonings to the pot or just leave them so you can flavour them later when making the final product.  Cook them, stirring occasionally, until they are soft.  The length of time depends on the amount of tomatoes, the size and the tomatoes cookingdegree of softness you want.  Figure on an hour to an hour and a half for a large pot.

When they’re done, open a large size freezer bag and stand it on end.  You can also put it in a container, like a tall milk pitcher.

Fill freezer bags

Use your large slotted spoon to carefully spoon the tomatoes into the bag.  The pitcher averts spilled tomatoes all over your counter until you get the hang of spooning and holding the bag upright at the same time.  Two people doing this can also avoid accidents.  Fill the bag about half full.  Zip it up and it should lay almost flat.

Make sure the outside of the bags are dry so they don’t freeze together, and lay them flat on top of each other in your freezer, and presto, tomatoes ready for sauce-making.  Each bag is about freezer bags of tomatoesequivalent to a large can of tomatoes.  At harvest prices, four bags cost about the same as one can.

You’ll have tomato-flavoured water left.  You can freeze it in small containers and use it like you’d use any vegetable stock, in soups or stews.

Freeze uncooked whole tomatoes

You can freeze uncooked whole tomatoes too – blanch and peel them if you like or just pull the stem off and wash them.  Put them in the freezer on cookie sheets, making sure they are not touching.  After they’ve frozen, bag them up and put them back in the freezer.  You won’t be able to use them as “fresh” tomatoes, like in salad, but they’re fine for cooking.  The only disadvantage is they take more freezer space than cooked ones do.

Caveats

Two caveats about home-made frozen tomatoes.  One:  the slight thickness of the liquid that is in canned tomatoes isn’t there.  I don’t know what is in canned tomatoes to give that, and I like it for helping the texture of your final tomato sauce.  You get the same thing from home-canned tomatoes.  Maybe it’s the heat-retention from long cooking.  Maybe that’s what “stewing in your own juices” means.  To approximate it with frozen tomatoes, I’ve added a bit of flour or cornstarch in the final sauce.  I’ve also added canned tomato soup or tomato paste thickened with a bit of flour or cornstarch.  You just want something that makes your sauce less watery.

Two:  I watched Chef at Home once when chef Michael Smith was talking about tomato sauces.  He prefers canned tomatoes over fresh because the lag time between picking and processing is less.  Canned tomatoes, he said, literally are picked in the field and canned next door, within a very short period of time.  Therefore, they are at the height of ripeness and freshness.  He also prefers canned whole whole tomatoes plum photo D Stewarttomatoes rather than diced.  Whole tomatoes, he said, require only one cooking process in their canning whereas halved or diced tomatoes require two.  In your cooking, you ‘process’ them yet again, and each time they lose nutrients.  So, despite the appeal of fresh tomatoes cooked slowly into a lovely pasta sauce, you’re actually better off with a can.  Who knew?

If money is as much an issue as nutrients, there is a compromise.  Supplement your store-bought can with cheap fresh (or frozen or home-canned) tomatoes.

 

Preserving: Basics

frozen food preservingIt’s not hard preserving food and doesn’t have to be especially time-consuming. You can freeze, can or dry foods for use later. It’s a good way to make use of harvest time when local foods are plentiful and cheap.

Drying

Nesco food dehydrator Amazon link
Nesco food dehydrator on Amazon

I know nothing about drying foods but there are plenty of books available. Equipment too.

I’ve dried herbs with some success. Hang the plants upside in a dry place and when the leaves are fully dried, take them off (whole or crumbled) and put them in a jar. They keep pretty well as long as they are completely dry.

Freezing

Freezing is probably the most fool-proof, but you need freezer space. It doesn’t have to be huge. This small chest freezer (top photo) can hold a lot of garden produce, bulk buys of meat and freezing of portions of bulk cooking projects.

Canning or Bottling

8 pc granite ware canning set on Amazon
8 pc Granite Ware canning set on Amazon

Canning, or bottling, of vegetables and fruit is easier than you may think from reading canning books. But the books are invaluable because there are certain things you must know and precautions to take if you don’t want to lose your entire batch of pickles or get food poisoning.

A suggestion the books don’t tell you – when you’re sterilizing jars and lids, do one extra of each. You might get a jar less or more than what the recipe says. If more, it’s much easier if you have an extra jar already sterilized.

An advantage to canning is you only need shelf space to keep the product of your efforts. You don’t have to make vast quantities at a time. Small batches are easier to control, and once you get the hang of it, you can do a few jars of pickles or jam from start to finish while watching a movie on tv.

Sealing Canners

Canned (or bottled) meat is fabulous. If you ever have the chance to try bottled rabbit or moose, do it! Sell your soul if necessary. I have never made it and never will. It requires more knowledge to do properly and ensure its safety than I have. But the taste is to die for!

presto pressure canner Amazon link
Presto 23 qt pressure canner on Amazon

For meat, you need a sealing canner, like a big pressure cooker. The regular big canning pot works for high acid fruits, tomatoes and anything with vinegar. The sealing canner is needed for vegetables that aren’t pickled and all meats.

Be careful with meat preparation, sterilization of equipment and temperatures of cooking and bottling so you don’t risk having a tainted product. You don’t want to literally die for it. If you find someone who knows how to do it, I’d suggest learning from, and with, them. I’d never try it with only the help of a book unless you’re a Home Ec. or Chemistry student. (However, a friend who is neither a home economist or chemist told me he bottles meat all the time and it’s as easy as doing jam.) With the right equipment and care, I assume.

Reduced food bin – a preserving source

A theme in preserving and cooking that you will see throughout this section is: the reduced food bin is your friend. Look for what they euphemistically call “ready to use” produce, baked goods and meat in any grocery store at a discounted price. It has to be used quickly or be thrown out. Buy it. Cook or preserve it right away, and you’ve just stocked up your food supply at maybe half the regular price.