Monday, July 6, 2009

How to Preserve Tomatoes in the Freezer

How to preserve those fresh tomatoes in your freezer - no canning necessary!

How to Preserve Tomatoes in the Freezer

In the South, our growing season starts early and lasts a good while, so even for those who don't typically garden, it is practically an obligation to at least grow some tomatoes, even if it's a simple as a few 5 gallon buckets placed strategically around the yard.

“I am an old Southern woman. It is my obligation to wear funny hats and grow tomatoes”. ~Weezy
I have sure been enjoying fresh tomatoes out of the garden the past few weeks, juicy and sliced nice and thick onto sandwiches, or as big, meaty chunks in a simple cucumber and onion salad, and while I do have a few green ones still out there and a few more blossoms popping up, I think it's time to put a few away, don't you?

By the way, that is an untouched photograph y'all ... aren't they just gorgeous? Every one of those came out of my garden. I might not have gotten any peppers or beans to produce this year, but I sure had some purrtaay 'maters!!

Anyhoo... I haven't gotten into the whole canning thing with home vegetable gardening. For one, I just don't have that nice pantry storage space like many of you do. For another, I only do a small kitchen garden due to limited sunny areas in my yard, so I've never had a huge garden that really produced enough to "put away." What I do have, however, is a stand-alone freezer, so I like the freezer method of putting away tomatoes because 12 bags stacked up in the freezer sure take up a lot less space than jars in the pantry.

Now, do understand, just like store-bought canned tomatoes, you can't use these freezer tomatoes as a substitute for fresh either - you'll have to go pluck one fresh out of your garden for those kinds of recipes, but these tomatoes are perfect for use in spaghetti and pan sauces, soups and stews, skillet dinners and casseroles - things like that, which is really mostly what I used canned tomatoes for anyway. Now if you prefer canning, well, I am only beginning to can minor things like jams and jelly, but there are tons of tutorials out there to show you how to put up tomatoes properly. The freezer method is just one good way to preserve tomatoes, but it's a great way to put up tomatoes if you don't want to fool with canning or lack the space for those jars.

Did you know that you can freeze an entire whole tomato without even removing the skin? Just rinse them well, cut away the stem and upper core and line them on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Put them just like that into the freezer and once they are frozen, bag 'em up in a freezer bag. When you go to use them, running them under warm water will usually be enough to pull the skins off. Understand though, they are bulky to freeze like this so they'll take up more room.

I prefer to skin mine before I put them up, however, and then either bag them whole (flash freeze in the same manner), dice them, cut them up into chunks or sections, or puree them.

Skinning a tomato is super easy with a soft skin peeler, so unless you have a very large amount of tomatoes to can, that's the way to go. It's one of my favorite kitchen tools and it works fabulous for skinning a peach too! It's very quick and makes a super easy job of peeling tomatoes. Gosh y'all, I really do love this gadget!

Still don't fret if you've got more tomatoes than a peeler can handle, because it's only a little bit more work boiling them to remove the skins if you don't have one of those handy. Simply bring a pot of plain water to a full, rolling boil and carefully ease the tomatoes into the boiling water. You can cut a little "x" into the bottom of each tomato before putting them in the boiling water which seems to help speed up the process.

Once it comes back to a boil, just keep an eye on the tomatoes until the skin begins to split, usually about a minute or so, if that long. You don't want to have cooked tomatoes! Remove and plunge into an ice bath to stop them from cooking.

The skins should peel right away now.

Remove all of the skins and cut up the tomato, preparing them in the manner that you want to store them - chopped, pureed, diced. This group of tomatoes right above are Romas, and I just wanted the meat of the tomato, so I also seeded and cleaned them. These are perfect for my Angel Hair Pasta with Crab and in fact, that is exactly what they will be used for. Ya gotta try that recipe y'all - it is scrumptious!

These are ready to go! Place them into a labeled freezer bag.

I do some like this as pictured by count for skillet dinners and pasta dishes, others that are diced up or chopped are done by weight - or, you can do cups. Most canned tomatoes are about 15 or 28 ounces. I also like to flatten the bags so that they stack well on top of one another in the freezer.

That's it! Easy, simple and no managing hot glass jars.

Click here to learn how to make Creole Tomato Sauce.

How to Put up Freezer Stewed Tomatoes

Remove skin as noted, then core and cut the tomatoes into quarters. Do this over a rimmed plate so that you retain all the juices.

In a saucepan, add the tomatoes and juice, and if you'd like to add anything to your stewed tomatoes such as onion, celery, bell pepper, green chilies, or hot peppers, add those ingredients in here. Cook until tender about 10 to 15 minutes.

Once tender, remove from heat, set aside to cool, or plunge pot into a pan of iced water to speed up cooling. Label and package in freezer bags as noted.

You can, of course, can tomatoes, as well as the Creole tomato sauce, but for some you'll need to use a pressure canner. For about 7 pints of stewed tomatoes, you'll need about 4 quarts of peeled and chopped tomatoes - maybe around 25 depending on the size. Add the tomatoes along with the veggies you like - typically onion (about a cup chopped), chopped bell pepper (about 1/2 cup) and chopped celery (about 1/4 cup) - to taste. Add everything to large stockpot and stir in about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving about 1-inch headspace, add lids and bands, and process pints for 15 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. Consult a canning source such as Ball's Blue Book for more detailed directions for pressure canning.

If you're overrun with tomatoes, if they are getting a little less than desirable in appearance, or if you just want some for on bruschetta or even as a pizza sauce, try this recipe for Slow Roasted Tomatoes. I made my Homemade Tomato Soup with them and they are incredible, even if you use less than perfect tomatoes.
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Posted by on July 6, 2009

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