Summer officially starts today, and with the summer heat and rain patterns come the decline of the Florida tomato crop until fall. The success of growing tomatoes is a an effort of balancing sun and rain and keeping other creatures off of your prized possessions. The taste of a homegrown tomato is like none other and always a preference on the menu.
Stretch the last of your crop until fall to keep that fresh addition to any meal available at any time.
Depending on the ripeness of the tomato, depends on what you can do with them. The longer the tomato stays on the vine, the more the flavor will develop. The trick is to then keep the 4-legged and and 8-legged creatures away! Planting marigolds interspersed your tomato plants helps keeps bugs aways (including whiteflies and nematodes). Plus there is the added benefit that pesticide free marigolds are edible and are great on salads and desserts. If you can get the watering needs of the plants to a science, then you are on your way to a great homegrown tomato season.
From Left to right: green, breaking, turning1, turning 2, pink, light red, red
When your harvest is just too much, here are some ways to utilize your crop year round.
When you have tomatoes that just don't want to stay on the bush, don't waste them. Make a chutney or the ever classic fried green tomatoes. Green tomatoes have a much longer refrigerator life than a tomato that has turned red and started to ripen. Tomatoes that are green and starting to develop streaks of red are called "breakers". The more red on the green tomato, the more the flavor has developed, and the acid reduced. Even though the tomato "might" possible ripen, the flavor will never be the same as if it was allowed to ripen at least some of the way on the vine. When you have some green, or breaking tomatoes, don't let them go to waste:
Fried Green Tomatoes with Herb Aiol
Green Tomato Chutney
To ripen tomatoes, they must stay over 55°F. Below that temperature, they loose the enzyme needed to develop in flavor. To ripen, bring tomatoes about 63°F. Store your tomatoes stem side up, storing the other way promotes mold and bacteria growth due the the residual moisture and oxygen in the stem.
Sliced, ripe tomatoes are the perfect summer addition to any meal but how to use up the rest?
When you have a influx of tomatoes, especially if they aren't perfect, process them for later.
The best way to save tomatoes for later is to dry them out, can them and put them up for later or turn the into sauce and freeze or can.
To get your tomatoes ready, start by blanching them to remove their skins. Use a large pot of rapidly boiling water. With a sharp knife, cut a shallow "x" in the bottom of the tomato. Submerge the tomato in the boiling water until the skin starts to loosen. Then plunge into ice water, for the same amount of time that the tomato is in the boiling water.
At this point the skins should slid right off. Peel the tomatoes, and save the skins. (Skins can be used to make Tomato Dust)
Slice the tomatoes open to remove the seeds. Seeds are bitter, and don't necessary break down durning cooking. Scoop out the seeds (and seed pockets) and reserve. You can extract a delicious tomato juice from this. Seeds can be saved for compost or starting a new crop.
To put up tomatoes in jars: The key is maintain an environment within the jar that is slightly acidic. Fill your jar with diced, seeded tomatoes and any juice that accumulates. Per pint jar (16 oz, or 2 cups), add a minimum of 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 tbsp. lemon juice. If desired, add some fresh or dried herbs. It is not recommended to add garlic that has not be cooked to a temperature of at least 212°F because of the fear of botulism. The contents of the jar must be completely submerged, so top with boiling water if needed up to the top. Leave about 1/4 inch head space before sealing and processing. Home canned tomatoes are good up to a year.
This can also be done with whole peeled tomatoes.
To properly "put-up" and can your jars, see Home Canning Tips and Techniques in Culinary Education.
With the seeds: Press the seeds through a fine mesh strainer. The seeds can used to start next years crop of tomatoes. The strained juice is great as a drink because it has natural pectin in it. You can also do this by pressing meat through a strainer. Make your own Homemade Tomato Juice.
This juice is great in Bloody Mary's, or substitute out in Gentleman's Punch. You can also freeze the juice.
Preparing large batches of tomato sauce to either can or freeze is a good way to keep your pantry stocked up. Easily altered, with simple ingredients, all tomato sauces start out with the same basic ingredients and same steps. (To can or put up the sauce check out Home Canning Tips and Techniques)
Having a variety of tomato sauces on hand in the pantry or freezer ensures last minute meals. And you can always have them available for a dipping sauce when you have to come up with a last minute appetizer.
Try these easy homemade tomato sauces:
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce- pairs great with ground beef or veal for a meat sauce.
French Style Tomato Sauce- rich and meaty. Contains stock and bacon.
Creole Style Tomato Sauce- slightly spicy with the addition of bell peppers and paprika
Marinara Sauce- a quick tomato sauce. Used in many recipes on this site.
How about Homemade Pizza Sauce?
Some other simple ways to set aside your vine ripened tomatoes:
1. Skillet Roasted Tomatoes- Use cherry or grape tomatoes. Easily frozen to keep on hand for the addition of any meal. Used very often in lots of recipes on this site.
2. Oven Dried Tomatoes- Use plum, roma, or round tomatoes. These can be refrigerated for up-to 6 months in packed in oil...... if they last that long....
3. Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette- Roasted tomatoes made into vinaigrette. Shelf life- 6 months under refrigeration.
4. Tomato Basil Soup- Great to keep on hand for grilled cheese night. Add cream if desired for a luscious rich soup.
When you peel your tomatoes, save your skins. They can be added to stock and broth for flavor. Or, you can dry them out and use them as a seasoning.
Tomato Dust- simply the skins of the tomatoes, dried out in the oven, then pulverized. Use this as you would for any spice or seasoning. Great mixed in rice for color and flavor, or sprinkle on fish or chicken.
Get the most out of your fresh tomato crop this year.
lots more recipe available in the recipe section