Help! My tomatoes are ripening all at once but I don’t live on a diet consisting of 100% tomatoes!
Tomatoes are an extremely adaptable resource in the world of food and cooking. As Samwise Gamgee once said, “boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew” – I know in that instance he was talking about potatoes, but I feel the sentiment still applies.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to do with all the tommys that start emerging on vines across Australian backyards this time of year. Today I’m going to talk about a few different methods to store, preserve and sauce your tomatoes so they don’t go the way of the compost bin.
Fact is, tomatoes store best at room temperature. Don’t go whacking them in the cool basket in your fridge. Better yet, store them next to some avocados which actually help speed up the ripening process. You’ll have a few days to figure out what to do with them in this environment.
For a long-term solution, freezing can often be the answer. Smaller tomatoes and cherry tomatoes can be frozen whole. Freeze them on some baking paper then pop them in a zip-lock, removing as much air as you can. These will cook just fine from frozen.
For larger tomatoes, drying is another option. Cut them into halves, spread them skin-side down over mesh-wire racks they won’t fall through and set them onto trays in an oven. Leave the door slightly ajar, lowest heat possible, fan on. They can sit like this from between six to twelve hours. Shut everything off and let them cool, then pop them into jars.
Condensation can be an issue here, so check after about a week and dry some more if you notice any moisture, returning to the jars afterwards. These tomatoes should keep for around 12 months. Use them in soups, stews, sandwiches, or as an addition to an antipasto platter!
I know it’s nice to bang on about the lovely colours of heirloom tomatoes, but when it comes to saucing, rich red tomatoes are generally best. In her book The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander mentions that already softening tomatoes are even better.
If you have some tomatoes on the vine that are still green near the end of the harvest, you can use them for green tomato relish, or a green tomato chutney; where you boil the tomatoes with raisins, apples, ginger, lemon and sugar for around 2 hours.
Preserving (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make Passata)
Passata is something of a perfect food item in my mind, not only is it objectively fantastic and tasty, but it also is serves as a perfect ‘storage’ method for tomatoes. Sure, they’re all boiled and don’t look like tomatoes anymore, but it’s the taste that counts. Work with me here.
For many families, tomatoes also represent an opportunity to come together for a day of mashing, straining and bottling – an investment which guarantees passata, sugo, or puree for the months to come. Each family recipe is different – maybe they call on a longer boil time, a few handfuls of basil or some minced garlic. It’s just another way that food crosses generations and connects people.
I was curious about what this process might mean to families that I know personally. After reaching out through my social media networks, I got some really interesting responses.
“Tomato day is a thing that just recently came back into my family! My mum and her siblings experienced a lot of prejudice growing up ‘wog’ and rejected their heritage because they wanted to feel like they belonged. They had kids of their own and we never had to experience their immigrant upbringing, so I guess we had more reason to want to keep connected to our heritage. My older cousin brought tomato day back into the family as a sort of way to get back to our roots i guess”
“[It] gets everyone together to do an (often) monotonous task, and due to this gets everyone talking and bantering about anything really, from family stuff to serious stuff, whatever…my partner actually joined us two years ago, and being an Aussie hadn’t done it before and thoroughly enjoyed it. She said she felt more connected due to some conversations that were had.”
Now, I’m not about to say these methods are gospel – I’m no nonna or nonno – but they’re tried and true and will serve as a good starting point. This method is adapted from The Produce Companion, from Hardie Grant Books. You’ll need one kilogram of tomatoes if you want to end up with 700ml of passata, or thereabouts.
- Boil the tomatoes in a large pot of salted water for somewhere between 3-5 minutes. You want the skins to split and for them to soften slightly. Scoop ‘em out and set aside to cool.
- You’ll need a food mill. Pass them through that sucker and discard the solids. If you want extra smooth passata, you can strain the liquid again. Put this liquid into warm, sterilised jars and seal.
- Stand the jars on a wire rack in the base of a deep pot. Fill the pot with water to cover the jars by around 5cm. Get a tight fitting lid on there and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove the jars and leave to cool. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. Always remember to refrigerate after opening!
Depending on how much you produce, you might want to pass some on to family or friends!
I hope this has been helpful in imparting a few ways to avoid tomato waste and increase delicious tomato consumption. One last piece of advice – hang onto jars and bottles to make sure you always have somewhere to put your produce! Using an anti-glue spray can turn any old glass jar into a prime storage solution.
– By Nicholas Kennedy
Nicholas is a freelance writer and local farming enthusiast, currently volunteering for Melbourne Farmers Markets.