Tomatoes smell exactly like summer sunshine. After years of eating anemic, mealy tomatoes from the grocery store, I was blissfully surprised when I first grew my own in college. I love the heft of a sun-ripened heirloom about ready to burst with all that sweetness and warmth.
I always have more than I could ever eat, and so saving their sweet, juicy beauty for winter is a perennial priority. I’ve grown countless heirloom tomato varieties, and I have tried even more ways to preserve tomatoes. Like most things, after lots of trial and error, I’ve discovered that the simplest method is best. I used to can tomatoes, dry tomatoes, make them into pasta sauce and salsa, and spend a good part of late summer tending to my tomato crop. I noticed that I didn’t even eat some of the more labor-intensive results and most of the time I just wanted tomato puree to make pasta sauce.
Now I freeze about 90% of our tomatoes, and the whole process is easier than making box mac n cheese. Sometimes, I still dry the smaller cherry tomatoes or make delicious tomato confit, but usually, even the little guys get tossed in the stock pot.
The process is so easy. I just gather fresh tomatoes and wash them. I used to separate varieties, but I realized that the flavor doesn’t vary much in the finished product. So now I just gather whatever is ripe and toss them all together. I’ll mix slightly overripe along with the greenish ones, and San Marzano gets thrown in with Cherokee Purple. This year, we grew a lot of deliciously sweet, pale yellow Peach Tomatoes, and they happily followed the crowd.
Then I wash and chop the harvest and toss everything in a stock pot with a bit of water. I used to blanch, seed, and add all those other time-consuming steps. After awhile, I realized that my family didn’t notice a difference between tomatoes I had babied and skinned and those I just tossed in a pot. So, I simplified and gave up the extra steps.
I just boil the tomatoes until they are soft and reduced a little. As soon as they are soft enough to squish readily, I use the immersion blender to make them into a tomato paste. I like to blend them when they’re really hot to make the tomato puree really smooth. If I’ve used a lot of tiny tomatoes, some seeds still remain, but the skins always blend nicely. I don’t salt or season the tomato paste because I’ve learned that on the dark, still days of winter, I really enjoy seasoning a simmering pot of sauce. In the past, when I seasoned my tomato puree in the summer, I felt somehow cheated by the convenience later in the year.
Once the tomatoes have cooled, I spoon them into bags and stack in the freezer. Whenever we want pasta, pizza, tomato soup, salsa, or other tomato-based dishes, we have wonderful little packages of home-grown summer waiting for us.
How I easily preserve tomatoes:
- a variety of fresh tomatoes
- a little water
- Gather tomatoes. Go ahead and mix varieties, taking whatever is ripe at a given moment.
- Wash and cut the harvest. I remove any blemishes and rotten spots, but I leave the seeds, skins, and even the tough bits of split skin
- Place in a large stockpot with a little water and bring to a boil.
- Once the tomatoes are soft enough to squish easily with a spoon, use an immersion blender to make a smooth paste.
- If desired, reduce the tomatoes further to make a thicker paste. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a lot of room in your freezer.
- Cool and pack into bags, then stack in the freezer.
- Use wherever you would use fresh tomatoes! Since the puree isn’t seasoned, you won’t have to worry about over salting a recipe.
- Repeat the process throughout the season whenever you have enough to fill a stockpot!
I love preserving tomatoes this way because it is so easy. Canning is a wonderful ritual with all the sterilization and other steps, but freezing couldn’t be simpler. I love that I don’t have to plan for a special day to devote to putting up my tomatoes. This method lets me preserve tomatoes in batches as they ripen through the summer and fall, so I think I get to keep a bigger portion of my harvest and the end result is fresher and tastier, too. I can boil and freeze tomatoes anytime, so I the task never gets overwhelming.
I’d love to hear your favorite ways to save tomatoes, too!