Enjoy your tomatoes all year

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It’s almost tomato time! As I look at my raised garden bed, I am patiently waiting on my cherry, Rutgers, and Early Girl tomato plants to ripen. I plan to can pint jars of tomatoes that are perfect for making spaghetti sauce and chili, dehydrate tomatoes when I don’t have enough ready to can, roast and freeze cherry tomatoes, and use fresh tomatoes for salsas and BLT’s. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! If you have a garden full of tomatoes, what are your plans on using them?

The garden doesn’t always allow you to choose when you are ready to enjoy the fruit of your labor. When the produce is ready, you had better have a plan so your precious tomatoes don’t go to waste. Consider preserving your tomatoes so you can enjoy them all year long. Canning, freezing or dehydrating are the three methods to preserving, and each has a specific set of instructions yielding a unique product.

You may can most any type of tomato, with the exception of overripe tomatoes or tomatoes on dead or frost-killed vines, which are too low in acid to safely can. Can tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup and barbecue sauce, or simply can whole or halved tomatoes to use in various recipes. The canning process involves using tested recipes and either a boiling water bath canner or a pressure canner. Since tomatoes are on the borderline of being low acid, you must add acid in the form of lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar to keep dangerous bacteria and toxins from growing.

Freezing and dehydrating are also great ways to preserve your tomatoes. You can prepare any type of tomato product, including your favorite homemade recipe, and safely freeze it. I love to roast our cherry tomatoes with a little bit of olive oil in the oven at 450°F for 20-25 minutes until they’ve blistered and split. Then I pack them into freezer bags and freeze. Paste or meaty tomatoes dry very well in the dehydrator, as their tomato flavor becomes concentrated. Add dried tomatoes directly to soups, stews or sauces or use in a savory trail mix, pasta dish or other favorite recipe.

You can learn more about preserving your tomatoes during the Fill Your Pantry: Processing Tomatoes webinar July 22 at 1 p.m. central time.  Register at go.illinois.edu/preserveathome.

RESOURCES:

SOURCE: Jenna Smith is an Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness educator serving Livingston, McLean and Woodford Counties. She is a Registered Dietitian who aims to help individuals acquire the knowledge and skills to improve and maintain their nutritional well-being. She delivers educational programs with an emphasis on food safety and disease prevention. You can reach Jenna by email at jesmith6@illinois.edu or call 309.663.8306.