I’ve gardened for as long as I can remember, and inevitably, this time of year, I have a counter full of tomatoes and no idea what to do with them. I’ve made sauce, I’ve eaten them raw, I’ve made soup with them… and now there they sit, waiting for me to come up with other ideas.
The homesteady part of me thinks: “I should can them!” And then the realistic part of me says: “That’s insane. Who wants to spend hours over a hot stove during these beautiful sunny days?” And really: who wants to sit and peel tomatoes?
So here’s a trick I learned from my mama: You don’t have to peel the tomatoes or can them to save them for the winter. Just wash them off, put them on a tray and freeze them, and then dump them (they will look and feel and even sound a lot like billiard balls) in gallon freezer bags. Then when a recipe calls for a can of tomatoes, head to the freezer instead of the pantry. Pull out as many tomato billiard balls as you think you need, and run them under warm water until the skin is barely softened. Use a knife or your fingers to remove the skin, which comes of incredibly easily. (Alternately, you can just let them sit on the counter for about fifteen minutes, and then the skins will come right off.)
Use the peeled tomatoes just like you would use canned ones. The skins are full of nutrients but add an unpleasant texture (imagine rubber bands in spaghetti sauce), so I pop the skins back in the freezer in my bag of scraps for stock-making. Other people dehydrate the skins and grind them for use in sauces, which sounds like a great idea that I just haven’t gotten around to trying.
How many tomatoes you freeze will depend on how many you have and how many you think you’ll need over the winter. I have limited freezer space, so my tomato stash is usually around two gallons, and that serves us well. If I had a larger family, yes, it would make sense to can the tomatoes so it wouldn’t be taking up freezer space, but since our household is so small, this works just fine.
And, really, there are few things more satisfying than getting to taste home-grown tomato flavor on a cold winter day.
Of all the things I recommend to my clients to improve their health, growing a bit of food ranks high on my list. Gardening is great exercise, it gets you outside, in contact with the soil (which helps ground us and also exposes us to healing bacteria), it re-ignites our natural wonder at the world (“how did a tiny seed turn into THAT?!”), and, of course, we get to eat what we grow, and what we grow always tastes better than anything we can buy.
Even if you only have a little bit of space – or just a patio, or a sunny window – you can grow food! So get gardening, and let me know what you grow!