Saturday, August 6, 2011

A bounty of tomatoes...

If your garden has become as prolific as mine has, you are now inundated with tomatoes. I planted 4 varieties this year and I had several volunteers pop up and now we are bringing in tomatoes by the bowl full. We have been using the cherry tomatoes in green salads and making tomato, basil and mozzarella salad. Some of the large slicing tomatoes we have been slicing for sandwiches and salads. I planted another type made for canning. It looks like the amemic ones in the grocery store, but these have actual flavor to them. I have been "putting up" these for the winter months when good tomatoes are scarce and also to save money on the grocery bill. I have been canning food for years, but I am not a big fan of canning some kinds of veggies, tomatoes in particular. I do not like how the tomato's texture has degraded from the excessive cooking required to can them. Instead of canning them, I have become a big fan of freezing them. The texture stays reasonable and they taste fresher when you pull them out and use them later in the year.

If you do not have a garden and want to take advantage of this, take a trip to your farmer's market. The NC Farmer's Market in Raleigh is a great trip for the family on a Saturday (and I am sure one near you would be too). There are always free samples (one of my kids favorite kind) and interesting new things and foods you may have never tried. I have often purchased a bushel of tomatoes for $10 and put them up for winter. A pretty good savings when you consider a 28 ounce can can go for $1.25- $3.00.

To prepare tomatoes to freeze, I simply wash them well, quarter them, cut out the core, cut up to the size you prefer, put in a zipper bag (I include the juices that come from the tomato), flatten and remove all air, seal and freeze. I put them in a single layer in the freezer until they are frozen solid and then stack them in the chest freezer. Some people may prefer to blanch the whole tomato and remove the skin. I am not that particular. To me, it just adds another couple steps and time to the process and it robs your body of the extra "roughage" it needs for good GI health.

Of course the same can be done for other veggies, although the process may differ depending on the veggie. I freeze okra that we grow by simply washing them, slicing and putting on a sheet pan (lined with wax paper) in a single layer in the freezer until frozen. After they are frozen solid, remove from the sheet pan and put in a zipper bag. Add to your stews and soups as needed. Berries are done the same way. Squash can also be done this way, although I am not happy with the texture of the squash after it has been frozen.

Experiment on your own and put up your bounty to enjoy through the winter months. It will certainly save you money and you will appreciate the fresh taste of your food, making the effort to put them up worth it, especially if you make it a family effort to put up the food.

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