A jar of preserved tomatoes is a wondrous thing. Not only does it carry the overabundance of summer into winter, with a few tucked away in your pantry you can have a homemade dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook spaghetti.
But, for a novice, preserving tomatoes can feel like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Should you can your tomatoes whole? Make them into sauce or salsa first? Leave the peel on or off? Freeze them?
Everyone has a little different method, so let's start by looking at some of the options.
First, the easiest―just freeze them. This works best with small tomatoes that you're planning to use in soups or for sauce.
To do it, wash and dry the tomatoes, then spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Pop the whole cookie sheet into the freezer for about 24 hours, then move the tomatoes to plastic freezer bags where they'll keep for 4-6 months.
An intermediate option―but one that I think is worth the extra trouble―is to peel the tomatoes first. While not strictly necessary, removing the peel will give your resulting tomato sauce a better texture and flavor.
To do it, cut a small “X” into the skin of each tomato. Working in batches, plunge the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute, and then immediately into a sink of very cold water. This will loosen the skins enough to make peeling easy. Once the tomatoes are peeled, you can core them and pack them into jars for canning or into freezer containers.
The most complicated method is canning the tomatoes to make them shelf-stable. It's a few extra steps, but if you're short on freezer space or you worry about losing power it's worth it.
To do it, first, follow the process above for peeling and coring the tomatoes. Then, put the tomatoes into a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Pour the hot tomatoes into clean glass jars, adding 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per quart of tomatoes. Wipe the jar rims with a clean towel, pop on the lids, and process in boiling water―35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. For more detailed instructions, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a great resource, as is the USDA website.
Below is the method I typically use to preserve tomatoes. While it does tend to fill my freezer up quickly, it keeps my kitchen much cooler than using a boiling water bath. Further, by roasting the tomatoes for a few hours up front, I get the flavor of a slow-cooked sauce with very little work when it comes time to pull my tomatoes out for dinner.
Roasted Freezer Tomatoes (makes about 5 cups)
- About 4 pounds of tomatoes
- 1 heaping tablespoon salt
Peel and core the tomatoes as described above. Break or cut them up into cherry tomato sized pieces, toss with the salt, then spread them on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.
With your oven set to 350 degrees, roast the tomatoes for an hour or two, stirring them every 30 minutes. When they've cooked down a bit, carefully funnel them into jars or freezer containers. (If you're freezing in glass jars, be sure to leave plenty of head space―an inch or two, at least―so that the jars don't explode.)
Store these tomatoes in the freezer, defrosting them as needed. They'll keep really well for 6 months, but I've eaten and enjoyed them up to a year later.