Unlike last year’s notoriously unproductive “Bummer Summer” – where the climate was near Arctic – this year the weather has been gloriously perfect for the cultivation of my favorite fruit, tomatoes. (Yes, Gertrude, tomatoes are a fruit, from a vining plant.) Lows in the 70s, highs in the 90s, and plenty of rain interspersed with long, sunny days have provided a bounty encompassing the entire garden, but the 2010 tomatoes are in vegetative utopia.
There is nothing like a freshly picked, homegrown tomato to please the palate. A slab of homegrown tomato makes an excellent platform for a BLT or club sandwich, adding a bit of natural, sweet goodness to the salty, fatty decadence of bacon. (Never fear, Primary Care Physician who is monitoring my cholesterol. This is the only time of the year I will eat bacon.)
Stout, fresh roma tomatoes can make an excellent and easy red sauce for pasta. Just add olive oil, garlic, and basil. Simmer down and toss with your favorite noodles. A great tomato will take a plain, ho-hum salsa or pico de gallo and turn it into a work of art. Let us not forget the Caprese salad, made of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. My favorite pizza is a pizza Margherita (tomato slice, basil, and mozzarella on pizza dough) roasted on the barbecue. A tomato-based bruschetta featuring diced tomato and grated parmesan cheese makes a great appetizer or snack. And you can flash-fry the green ones that get knocked off the vine by accident.
Or, you can be truly old school and eat your wondrous red orbs like you would a peach.
I sometimes give away my tomato overruns, but not so much anymore. Yes, I am a tomato hoarder, but it’s because I love them so much. I may grudgingly buy post-summer tomatoes from the market, but even the most gourmet, chi-chi upscale green grocer does not carry a tomato as fine as the ones delivered from my back yard. And canned? Yes, Hunt’s and Heinz do an adequate job, but it’s not the same.
So what does one do with an explosion of tomatoes lining the kitchen windowsill and stacked on countertops?
I have solved the overabundance problem by canning. Using a Presto Pressure Cooker and Canner (which incidentally has more than paid for itself), I regularly cut, mix, and can my fruit for use later on this winter.
Canning tomatoes is an extremely easy process, even without a pressure canner. Clean canning jars, lids, and seals are necessary. Pop them into the dishwasher prior to canning, and they will be sterilized and hot. The fruit has to be ripe, but not beyond. Add a little canning salt to your diced tomatoes. Unlike some recipes, I don’t cook my tomatoes, nor do I peel them. Fill the jars to ½ inch of the rim, wipe clean for a good seal, and subject the jars to a bubbly bath of hot water. The canner makes it easy; as soon as optimum pressure is achieved, slow the heat to a simmer and time for twenty minutes before turning off. It takes a long time for the water to cool down and enough pressure to be released before you can open the canner. Sometimes it can be as long as overnight, which is why I can right after dinner. Once it’s safe to release the seal, take out the jars, wipe clean, label, and store in a dark cabinet until use.
Since I grow other vegetables, I often incorporate them with my tomatoes. If there are green peppers to spare, they’re included. I recently made a jumbo batch of salsa using jalapenos from my container garden, and onions and garlic from the yard, and canned that. I have oregano taking over one section which coincides with our heavy diet of pasta, so some of my tomatoes are flavored with oregano and fresh bay leaf, also from deck containers. We enjoy wintertime chili, so some of the jars hold just tomatoes and jalapenos. All jars get a heavy inclusion of chopped garlic.
I may be swimming up to my neck in tomatoes right now, but I’m not complaining.