By EVA YAKUTIS
The gardeners at the College Area Community Garden, along with many area home gardeners, are reaping the benefits of that extra time they spent tending their veggies in spring/summer 2020 while hunkered down, sticking close to home.
August and September will bring a bounty of red, ripe tomatoes, and even happy neighbors who benefit from the overflow may get “tomatoed-out” before the surplus lets up. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that fantastic home-grown flavor available for our soups, stews, sauces, and pasta dishes as the seasons change and that summer treat is just a memory? Yes! Freezing is an easy, safe, and quick alternative to canning without having to purchase any special tools or supplies.
To freeze homegrown tomatoes, pick them at the height of ripeness and redness. Those cracked, ugly ones at the farmers’ markets are great for this as well and may be at a discounted price. You will need a medium saucepan, slotted spoon or tongs, paring knife, rimmed baking sheets (one or two, depending on how many tomatoes you have), a larger knife (chef’s knife), and a cutting board.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Turn off heat.
Submerge the tomatoes whole and uncut, in batches, for 30 seconds to one minute until their skins crack and the peel is easily removed. (If they don’t crack, pull one out and poke it with a knife. The skin should easily pull away from the knife.)
Pull tomatoes out of the water and slip their skin off before submerging your next batch of tomatoes. (If the tomatoes rest too long or are left in the hot water too long, some of their precious meat may stay with the skins when peeled.)
Repeat, reheating the pot of water if necessary.
Cut tomatoes in half horizontally and squeeze them over the sink to remove most of the seeds.
Chop the tomatoes and spread them out in a single layer on the baking sheets. A little accumulated juice is okay too.
Pop the baking sheet (uncovered is okay) into the freezer until they are very firm or frozen — about an hour or two.
Remove sheet from freezer and break up the tomato chunks, place in Ziplock bags (2 – 3 cup portions) and store back in the freezer for three to four months.
Now you have beautiful tomatoes ready for all your recipes. Thawed, raw tomatoes may be used in any cooked tomato recipe. Do not try to substitute them for fresh tomatoes, however, since freezing causes their texture to become mushy. If the tomatoes are too watery for your taste once thawed and simmering, just add a little tomato paste. Tomatoes should be seasoned just before serving rather than before freezing; freezing may either strengthen or weaken seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs. The possibilities are endless as are the recipes you can find online.
For more information on freezing tomatoes, check these links:
“Freezing Tomatoes” From National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Visit bit.ly/2C1wsPI.
The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers the following advice on freezing tomatoes in its publication “Topmatoes: Safe Methods to Store, Preservfe and Enjoy.” Visit bit.ly/30pGLq8.
Visit the College Area Garden website at collegeareagarden.org.
— Eva Yakutis lives in El Cerrito and is a gardener at the College Area Community Garden. She is an avid baker and holds a food handler’s license issued by the County of San Diego.