Preserving the Harvest with Easy Freezer TomatoesAugust 22, 2012
Confession: I’m a lazy food preserver. Sure, I can a few jars of spicy, pickled beans. And, I usually put up several jars of jam each year. But, when it comes to everything else perishable, I either dehydrate them or put them by in our deep freeze. And freezer tomatoes are one easy chore!
Freezing garden-fresh tomatoes isn’t new to me. I can remember the bags and bags of tomatoes my mom sunk into our deep freeze on the farm. And, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come ’round to doing the same in our household. Yes, I know, there are off-gassing issues with plastics in the freezer. And, yes, I know that plastic itself is evil. And, yes, I know I could can the tomatoes. But, for now, I’m a self-confessed, well-fed, freezer of locally grown, seasonally picked, organic tomatoes.
We grow a number of tomatoes in our smallish, mixed ornamedible Seattle garden — usually several cool season variety slicers, one or two paste varieties and a handful of cherries. Many of the cherries are devoured fresh. For the most part, those slicers go into salads and sandwiches. And the paste tomatoes go into making, well, paste of course — though many get sent through the dehydrator. If we have a heavy yield from the garden, those extras ? along with many pounds from local, organic growers at the farmer’s market — get processed into the freezer for later in winter.
Growing up, I’d help mom wash, core and inspect the tomatoes for blemishes before we?d fill up twist-tie plastic bags and cram them into the deep freeze. We rarely peeled them — let alone chop them — before they made their way into the giant freezer on the back porch. We didn’t have a lot of money, and if zipper plastic bags existed, we really couldn’t afford them. So, we made due with bags that may not have really been ideal for freezing. Still, we made it work. True, the method of bagging up whole tomatoes into big bags with lots of air space really wasn’t very efficient — either for storage or long-term preservation. And, when I was a kid, I hated eating winter soup with lots of curled up, make-me-gag tomato skins. So, as an adult, I took a different approach to freezing my tomatoes.
A few years ago when we bought our deep freeze, I took a note from Mom’s lessons in our country kitchen and did try cutting up tomatoes with the skin on, filling zipper bags, laying them flat in the freezer and storing them that way. It really does work fairly well. But, the tomatoes all freeze together in one big juicy lump, so you gotta use the whole batch when you pull a bag from the freezer.
Then, I decided to try my hand at getting rid of the peels. I’d set my heart on putting up large batches of marinara — sans peel. So, I’d fill the stove with several large pots of boiling water. I’d cut an ‘x’ at the bottom of each cleaned fruit. I’d process them briefly in the water until the peel began to pull away. Then, I’d dunk them into bowls of icy water to stop the cooking. I’dpeel, chop and again, fill up those zipper bags to freeze flat. And, with some, I’d make batches of marinara and pizza sauce to freeze separately in bags. It is a messy, time-consuming process.
Then, not long ago, my friend Theresa Loe of Growing a Greener World & Living Homegrown® made a comment on a tomato preserving post. Essentially, she said, “Leave on the peels; they’ll melt with you cook with them later. Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Lay them flat on a baking sheet & freeze them on the sheet. Then, bag them up.” Her promise: if you only need a couple of wedges, you can pull them from the bag and reseal it.
And, yes, she’s right. Now that I’m older, I find the skins fall right off a defrosted and then cooked tomato. Perhaps the newer varieties have thinner skins than those we grew and froze whole so many years ago on the farm. Regardless, I gave her method a try, and it was so much easier than all of my past endeavors. Once the wedges were frozen solid, I was able to load them into vacuum seal bags without having them crush or mush together. By making up small, medium and large bags of frozen wedges, I set myself up for selective winter shopping from the freezer — a big bag for a large pot of marinara, a small one to supplement a winter vegetable soup or a medium size one for a hearty lamb stew.
Other great ways to freeze tomatoes:
Freeze daily cherry tomato harvests this way. It’s even easier than the baking sheet freezer method we just outlined for bigger tomatoes.
And just one more idea that works: After making paste, line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment. Deposit 1 Tablespoon size globs on the sheet. Freeze the globs on the sheet. Then, vacuum seal globs into packages appropriate to your recipes. (You can do this with leftover canned paste too instead of tossing out the remaining can after making a recipe that calls for all of a tablespoon of paste!)
Thanks Tloe! You?ve made my life easier. Except that now I’ve got to get rolling on our 2012 tomato freezing foray!