Vine ripened tomatoes are one of my favorite fruits to preserve. There is nothing that brings you back to summer than using preserved tomatoes during the winter. The sweetness backed by the acidity can be preserved easily in order to complement all of your winter stews and chili.
You can even use them to make fresh salsa and gazpacho that tastes just as fresh as summer.
A Tomato A Day
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin a, c, b6, potassium, niacin, and folate. They are also known to be packed with lycopene. This carotenoid has been found to help prevent heart disease and a growing list of cancers including colorectal, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung and pancreatic cancers.
There are other benefits which include lowering cholesterol and drinking or using tomato juice can actually reduce blood clotting tendencies and is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Knowing all of these rich health benefits, it's no wonder we go to such lengths to preserve them and use them during the winter.
One thing to remember is that organic tomatoes have been tested to have higher vitamin levels and a larger amount of lycopene especially when picked ripe off the vine.
I encourage you to try to grow your own tomatoes next year or buy them locally from your farmers market. Many "organic" tomatoes that you buy at the grocery store are still picked green and shipped across country or from neighboring countries.
Freezing Tomatoes: Freshness In The Cold Winter Months
Besides all of the wonderful benefits, tomatoes taste amazing. Tomatoes are the perfect fruit for preserving; their freshness is easily preserved and their delicious summery taste will carry over into all of your winter dishes.
Below are a couple of ways I preserve my tomatoes for the cold winter months.
Freezing tomatoes is hands down my favorite way to preserve tomatoes. Why? Because it's easy and I don't have to spend the time needed to can them in a hot water bath.
In order to freeze tomatoes all you need to do is rinse them off, put them in a plastic bag and into the freezer. Really... it's that easy! Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before frozen.
The reason I love this method so much is that when you are ready to use them, all you need to do is let them thaw out, and when they start to defrost, their skins slip right off. A large percentage of tomatoes' lycopene is in the skin. When freezing tomatoes you have the option to blend them whole with the skin to make your sauces or gazpacho.
Over the past couple of years, I've turned quite a few people onto freezing tomatoes. Once they see how easy it is, they're hooked.
I actually learned this method about 4 years ago from the one and only Rick Bayless. I was able to participate in a cooking class with Rick Bayless and it was there that he introduced us to this method. Rick Bayless allocates a HUGE freezer to his restaurants La Frontera Grill and Topolobampo which he specifically uses to preserve locally raised, vine ripened, tomatoes.
An advocate and supporter of small, local and sustainable farms (Frontera Farmer Foundation), Rick Bayless uses these preserved tomatoes for both of his world renowned restaurants during the cold frigid months in Chicago. My hero!
Canned Salsa Recipe
Yes, you can use frozen tomatoes to make salsa, however, I still enjoy to make a good batch of canned salsa to use specifically for Mexican rice. It gives it a complex flavor and is there at hand when I need it.
Canned tomato salsa is a recipe I was a little hesitant to share. Tomatoes fall right on the line of having enough acid to can but others say that it may not be enough to prevent food borne pathogens. In order to remedy this and for my own sanity, I add extra lemon juice to increase the acid level.
- 10 cups peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
- 6 cups seeded, chopped peppers (including jalapeno) (wear gloves)
- 4 cups chopped onions
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- 3-4 teaspoons salt
This process is set up to move in batches. One batch at a time! Boil your tomatoes (about 12 at a time), remove skins, chop. Boil your second batch, remove skins, chop. Boil your third batch and so on....
The process is important because we want to save the reserved juices and cook it down in one large pot while we are continually chopping and adding more juice to the large pot. This should give us a nice thickened base for the salsa.
- In a large boiling pot of water, add enough tomatoes to fill and boil for 45 seconds.
- Remove tomato skins by immediately plunging into a bowl filled with ice water or running cold water. The skins should slip right off.
- Chop up your first batch of tomatoes and place in a colander over a bowl to reserve the juices.
- Squeeze out as much juice as you can from the tomatoes in the colander. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and pour the juice into a large pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to about medium and simmer.
- Repeat steps 1-4 another 2 or 3 times adding more juice to the large pot.
- While the sauce is still simmering and thickening, chop the peppers, onions and cilantro and add to the large bowl of tomatoes.
- Add the lemon juice and salt.
- Once the tomato sauce on the stove has thickened, add the entire contents of the large bowl and mix through.
- Bring to boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Ladle into clean and sterilized pint size canning jars leaving 1/2" of headspace.
- Process in a hot water canner: 15 minutes at 0-1,000 feet altitude, 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet (this is my area), 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.
Fermenting your salsa (read here for an explanation of lacto-fermentation) is beneficial as it creates lactic acid bacteria which increases vitamin levels and aids in digestion. These organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances.
The process is super easy! You can either use the exact same recipe as above or my pico de gallo recipe.
Using one of those recipes, fill a quart sized jar with the vegetables and tomatoes. To the quart sized jar add 1 tablespoon salt and 4 tablespoons whey. Mix thoroughly and set at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator. That's it!
For more preserving techniques and recipes make sure to check out my canning and preserving pages.