Freezing Tomatoes to Put Them Up
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Freezing tomatoes is an excellent way to put them up. The method of frozen tomatoes I’ve come up with is ridiculously easy, and space efficient, too. Using the tomatoes is also super-easy, especially if you follow my advice on how to make your frozen tomatoes recipe-friendly with my original portioning tricks.
I began looking into ways to put up tomatoes. Canning is a fun project, but it’s not trivial. It’s hot, labor-intensive work that requires a good deal of resources and whose result requires a substantial amount of space. And space is one thing I don’t have a lot of. I couldn’t help thinking that if I were going to take all the time to can and use up precious space with a bunch of heavy jars, it would have to be for something I couldn’t easily buy a can of, like an unusual pickle or chutney. Plus, as I considered the long boiling time for canning tomatoes, I didn’t like the idea of stewing the freshness of my lovely garden tomatoes into oblivion. Not to mention all that natural gas my stove would burn up.
I used my dehydrator to dry some tomatoes, and that was useful, but limited. Dehydrated tomatoes make a sweet, chewy, natural treat. They’re good for cooking, too. But dried tomatoes are sort of a specialty item, and not a substitute for the canned tomatoes I usually cook with all through the year. I found that a single dehydrator’s batch of dried tomatoes goes a long way. Running that loud dehydrator for the better part of a day was part of it. Most importantly, I lamented the loss of all that delicious juiciness that is a huge part of the whole point of growing your own tomatoes.
What was left? Freezing. I looked into recipes for preserving tomatoes through freezing. Every one that I found called for blanching the tomatoes — boiling them briefly — and removing the skin. I dutifully did that for several batches, all the while mourning the juices lost through the colander holes, that were too dilute with the blanching water to save.
It occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t need to bother with the skin. And that maybe I didn’t need to bother with the blanching, either. I tried it out: doing nothing more than simply slicing and freezing the tomatoes.
I’m here to say that it works. And it’s better. It just tastes better in recipes. The fresh, summertime flavor stays vibrant in a way that you just don’t get when you cook the tomatoes first. And the skin turns out just not to be an issue. When you eventually cook the tomatoes in your dish, the skin softens so that you don’t even notice it. For all I know, that’s where a good deal of that marvelous summer flavor is stored.
Here’s my super-simple method for preserving tomatoes that keeps the maximum of juice and goodness for summertime cooking at your fingertips, all the year round.
Equipment that bears mentioning
Tomato huller (I use Stanton’s Tomato Shark)
Quart zip-top bags*
Indelible marker (for instance, a Sharpie)
Large bowls, such as mixing bowls or big serving bowls
Cafeteria-type plastic trays, or stiff, flat, lightweight, freezable sheets of a similar size, like, for example, corrugated cardboard.
*The bags sold as “freezer bags” are especially sturdy, but also pricier. Either will work, but you can get more uses out of the freezer bags. Anyway, if you look at the big picture, compared to canning jars, their cost is close to nothing.
In a nutshell
Cut up tomatoes and fill labeled quart bags with 14 ounces each. Lay bags flat until frozen.
Fill your kitchen sink with cool water and immerse your tomatoes. Pick out a tomato and clean it underwater with your fingers. Use the tomato huller to scoop out the blossom core of the tomato and any bad spots. You might need to use a paring knife for some bits. Slice the tomato into wedges. If it’s a plum tomato or small, you might only wish to halve or quarter it. Place the tomato pieces in a large bowl.
Repeat until you’ve cleaned and processed all the tomatoes.
Label some quart bags with today’s date and, if you like, the variety of tomato you’re putting in. If you don’t care to record the variety, you really don’t need to label the bags “tomato.” Unless you think there’s some chance you will be able to look at a bag of frozen tomatoes and not be able to discern it.
Place a small, steep bowl or other vessel on your scale. Place the canning funnel and a quart bag in the bowl. Tare out your scale to zero. Now you can easily measure 14 ounces of tomatoes.
Stand the bag in the bowl and fit the funnel deeply into it. Slip in tomato pieces until the scale registers about 14 ounces when your hands are off the scale.
Remove the funnel and partly seal the bag. Place the bag sideways on the counter and let out excess air. Seal the rest of the way.
Repeat with remaining tomatoes.
Lay bags flat on trays and place in freezer for several hours until solid and stiff.
Stack together in your freezer on a shelf in a large bag,or, better yet, if space permits, in a plastic container.
14 ounces might seem like an odd measurement, until you take a look at a standard can of tomatoes: 14 ounces. Storing your tomatoes in 14-ounce batches makes it easy to swap them in for any recipe that calls for tomatoes by the can.
If your recipe calls for canned diced tomatoes, just empty out your frozen block of tomatoes onto your cutting board and dice, still frozen.
If your recipe calls for canned crushed tomatoes, just empty the tomatoes into a blender or food processor and make it so.
If your recipe calls for canned whole tomatoes, just pretend it doesn’t.
If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can certainly guess at the weight. However, I highly recommend getting one. Kitchen scales are so inexpensive these days that there’s no reason to hold out. Mine is by Escali, and I use it several times a week. Considering that I paid only about $25 for it several years ago, I’d say I got the worth of my investment many times over by now.