Once your tomatoes are grown and you begin to harvest them, you’ll no doubt wonder how you can keep those tomatoes for the winter. Food preservation is a skill that has become rare in our grocery store society with 24/7 access to fresh fruits and vegetables no matter the time of year.
Yet preserving your home harvest is easy and can make for a fun family activity as well. Plus, you get to enjoy your fresh, homegrown tomatoes all year long!
Ways to Preserve Tomatoes
There are many ways to preserve tomatoes and each has advantages and disadvantages. Here are the most popular.
Canning is a popular method, but it’s not about tin cans – instead it’s about bottling. This is an excellent way to keep all kinds of food, not just tomatoes, preserved for years. The key to bottling tomatoes is to get them done when fresh and ripe (there are also pickling methods for green tomatoes) and to add lemon juice (about 2 tablespoons per quart of tomatoes) in order to keep the pH levels low enough to keep bacteria from growing. Canning requires only basic tools and boiling water. You can also pre-make several favorite tomato recipes like pasta sauces, cut or diced tomatoes, tomato soup, or just can the tomatoes whole.
Freezing might be the most popular method used today because of its simplicity and the fact that almost every household has access to a freezer. Frozen tomatoes lose their texture, however, so they will only be suitable for cooking when thawed. Whole tomatoes, stewed, juiced, or pre-made tomato dishes can all be frozen easily.
Drying tomatoes is another very popular method and is the cheapest and simplest to do. Just cut the tomatoes thinly and put out into the sun (or use a dehydrator) to dry thoroughly. They become crispy and similar to potato chips in consistency, but they can be easily rehydrated (just immerse in water) or used crumbled or as whole slices on sandwiches, in soups, on salads, and more! For the frugal who do not have a lot of equipment and would prefer a simple method, this is the way to go.
Pickling is another popular method, especially for unripened green tomatoes. Most of the caveats with canning are included here, but vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar) is used rather than lemon juice. Pickled tomatoes are preserved in texture, but will lose some flavor (or have it replaced with a more acidic, punchy flavor).
Pickled tomatoes are popular for use as fried, chopped salad additives, and in many recipes for chile and other dishes. Most pickled tomatoes are preserved whole, as the skin acts as a barrier to some of the vinegar’s qualities. The longer pickled tomatoes sit before use, the mushier and less tomato flavored they’ll be when used. Most picklers expect to use their tomatoes within a year, but they can technically last for several years.
Tomato preserves are similar to canned or pickled tomatoes, but are most often put up as tomato paste or jam. Yes, you read right: tomato jam. It’s actually very good. Several recipes are out there for this method and, like the other canning methods, it’s dependent on acid levels to stay clean.
Tomato Preserving Tips
No matter your chosen preservation method, be sure to label your containers so that you know when the tomatoes were put up for later use. This lets you rotate the older ones out and keep track of what was made and when. Labels that include the type of tomato (variety, state when preserved, etc.) are also a great idea.