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Every spring I plant lots of tomato plants (think at least 70 plants), because I always worry some won't grow or it will be a bad year or the animals will get them, or any other number of disasters will destroy half of my plants. Then, when all of the plants grow big and strong and produce lots of tomatoes, I panic. I never remember how many tomatoes each plant really produces...
It starts slowly. There is a handful of beautiful tomatoes a day, and I make some fresh pico de gallo or a sandwich. I am happy with my small harvest. Then the five gallon buckets of tomatoes start pouring in. I spend hours a week picking, peeling, and preserving. I look for new recipes and different ways to use the surplus of tomatoes. You can only make so much salsa. I have tried a lot of different ways of preserving and using tomatoes, and some of my favorite are below.
The thing is, I can't eat a tomato from the grocery store anymore. They are bred to be tasteless, so why bother? I would rather put in a lot of work during the summer. I prefer canning and preserving my beautiful, fresh heirloom tomatoes to have all winter long than think about buying a fake tomato from the store. There are so many great ways that you can get the taste of summer from your own garden. You don't have to resort to eating a grocery store tomato that has no flavor, and really, no nutritional value.
Pico de Gallo
When you're at the beginning of summer, use your tomatoes fresh. Enjoy them! You have earned it. From the moment you start your seeds or buy your starts from the nursery, you have taken on a great responsibility. Growing tomatoes isn't easy. It takes a lot of work and dedication, so now is the time to reap the benefits of all of your hard work. Try something fresh like pico de gallo. With the acidity of lime juice and the heat of jalapenos to offset the juicy tomatoes, this can go on anything from tacos to meat to tortilla chips.
Caprese Salad and Bruschetta
It's amazing how the simplest ingredients are usually the tastiest. Caprese salad is one of those dishes that can be used as an appetizer or a light lunch. With just a few simple ingredients, including tomatoes, basil and olive oil, you can have a quick, light and summery treat. Caprese salad tastes fresh and delicious. Bruschetta is another easy to make appetizer or light meal that you can whip up in 20 minutes and enjoy on a hot summer's night.
When you start getting buckets of tomatoes and friends and family refuse to take any more of them, it's time to start preserving for winter. It's true, there's nothing quite like a fresh, homegrown tomato. If I can't get a homegrown tomato, a tomato that has been preserved from the garden is my next choice. For something simple, try basic canned tomatoes. They can be processed in a water bath canner or in a pressure canner. I personally prefer the pressure canner. It takes less time and can hold more, but if you don't have one, a water bath canner works just fine. You can use home canned tomatoes in any recipe where canned tomatoes are called for, such as soups and chili. You can also make salsa or sauce out of home canned tomatoes.
Canned Tomato Sauce and Salsa
You can also make a tomato sauce that can be canned for winter use. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a great resource to use for learning how to can safely. It has lots of great recipes for tomatoes, sauces and for other fruits and veggies as well. There is a good jalapeno salsa recipe in The Ball Blue Book, but if you don't have that, try this salsa recipe. I love to make as much salsa as I can during the summer so that I can have garden salsa all winter long. It is SO much tastier than store-bought salsa and so much more satisfying!
This tomato juice looks absolutely delicious with tons of other vegetables including peppers, celery, carrots, spinach and many others, so that it is super healthy and satisfying. This would probably be good for making a Bloody Mary. It would also be good for drinking on its own as a snack or as part of a meal.
Ketchup and Tomato Paste
Another fun thing to make with your tomatoes is homemade ketchup. It's a little time consuming to make your own ketchup, but the end product is well worth the effort. This tomato paste is another time consuming but worth the effort endeavor when you have so many tomatoes to use up. Instead of straining the tomatoes through a mesh strainer to remove seeds and skins as shown in the recipe, you can use this type of strainer.
Dehydrated Tomatoes and Tomato Powder
When you get tired of cooking and canning, there are some other options for preserving your tomatoes. You can try dehydrating them. Dehydrated tomatoes do not take up a lot of space and can be used in place of fresh tomatoes. They can even be eaten as a sweet snack. I like this dehydrator. And once you have dehydrated the tomatoes, you can also make tomato powder by blending the dehydrated tomatoes. Such a fun and interesting way to use those tomatoes!
Finally, you can freeze tomatoes. If you decide to freeze tomatoes, you won't be able to use them like you would a fresh tomato. They will still be fine for cooking. There are different methods for freezing tomatoes, but this one is freezing with the skins still on. This will save some work up front. You can use frozen tomatoes all winter long.
There are so many amazing and delicious ways to preserve and use tomatoes. Why not grow a garden full of these juicy gems? You can use tomatoes in so many of your favorite recipes to get such great health benefits! Let me know your favorite ways to preserve tomatoes!