The Thrifty Kitchen: What To Do With 30 Pounds of Tomatoes

What can a person do with 30 pounds of tomatoes? I found out today. I’m fortunate to have a grandfather who still raises a huge garden. I visited home last week, and on my way out of town, my grandpa told me to go pick the last of the tomatoes. I did; between that and the ones he had already picked for me, I had inherited 30 pounds of tomatoes.

Ripe tomatoes don’t last long. There is a small window of opportunity to eat them fresh or preserve them. When I got to my house, I set aside a large bowl of cherry and pear tomatoes for us to snack on. The rest of them, along with a ton of large orange ones, I vowed to make into tomato sauce.

Tomatoes can be chopped and frozen, stewed and canned, made into canned sauce or salsa, and probably a few more things I haven’t even thought of yet. Since I have enough frozen tomatoes and stewed/canned ones, I opted to make this new batch into tomato sauce.

There is a recipe I have wanted to try for a long time in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (HarperCollins, 2007). It just so happens the recipe calls for 30 pounds of tomatoes! It had to be a sign. I have never canned anything before in my life, so my excitement began to mount as I reviewed the canning rules and looked up my sauce recipe.

If you happen to have 30 pounds of tomatoes on hand, here is what you’ll need to do. First of all, you need a day; you need an entire day set aside for this task. If you are still up for the challenge, you will need to begin your day by pureeing your tomatoes. They will need peeled first.

The best way to go about peeling tomatoes is as follows:

  • Boil a very large pot of water
  • Prepare a large bowl of ice water
  • Cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato and then immerse them in the boiling water for 30 seconds
  • Place them directly into the ice water afterwards, and leave them for 5 minutes.

Your tomatoes will peel like a dream after this—you won’t even need a knife. Next, blend them until smooth.

After you puree all those tomatoes, you can make the sauce according to whatever good recipe you find; it will need to be a recipe that has canning in mind, though. In order for tomato sauce to be canned properly, it needs to have a certain pH balance. Your sauce will likely need to cook for a couple of hours.

When your sauce is nearly done, fill a very large pot with enough water to cover your jars (you’ll need at least a 3 gallon pot). Your pot will need a lid. If you buy Mason jars, there will be canning instructions on them. Follow these precisely. Once your sauce has been placed in your sterilized jars and your lids are on, you’re ready to lower them into the large pot of boiling water. They will need to simmer for 35 minutes or so, and then cool for 5 more before you remove them.

After you have removed your jars, carefully check each one to ensure that the lid has sealed—it should not move up and down at all. Finally, take a look at your lovely rows of canned tomato sauce and tell yourself, “Next winter, all of this work will have been worth it!”

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