Of all the fruits and vegetables cultivated in the garden, nothing symbolizes the growerâ€™s dedication quite like the inaugural plump red tomato. Tomato plants can present a number of challenges to gardeners and farmers, from growing flimsy and leggy early in the season to attracting pesky thieves once its still-maturing green fruit appears. But all the trouble is forgotten when a truly ripe, sun-warmed tomato releases willingly from a vine and into the growerâ€™s hand. For many admirers and collectors of the fruit, the first flavorful bite of a homegrown tomato is the epitome of the summer season. Nothing from a grocery store comes close.
Ubiquitous as flies during the late summer months, tomatoes are displayed like prizes in an array of colors, shapes and varieties on farmersâ€™ market tables. Growing tomatoes becomes a hobby for many farmers who collect the heirloom varieties. Tomato lovers should hurry to use up every last tomato before the vines inevitably wither. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with your basic salsa recipe, but here are a few additional ways to use upâ€”and preserve for winterâ€™s dull and dreary daysâ€”your tomato harvest.
1. Canned Crushed Tomatoes
Even minimalist cooks reach into the pantry on a regular basis for a can of diced or crushed tomatoes, no matter what the season. Crushed or whole tomatoes are essential for making a long list of some of the most basic American foods, from chilies and stews to chutneys and salsas to gumbo and marinara sauce. While itâ€™s not the most creative way to preserve your tomatoes, canning summer tomatoes will prove extremely resourceful in the months ahead.
After cutting out the core and seeds, blanch a large batchâ€”at least 3 pounds to make your efforts worthwhileâ€”of your tomatoes to remove the skins. Heat your tomatoes to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes (for hot packing), crushing with a spoon. Pack them tightly in a pint jar with some of the hot water and a tablespoon each of lemon juice and salt per jar, leaving 1/2 inch head room. Process in a water-bath canner for 35 minutes.
2. Tomato Aspic
Chilled jelly salads are passed-down southern traditions that add a refreshing chill to a summertime luncheon. Falling into this genre of country foods, tomato aspic can be a delightful and unexpected substitute for a salad, especially when made with fresh tomato juice. Search for a favorite recipe online, or better yet, find one in a passed-down cookbook.
3. Stewed Tomatoes and Okra
For the simplest of summertime side dishes, look no further than a collection of ripe tomatoes, peeled and cored. In a skillet or saucepan, cook an onion in oil on medium until itâ€™s translucent. Add in the tomatoes with fresh chopped okra, and simmer on low until the tomatoes break apart. After sprinkling with salt and pepper, serve alongside or on top of any steak, chicken or fish off the grill or spoon over a bed of brown rice.
4. Chili Sauce
Many Americans love the tomato for its role as the base ingredient for the widely consumed condiment ketchup. With all that sugar and vinegar to mask the flavor of the tomato, many Americans hardly notice the tomatoâ€™s presence in store-bought ketchups. Play up the role of the tomato with your own homemade chili sauce, a chunky, dynamic version of ketchup. Try this recipe from the Ball Jars website, FreshPreserving.com.
5. Tomato Cobbler
A pan of berries with a sugary crust is considered a dessert, but a pan of peeled tomatoes with a salty crust is dinner. A savory country-style tomato cobbler is a satisfying and quick weeknight dinner solution.
To make the cobbler topping, dice 1/2 cup of cold butter and crumble with your fingers into a bowl of 1Â½ cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Add in 1/4 cup buttermilk and continue to knead in the bowl. Add 1 quart of tomatoes, peeled and cored, to a buttered baking dish (8-inch square). Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil, a dash of salt and a teaspoon of cornstarch for thickening, and then stir to blend. Top with pieces of the rolled-out dough. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until crust is golden and tomatoes are bubbling.
6. Tomato Jam
Just like its sweeter relatives, the tomato can cook down into a delicious gelled consistency. A smoky tomato jam can be paired with cheese or lathered on baked chicken breast or pork dish for added flavor. Try this recipe from Marisa McClellan at FoodInJars.com.
7. Pickled Green Tomatoes
When a frost threatens to close out your tomato harvest, consider picking those green tomatoes for a spicy snack. Create your brine by boiling 4 cups white vinegar, 3 cups sugar, and pickling spices, such as mustard seeds and celery seeds. Pack 3 pounds sliced green tomatoes into pint jars with sweet peppers, jalapeÃ±o peppers and thinly sliced onions. Pour the brine over, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and process in a water-bath canner for 15 minutes.
8. Roasted Tomato Soup
Cook up a timeless comfort food from your childhood with tomatoes from your own garden. Core, seed and peel of a quart of tomatoes, drizzle them with oil, and roast in the oven for 15 minutes in a high-heat oven. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, sautÃ© two whole cloves of garlic, one small diced onion and desired spices (such as basil or bay leaves) until softened. Add roasted tomatoes and 1 to 2 cups of water, depending on your desired thickness, and simmer until all vegetables are tender. Blend in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth, then reheat and enjoy.
9. Tomato Soup Cupcakes
Tomatoes find their way into countless dishes, but cupcake batter doesnâ€™t immediately comes to mind. Following a trend of merging the sweet and the savory, many recipe developers have offered up confections using tomatoes. Try this intriguing recipe from The Kitchn, but use your leftover tomato soup from the previous recipe instead of the store-bought canned version.
10. Mac â€˜nâ€™ Tomatoes
The marriage of pasta and tomatoes is a beautiful one, but it doesnâ€™t have to be complicated. Replace your childrenâ€™s coveted macaroni and cheese with a bowl of macaroni and stewed tomatoes, maybe with a little Parmesan shaved on the top. This healthier lunch will also introduce your kids to tomatoes in their most basic, natural form and flavor.
Find more uses for your tomato harvest from HobbyFarms.com:
- Grilled Tomatoes ProvenÃ§al
- Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Marinated Mozzarella Pearls
- Quiche with Home-Dried Tomatoes and Herbs
- Roasted Maple Tomato Ketchup
- Tangy Tomato Curry Sauce
About the Author: Elizabeth Troutman Adams is a public-relations specialist and freelance writer based in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. In addition to gardening, cooking and homesteading, she loves riding horses, practicing yoga, and spending time with her French bulldog Linus and husband Shawn. She blogs at www.bluegrassgoodness.com.