Preserving Tomatoes

t1

Those eleven small tomato plants I lovingly placed in the ground back in late May are giving me the biggest harvest I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve grown tomatoes forever.  The fruit just won’t stop.  So far I’ve put 18 quarts up.  The photo above is of the latest picking setting on my standard-sized cook range. Most of the fruit are Early Girl, they are bright orange-red with some yellow patches from sunburn.  The larger, pinkish-orange, irregularly shaped tomatoes are Brandywines.

t3Brandywine tomatoes can get huge.  Here is a shot of my largest one to date.  It is over 6″ across.  There are several more as big or bigger still ripening.  Brandywines are very sweet, delicious fresh eating and also good in cooking.  They do not keep well once ripe and are prone to splitting.  The giant tomato in my hand mostly filled a quart freezer bag all by itself.

Many people like to turn their tomato harvest into sauces, but I prefer to keep my options open by freezing the quartered fruit.  I place the tomatoes in boiling water for just a couple minutes to loosen the skins. Then I drop them in cold water, let them cool a bit, strip off the skin and remove the core.  I cut them in quarters to go in quart freezer bags.  These keep well in the freezer.  I’ve used frozen tomatoes three years old with no ill effects.  Frozen tomatoes can be made into soup, sauce, added to chili, or a way I like, heated, drained, seasoned with basil and oregano and served over thin spaghetti with some black olives and parmesan.

t2When the skies are gray and a snowstorm threatens, I warm up by putting a quart or two of frozen tomatoes in a stock pot and making a big batch of beef or lamb and barley soup.  Perfect for driving the cold from your bones.  Here’s a recipe for a small batch of my soup.

Lamb and Barley Soup

1 qt frozen tomato quarters                                     3 medium carrots

4-5 qts water                                                              3 stalks celery

2-3 lamb shoulder blade steaks                             1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach

1 cup dried pearl barley                                            1/2 tsp onion powder

basil, thyme, oregano, black pepper, marjoram to taste (I use about 1/4-1/2 tsp each)

celery salt to taste (1 tsp or a little more)

Place tomatoes, barley and lamb in an 8 qt saucepan, add water, salt and spices, cover and bring to a gentle boil.  Simmer, covered, for 15 mins. stirring occasionally.  Add carrots and celery that have been cut to 1/2″ pieces and spinach.  Add water as necessary to keep the level above the ingredients.  Simmer, stirring once in awhile, 10-15 mins or until carrots and celery are tender.  Remove lamb steaks from pot, cut the meat from the bone, cut the meat into bite-sized chunks and return to pot.  Stir and let meat warm for five minutes.  Soup is now ready to serve.  Add salt as necessary to individual servings, this helps reduce the total amount of sodium in the soup.  Other vegetables can be substituted or added, according to taste. String beans or corn make great additions.

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