Country Living Series

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Processing tomatoes

Rather to our surprise, we've been having something of an Indian summer around here. If it's not raining -- and it's been raining a lot -- it's been fairly nice. Therefore the garden has managed to cling on longer than expected.


Last week, after several days of unremitting rain (note the full wheelbarrow below), we had a frost expected.


We had a light frost in mid-September that juuuuust passed us by but nailed the gardens of neighbors less than a mile away, so we've been taking our chances and letting the tomatoes continue to ripen. This time, however, I knew we wouldn't escape the frigid temps. Time to harvest tomatoes.



When harvesting tomatoes just before a killing frost, you don't just pick the ripe ones; you pick everything, and worry about ripening later.

We naïvely started with a single bucket.


Well that didn't last. Numerous buckets and tubs and wheelbarrows later, we finally had every tomato stripped. We also pulled the cayenne peppers and red bell peppers.


Sure enough, the next morning the tomatoes were dead; but the harvest was safe in the house.


After several days of tripping over all this bounty, I knew it was time to process the tomatoes before they went bad. So I set up my faithful Victorio food strainer and got to work.


Well, the more I cranked, the more the tomatoes seemed to multiply every time I blinked. I cranked and cranked and cranked and cranked and CRANKED and cranked. I cut and trimmed and sliced and cranked some more.



The two large bowls I optimistically hoped would hold all the purée quickly overflowed, so I scrubbed out a 4-gallon bucket and used that instead.


By the time I'd cranked my way through all the ripe tomatoes -- well after dark -- the bucket was nearly full. Honestly, what did I ever do without this Victorio strainer? It's worth its weight in gold.


Then it was time to bag everything up and freeze the purée.



Then I scrubbed, and I mean scrubbed, our beloved but scarred and stained kitchen table, to get all the goop off.


After all this industry, I had lots of tomatoes left over. Some are still underripe, some are juuust barely starting to flush red, and some are green and hard.


Don found a large shallow box, so we dumped most of the tomatoes into it...


...and scattered some bananas among them. Bananas release ethylene, a natural ripening agent. In the closed environment of the box, the tomatoes will ripen slowly over the next few weeks (we'll have to periodically plunk out the ripest ones as we go).


A layer of newspapers, and the rest of the tomatoes went onto a second layer with more bananas. By the way, not every green tomato will necessarily ripen; my understanding is a tomato has to have even the tiniest bit of color or it will just stay green. But we dumped everything into the box because, well, what the heck. We had room.


Then we closed up the box.


This box has such excellent proportions that we'll probably hang onto it for future tomato harvests.

Eventually I'll cook the purée down and turn it into sauce, but it's too early for two reasons: One, as the green tomatoes ripen, I'll be adding to the purée inventory in the freezer; and two, we're still not using the cookstove 24/7 for heat (maybe about 16/7), and since the purée will take several days to cook down into sauce, I'll wait until we have the stove going constantly and take advantage of the heat.

Glad that chore is done!

25 comments:

  1. Whew ! What a chore. Congratulations.

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  2. I've always wanted to try making saltwater pickled green tomatoes. In fact, I did try once, and failed miserably, but if we ever get a decent garden going, I'll be trying again. It seems an excellent use for those tomatoes that just won't ripen.

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  3. So will you can the puree later? Or do you just freeze it? Also, we have put them in a box with newspapers wrapped around each one before and had ripe tomatoes from our garden on Christmas! This year though, I want to make some pickled green tomatoes and some green salsa (usually requires tomatillos, but I read somewhere you can use green tomatoes.) Yum!

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    1. Yes, I'll cook the puree into sauce, then can it. That way I'll have plenty on hand for whatever dish needs tomato sauce.

      - Patrice

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    2. Green tomatoes make THE BEST salsa. Won't even consider making it from ripe tomatoes anymore! For some reason it just adds a wonderful flavor... And you can usually find friends cleaning up their gardens who want to get rid of their green tomatoes.

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  4. You can also hook up a power drill to the crank and use that (on slow) to turn the mill instead of by hand. For this many tomatoes, I'm sure that would save your arm some wear and tear! =) I have a Victorio and love making applesauce with it. I haven't had enough of a tomato harvest to use it for sauce yet, but here's to next year, right?

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  5. Good supply of tomatoes. Lots of work, but such good food. You will be thankful come the middle of winter.
    For some reason, tomato crop produced small tomatoes. Not the usual 3 & 4 inch size. Not sure if it was the weather, or may have been all the crappy politics going thru the air ways. Could not have been the gardener! Have great week.

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  6. I've made green tomato relish a few times (chow chow). A friend gave me a recipe and it is amazing. Tons of variations on the internet as well. Awesome on brots, chili, tacos, anything that needs a little zip.

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  7. Have you considered making chutney? That's the sort of thing that helps alleviate 'surpluses' of things like apples, zucchinis, and tomatoes.

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  8. We love making green tomato relish

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  9. That box of green tomatoes wouldn't last three days in The South. :)

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    1. No kidding. I was born in The South, but was raised out west. I love fried green tomatoes.

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    2. Yeah, I was about to recommend fried green tomatoes, too! Hard for 'maters to be on the vine long enough to actually turn red here.

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  10. Fried green tomatoes. Trust me

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  11. I love fried green tomatoes, they are good grilled too. For grilling, I brush with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon pepper, then grill till they soften up a bit. So yummy.

    My grandmother used to make pickles called "last of the garden" that had green tomatoes in it. They were so good.

    Oh, I used to be Linda in SoCal, but I moved, so it's now Linda in CO.

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  12. I have that same food strainer and used it just yesterday to prepare tomatoes for canning. I canned 20 quarts. And, as a good southern girl, I second trying fried green tomatoes. They are a true southern delicacy!
    Pam in Tennessee


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  13. We experimented with canning sliced green tomatoes in wide mouth jars (successfully) and ate fried green tomatoes through the winter into late spring. Coated the tomatoes with cornmeal and flour and fried to golden brown in an iron skillet YUM

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  14. Interesting trick with the bananas ripening fruits in storage. Does it work with others of just tomatoes?

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  15. Just recently tasted a recipe from my husband's grandma: green tomato pie. It is the same recipe as an apple pie, just substitute green tomatoes. It was amazing!

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  16. Forget the cranking! Use a Blendtec! Five gal bucket in less than 30 min, no problem.

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  17. My mom just got me one of those strainers and I love it already.

    On a side note, if you're just going to puree the tomatoes anyway.....I have successfully this year gotten away with freezing my ripe tomatoes till I was ready to process them. They do take up more space whole (or cut in half for the larger ones), but as those green ones ripen you can stash them in the freezer till you have enough to make it worth processing.

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  18. Patrice, try this trick to cut down on reducing. Put the purée in a bowl and put it in the fridge overnight. The water separates and you scoop out the tomato goodness and have a lot less cooking down to do. You can also save the water for soup water. I found this out by accident and will never go back ( I use a vitamin to purée the tomatoes)

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    1. That's exactly what i do with the 5gal bucket after using the Blendtec, and the liquid left in the bottom I jar as juice. Two birds one stone, easy peasy and it is higher in licopene because I leave skins on. Blendtec liquefies everything seeds and all, no time or energy wasted. Work smarter not harder.

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  19. green tomato dill pickles with a grape leaf in the jar bottom to ensure crispness.

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  20. '5 acres and a dream'

    has a call for homestead authors.

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