Garden fresh tomatoes, bursting with flavor, are far superior to anything available in the supermarket. For this reason, many people now grow their own, and enjoy the terrific flavor, texture, and high nutritional value of ripe juicy tomatoes straight from their own gardens. Some harvests, however, provide a bumper crop of tomatoes. If you are picking bowls of ripe tomatoes daily, you will soon have more than you can possibly eat at one time, and giving them to neighbors and friends doesn’t work if everyone is experiencing the same abundance of harvest. There is no need to let any tomato go uneaten however, as it is very easy to put tomatoes up for fall and winter eating.
Freezing Vs. Canning
While canning is one well-known option for putting up tomatoes, canning is not always possible to do. You may lack the time, the know-how, or the proper equipment to can tomatoes. Luckily freezing tomatoes is an easy and quick method to put them up which requires no special equipment or materials other than plastic freezer bags and some room in your freezer for storage.
Tomatoes can be frozen raw, blanched, or stewed. You can freeze tomatoes whole, cut into chunks, or pureed. You can choose to freeze them with or without their skins and seeds.
Assemble Your Tomatoes
First, assemble your tomatoes. Pick tomatoes as soon as they are ripe. They should have a deep color, firm flesh, and feel heavy for their size. Choose tomatoes that are not bruised nor seriously split. Do not use tomatoes that are going bad or those with any mold, as spoilage can spread to an entire batch. Wash tomatoes, remove the stems, and cut away stem scars and any bruises or faults.
Raw and Whole
You can also freeze raw tomatoes that have been sliced or diced in the same way. Stack frozen slices in bags. Bag diced raw tomatoes before freezing. Don’t fill freezer bags completely, rather leave about one inch of head room at the top of the bag, which allows for expansion during freezing. Squeeze out any excess air before sealing. Then freeze the bags on a flat surface in your freezer. If you don’t freeze them flat, they will often freeze in awkward, lumpy shapes that cannot stack easily, and therefore take up more room than necessary in your freezer.
Get a Pan of Ice Water
If you prefer to use tomatoes with skins removed, it is easy to do this prior to freezing. Fill a stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Have ready a panful of ice water. Drop a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water and blanch them for thirty to sixty seconds. When the skins start to pucker and split, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge them into the ice water. The skins will then slip off easily. If you want to remove the seeds, simply cut tomatoes in half, and squeeze them slightly, Juice and most seeds will run out, leaving only the flesh. Cut blanched tomatoes as you like, halved or cubed, fill freezer bags, freeze flat, stack, and store.
Tomatoes can also be lightly stewed before freezing, which is generally agreed to produce the best flavor. Heat olive oil in a pot, and place tomatoes, either whole or chopped, into the oil. Cook on medium low heat for fifteen to thirty minutes, until slightly softened. Smaller sized chunks will cook more quickly than whole tomatoes, though any size does fine, as long as each batch is of uniform size. Once softened, cool tomatoes in the refrigerator before freezing.
If you stew tomatoes, don’t bother to add any seasonings before freezing. Many herbs and seasonings will lose potency during the freezing process. Wait until you use the tomatoes for cooking to add salt, pepper, garlic, onion, or basil.
Freezing tomatoes is quick and easy. In the space of a half of an hour, you can put aside a couple of quarts of frozen tomatoes to use through the fall and winter. Frozen tomatoes can keep safely for at least eight months, or until the start of the next growing season!
Loss in Texture
Frozen tomatoes retain excellent taste and most of their original nutritional value. The tomato’s texture, however, does change. Do not plan to use frozen tomatoes as you would fresh: they will not be suitable for sandwiches or salads. However tomatoes from your freezer can be used in all of your cooking. Use them for delicious pasta sauces, pizza toppings, soups, stews, casseroles, meatloaf, or chili. You can defrost them in the refrigerator, or simply add them, still frozen, to your hot pot.
Pick Them Before Winter
So go out and fearlessly pick all of those ripe tomatoes in your garden. Wash them, prepare them as you choose, bag them, freeze flat, and then stack them for storage. The little bit of work that you devote now will allow you to sail past the sad offerings of industrial tomatoes in the supermarket come winter. With minimal effort and no special equipment, you will can feed your family delicious and nutritious homegrown tomatoes all winter long.