If there is any consolation prize for the hot, muggy misery of summer, it is the abundance of tomatoes brought on by that humid heat. Tomato season is short and then it’s another year until they’re back. It seems to take forever to get that first tomato to ripen enough to eat. But once they start rolling in, they really roll in.
This year Les and Carol Edgell, of Ararat, Virginia, found a unique way to make sure they have plenty of tomatoes. Les Edgell has gone all out to make sure his tomato plants produce the maximum amount of fruit.
In the past, he found that when the plants reached the top of their cages, the plants would turn and flop over. Sometimes, they’d continue to grow downward, but more often they’d break. “I wonder how tall they’ll grow,” Edgell wondered, if they were given enough support.
So this year, Edgell decided his tomatoes would not outgrow their cages and so far they haven’t. Of course, his tallest plant was 13 feet and four inches tall as of August 12 but the cage is 16 feet tall at the moment and Edgell is prepared for more growth.
He has built custom cages from four-foot-high fence panels he buys at Tractor Supply. As the plants near the top of the cage, he adds another tier of fence/cage. So far he’s up to four tiers of fence and he figures before the end of September, he’ll need another.
The Edgells can now pick tomatoes from their deck which is height equivalent of the second floor. At least from one side of the plants. From the other side, they need an extension ladder. By the end of September, they may need a crane.
How cost-effective is it to build custom cages and grow indeterminate tomatoes as tall as they want to grow? “We won’t talk about that?” says Carol Edgell.
Perhaps you don’t have tomato plants that rival Jack’s beanstalk in height. Likely, you don’t. But even so, you may be harvesting tomatoes faster than you can eat them. Of course you are sharing with friends and family who don’t grow tomatoes but surely, there is a way to spread the goodness into the dark, cold months when fresh, home-grown tomatoes are merely a memory.
Canned tomatoes can be kind of sad. They’re soft and mushy and not at all like their fresh counterpart. If you like stewed tomatoes, they’re great but otherwise, not so much. But marinara sauce, pizza sauce and salsa are great ways to use up an abundance of tomatoes and extend them into the rest of the year. Use standard health and safety practices. NC Extension in Dobson can provide information on how to safely can foods.
Any of the candidates for canning can also be frozen if you prefer and have space in your freezer. Also, if you have too many tomatoes to eat but not enough for a canner-full, freeze what you’ve got before they go bad while you’re waiting for more to ripen.
Wash the tomatoes, pull off the stem, place them in a zip lock baggy and pop in the freezer. Squeeze as much air out of the bags as possible. Then when you get enough to can a batch, go ahead. Or simply keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to make pasta sauce or salsa.
Besides the convenience of being able to cook or can when you want instead of being at the mercy of imminent decomposition, freezing tomatoes before using them offers one other huge advantage. It’s not necessary to blanch them to peel them. Take as many tomatoes as you need out of the freezer, run them under warm water and the peel slides right off. Finish thawing them or if you don’t need to chop, toss them right into the pot and continue with your recipe. This easy-peel method even works with cherry and pear tomatoes.
Sun-dried tomatoes cost a fortune but they have a depth of flavor and a richness that other kinds of tomatoes just don’t have. A food dehydrator works just fine to dry tomatoes. If you have absolute tons of tomatoes on the edge of collapse, this is a fine way to work through them. You can also dry them in the oven at super-low temperatures if you don’t have a dehydrator, but who wants the oven on all day in this heat? Ask your favorite deer hunter to borrow his or her dehydrator. Tomato season is the off-season for jerky.
Fresh Tomato Salsa (Pico de Gallo)
A batch of fresh salsa is not going to put much of a dent in your stash of summer tomatoes but it sure is good.
3/4 pound tomatoes (about 2 medium), seeded and finely diced (1 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, finely chopped, including seeds, or more to taste
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. fine salt, or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with additional chile, lime juice, and salt. This salsa keeps in the refrigerator for up to one day. Before you serve it, stir it well and drain any excess liquid that has accumulated in the bowl.
Chunky tomato salsa
Canning salsa will use up a lot of surplus tomatoes and spread their goodness into the colder months.
8 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 16 medium) 2 cups seeded and chopped fresh Anaheim or poblano chile peppers (2 to 3)
1/3 to 1/2 cup seeded and chopped fresh jalapeño chile peppers (2 large)
2 cups chopped onions (2 large)
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 of a 6-oz. can (1/3 cup) tomato paste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups yellow, green or red cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup torn fresh cilantro
Seed, core, and coarsely chop tomatoes (you should have about 15 cups). Place tomatoes in a large colander. Let drain 30 minutes. Place drained tomatoes in a 7- to 8-quart non reactive heavy pot. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, about 1 1/2 hours or until desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Add chile peppers, onions, lime juice, vinegar, tomato paste, garlic, crushed cumin, salt, and black pepper. Return mixture to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in cherry tomatoes (if using) and the cilantro. Remove from heat. Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars; cool on racks.
Green Salsa: Use 15 cups chopped green tomatoes in place of the red tomatoes. Omit the initial 30 minute stand. Cook tomatoes only 15 to 20 minutes after mixture comes to boil, stirring frequently and cook, covered, after adding the chile peppers and onions, stirring frequently. Omit the tomato paste for this variation.
Pineapple Salsa: Reduce chopped tomatoes to 12 cups. Proceed as directed except reduce the first cooking time to about 1 1/4 hours. Stir in 3 cups chopped pineapple with the chile peppers.
Hot Chipotle Salsa: Omit jalapeño peppers. Stir in 1, 7-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped, with the Anaheim peppers.
Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Olive oil (optional. Just drizzle some on top if you like.)
Slice tomatoes into uniform thickness (so they dry at about the same rate). If you will be using the olive oil and salt, place tomatoes in a bowl, drizzle and sprinkle and toss lightly. Place on dehydrator trays (using non-stick sheets) or on a cookie sheet if using your oven. Once they are partially dry (i.e. not “goopy” anymore, remove the non-stick sheets and dry directly on the rack for quicker drying. Dry until no moisture remains, but tomatoes are still flexible. (Don’t worry – if they get stiff and dry, they still taste great!) Store in an airtight container, in the fridge or freezer for long term.
Roasted Tomato Jam
2 cups sugar
3 pounds ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced (1/4 inch)
Large pinch salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
2 dried red chiles
Pour 1/3 of the sugar over the base of a 12-inch braising pan or other baking dish. Layer half the tomatoes, overlapping the slices, in the pan. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar, and top with the lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, and chiles. Top with the remaining tomatoes, followed by the rest of the sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the pan, uncovered in the oven and let cook for 1 hour. The tomato juices should simmer actively. Check every 20 minutes, spooning the juices over the top tomatoes, and removing the chiles if they char. Continue roasting and checking every 20 minutes — the tomato juices should begin to gel at 2 hours, but it could happen a little sooner or later. Test the juices by spooning a little onto a plate, letting it cool, and running your finger though it. If it holds the line, the jam is ready. Remove the jam from the oven and let cool. Keep in jars in the fridge.
Tomato Galette with Black Pepper-Parmesan Crust
A galette is a sort of free-form tart and they often have a rustic quality. This one does. It looks a little like a pie but you eat it like a pizza. Think of it as a great big tomato biscuit that serves the whole family.
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. finely grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sea salt
8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
2 tbsp. sour cream, cold
5 tbsp. ice water, plus more as needed
For the filling:
3 cups fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
Ground black pepper
1 tbsp. torn basil leaves
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, Parmesan, black pepper, and sea salt. Grate in the butter, then mix it into flour with your fingertips. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and ice water. Drizzle over flour mixture, using a Silicone spatula to fold in the liquid. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, gather into a disc, and wrap tightly with plastic. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes (or an hour or more if it’s a hot, humid day). Preheat oven to 425° F. Set out a rimmed baking sheet. Core and cut tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices. Use your fingertips to scoop out all the seeds you can, then line a plate with paper towels, scatter the tomato slices over top, and sprinkle with sea salt. On a lightly floured sheet of parchment, roll dough into a rough 14-inch circle. Brush any excess dough or flour from the parchment, reserving leftover dough. Scatter 2 tablespoons Parmesan in a 12-inch circle in the center of the dough circle. Next, arrange a band of tomatoes around this 12-inch circle. Working inwards, alternate circles of plums and tomatoes, tucking each layer against the other so they stand up at a diagonal. Working quickly, fold up the sides of galette, pressing along each seam. If needed, use any excess dough to patch holes. Lightly brush edges with the egg and sprinkle with a generous pinch each sea salt and pepper. Carefully lift parchment, galette and all, onto a rimmed baking sheet. Trim parchment as needed. Bake at 425° F for 10 minutes. Pull galette out of oven, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan, rotate pan, and slide back into oven. Lower heat to 375° F and bake until galette is a rich golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes, scatter basil leaves over the top, and then serve warm.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.