When you have more freezer space than time, freezing tomatoes whole is a great way to preserve the harvest. Sometimes I just don't have time to process the tomatoes. I toss them in the freezer, sometimes on trays, sometimes in bags. With the skins on. No prep is needed!
The cost of this speedy, no-work preservation method is your freezer space. Whole tomatoes take up a lot of space. If space you have, even temporarily, then go for it. On our farm, we have chest freezers, so I can dedicate some space to tomatoes. Later, when I have time in the fall or winter, I condense them down into sauce.
And remember: Freezing whole tomatoes is for the harvests that just didn't make it into the stock pot. The ones you can't bare see go to waste. The ones that are sitting on the counter or in the processing shed and making your eye twitch because you are getting ready for a trip or a busy spell. You could let them rot, toss them to the chickens or toss them in the freezer. Easy decision and done.
It is not a solution for the bulk of tomatoes. I process about a hundred quarts of tomato puree and salsa, plus tomato sauce in the freezer. If I froze every tomato whole instead of concentrating them into jars during the growing season, I would have to fill a barn with freezers.
So here I am, making tomato sauce in January like it is a summer day. Those frozen tomatoes are turning into a treat for me. The kitchen smells like summertime as I simmer tomatoes all day on the stove top. Frozen tomato globes are piled up on the countertop. Red, pink, yellow and orange.
I run them under hot water, or set them in a bowl of hot water, and the skins slip right off. I do not defrost them first, or they will become a gloppy mess. I can scrape off blemishes with a knife, but this is limited with frozen tomatoes. I fill a big stock pot with frozen skinless tomatoes, a little water at the bottom to prevent scorching, and start heating them up. They defrost and then simmer in the pot, all day long.
Purists will simmer off the water to retain the most nutrients, but I have been known to pour off some of the water to make a thick sauce quickly. You can't squeeze the seeds out of frozen tomatoes, so this sauce has seeds in it. When the tomatoes are completely thawed and soft, they could be run through a food mill to separate out seeds and cores. But I just run a handheld immersion blender through the stock pot for a smooth, beautiful sauce. My big stock pot made five quarts of thick sauce.
Freezing whole tomatoes also works well on a small scale. A bag of small whole tomatoes in your frig-top freezer is a great resource. Take one out, peel it under hot water in two seconds, then toss into a sautee pan with your stir fry. It is a quick easy way to add a bit of tomato to a dish. The processed alternative is freezing tomato sauce in ice cube trays and keeping a ziploc bag of cubes in the freezer.
Perhaps this tomato-saving tip is not a solution for your whole harvest, but it will save your harvest in a pinch.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS here and the farm's Facebook Page. Learn more about House in the Woods Farm online.
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