How to Dry and Freeze Tomatoes

Learn how to dry and freeze tomatoes and preserve fresh garden tomato flavor using these two simple methods.

| August/September 2008

How to dry and freeze tomatoes. When the summer harvest is abundant, try these simple preservation techniques. You'll be glad you did when a tomato craving hits in December!

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How to Dry and Freeze Tomatoes

“Putting up tomatoes” has been part of my life since the ’50s, when I helped my mother and grandmother prep them for the freezer. Not too many folks had a freezer in those days, but my dad worked for General Electric, so our house had all the latest appliances. Like most food preservation events I’ve been part of, it was a group effort. Dad and the kids harvested tomatoes from his garden, then one of us washed them in the sink. Then my mom and grandmother took over. They skinned, seeded and chopped tomatoes for stewing, or cooked them down into sauces. By the end of the day the kitchen table was stacked with square containers, which we carried to the chest freezer in the basement. In the winter, those containers of summer goodness were transformed into lovely tomato soups, rich spaghetti sauces, thick meatloaf sauces and — my favorite — stewed tomatoes served with a big pat of butter in the middle.

In the ’60s, I married into a big-time canning family. I still remember those sweltering Pennsylvania days with baskets of tomatoes lined up on the kitchen table and a room full of busy, knowing women preparing tomatoes in large steaming kettles. By the end of the day, dozens of pints of stewed tomatoes and quarts of juice were ready for the pantry.

In the ’70s, my husband and I moved to California. I wanted a vegetable garden but our new back yard was shady — no place for tomatoes — and edible landscaping hadn’t yet occurred to me, so taking out the front lawn wasn’t an option. Soon an opportunity arrived to garden with my neighbor. With four children between us, we decided we could help our collective food budgets if we put a large garden in her back yard and bought a chest freezer to preserve our shared harvest. For four years, we enjoyed lots of beans, zucchini and corn, and hundreds of pounds of tomatoes. We usually turned the tomatoes into plain sauce, but at home I’d make a few batches of stewed tomatoes and tomato juice for old time’s sake.

California and the cooking of the times started to creep into our kitchen. My family now liked salsa and enchiladas. Dried tomatoes became a hit on pizzas, salads and bruschetta. A neighbor donated a dehydrator to our cause, and we dried even more tomatoes, as well as chilies from our garden and apples from her tree.

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