When Life Gives You Tomatoes

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Last year was a very good tomato year. In fact, we still have unused salsa canned last season, not necessarily a bad thing since it is the number one item I use from what we grow. I went a little overboard hedging my bets and insuring another plentiful tomato year by making sure that I started plenty of seeds. I was still stinging from back-to-back bad years a few years ago.

I admit to feeling several questioning eyebrow raises from the wee voice in my head as I was starting so many seeds. But I forged ahead regardless with thoughts of sharing should I have trouble dealing with overflowing harvests. I put 58 plants in the ground in the Spring and several others around the garden volunteered.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed this year (because one can hardly ignore pound after pound of tomatoes moving from the garden into the kitchen) is that the tomatoes are coming earlier and earlier. Once upon a time here in Ohio, I had to wait until late August to enjoy my first sun-ripened breakfast snack of a fresh tomato. Then I would twiddle my thumbs ever so patiently until early September for a large enough haul to preserve.

Last year I canned most of my tomatoes in August with just a few carrying into September. This year I canned more than 80 pounds in July and about a third of my plants are ready to call it quits. I’m almost afraid to consider what the story could be next year.

My mind still hasn’t adjusted to the new harvest schedule because I had our son book his visit to help me process the tomatoes in early September. My tomatoes will be long gone by then. I’ve already told him to shift his expectations to helping with the apple harvest. We’ll be making applesauce and cyser instead.

The tomatoes that have come so far this season have been wonderful—I’ve canned a lot of them with basil and made a couple of large batches of salsa. I’ve also “sun-dried” a few in my dehydrator and plan to do more since I discovered a lovely use for them in my garlic scape sourdough bread. I have more Italian-style tomato canning ahead of me along with a few more of the spicier salsas, but having weekly harvests of 40 pounds allows me to relax when sharing with friends.

I tried a new-to-me approach to skinning some of my tomatoes this year. I really don’t enjoy processing the smaller varieties—though their flavor and meatiness keeps them in my mix of favorites. I’d read about using a broiler rather than the boiling bath/ice water plunge method. I have to say that I won’t likely repeat this broiling method. It tends to cook the tomatoes too much and makes them mushier. They may be easier to seed and the skins do slip off quite easily, but the loss of tomato meat isn’t worth it to me. If you look at the upper left part of the above photo, you’ll see the broiled red and yellow tomatoes next to their bath/ice water twins. Even though I eventually cook the tomatoes down further, it’s evident to me how much substance is lost—it seems wasteful.

My preferred method of skinning is to immerse the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds, then move them to ice water. I move batches of 10 at a time. I core, skin, and squeeze out the seeds. I put these into a bowl to await chopping. I put my ice water bowl in a cooler surrounded by ice packs to keep the ice intact longer. By working in smaller batches, I keep myself less bored and my body gets a chance to change positions more frequently.

Because I’m enjoying such a bumper crop year of my many varieties of tomatoes, I’ve also been having fun doing some color-coordinated batches. I figure it’s another way of playing with my food. It gives me a chance to create fun combinations while I’m processing in the now and will also offer opportunities to create when the time comes for plating them in the future. When life gives you tomatoes and lemons, can salsa!

Photos by Blythe Pelham

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online atHumings andBeing Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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