In this year of Covid 19, there has been such a run on canning supplies that some of us have to go to great lengths to even purchase lids. I eventually heard of some in a small town convenience store about a half hour's drive away. When I called, the woman there may have detected the note of desperation in my voice, since she offered to put a few boxes under the counter for me.

Muttering from behind my mask, "I called earlier about the lids" and paying about twice as much as they were worth, I almost felt as if I were doing something illicit! I wanted them for jams and jellies, since our peaches, pears, apples, and quinces all seem to be ripening at once. Fortunately I’m too lazy to can tomatoes and had been freezing them right along instead.

Picking

That method will work best for those of you who have large chest or stand-alone freezers. The ones attached to refrigerators usually aren’t roomy enough to hold much of a harvest. Last year I purchased a couple pecks of tomatoes at a farmer’s market to freeze. After this sunnier summer, I have enough of my own that we can both eat and preserve plenty.

tomatoes ripening on tableSince I grow mostly indeterminate heirloom tomatoes, which don’t produce their whole harvest all at once, I tend to freeze just a few bags at a time as they ripen. To keep ahead of the wild critters who like to chow down on my crop, I usually pick those fruits when they are just beginning to acquire a little color, clean them with a damp paper towel under running water, and lay them—bottoms-up—on a kitchen table or counter until they are fully ripe.

Blanching

Tomatoes generally taste best once they are brightly colored and feel a little soft when pressed, but are not yet mushy. (Green tomatoes, such as ‘Cherokee Green,’ will remain a yellowish-green even when fully ripe, while so-called “white” tomatoes tend to be pale yellow when mature.) When I have enough ripe ones, I heat a few inches of water to boiling in a stock pot and use a large slotted spoon with a long handle to place several tomatoes in that water. I then allow them to simmer for about 1 minute.

tomatoes blanching in boiling water

Chopping

After this blanching, I use the same slotted spoon to lift them out and place them in a bowl of cold water such as that pictured in the banner image until they are cool enough to handle. ( Some people prefer ice water, but it isn’t really necessary. ) Once I slit each tomato’s skin, I can easily strip it off with my fingers. Many of the discolorations on tomatoes are only skin deep and will come off with that peel.

Because I mostly use my frozen tomatoes in soups and prefer those soups chunky, I then chop the fruits into large pieces to make what—in the supermarket trade—probably would be called diced tomatoes. First removing any rotten spots and the core, of course! You also can freeze tomatoes whole, if you prefer, but I suspect that would require much more room. Bags of chopped tomatoes can be crammed into whatever spaces you have in the freezer.

chopped tomato from one large fruit

Freezing

How many tomatoes you pack into each freezer bag should depend on your favorite recipes. Since many of mine call for 3 cups, I most often aim for that amount and use an indelible marker to note the amount on the bag. Any which contain more or less than 3 cups will come in handy for other recipes. I fold over the top of each freezer bag before zipping it, as that seems to force out most of the air.

When I am ready to use some of the tomatoes, I pop a bag into the microwave and defrost it just enough that I can slide the tomatoes out and place them in a saucepan. They will, of course, fully thaw as the soup simmers—and allow us gardeners to savor the flavor of homegrown tomatoes in the dead of winter.


Photos: The photos in the article are my own.