Plenty of rain and hot weather add up to thriving tomato plants in many parts of the country. During these last few hot weeks, many gardeners discover that they are pulling in pounds and pounds of tomatoes, way too many to slice for sandwiches and dice for salads and salsa.
Many farmers swear by either freezing or canning their large tomato harvests, and even outside of farm living these are the two most popular methods. After all, both methods are safe, achievable at home, and ideal for a crop like tomatoes. Depending on your situation, you might want to freeze, can, both, or even neither! Here are some ways to decide which method is best for you.
Freezing tomatoes is a simple process, which in itself is an advantage. Many people treat the freezer prep like a ritual and swear by taking the stems off of tomatoes, washing them quickly, and tossing them in a freezer bag. This can be a helpful habit, especially if you have a long term harvest and not a lot of tomatoes all at once. The truth is that you can generally freeze tomatoes quickly and easily no matter what, but it certainly helps to have a chest freezer or a freezer that can be devoted specifically to bags and bags of tomatoes and other produce.
There are disadvantages to favoring the convenience of freezing however. Resulting tomatoes are typically mushy, and many tomatoes lose some of their round flavor when ice crystals form. One way around this is to blanch, peel, and dry your tomatoes before freezing but if your main goal is ease of use, freezing cannot be beat. Plus, if you plan to cook with the tomatoes, they'll become mushy anyway, so freezing won't impede you as much. The biggest equipment you'll need is plenty of freezer space as you don't want your small kitchen freezer overwhelmed with tomato bags and crowding out the other food.
Canning tomatoes requires some equipment: canning jars, a way to sterilize them, and a canner since you'll need the initial hot water or pressure to renders the tomatoes safe. If you do have these items however, canning tomatoes is one of the fastest and safest ways to jump into preservation. As long as you maintain the sterile elements throughout the canning process and add some lemon juice to ensure your tomatoes are acidic enough, you can safely create shelf-stable tomatoes to store in a larder and grab for recipes all winter.
The biggest disadvantage of canning is simply that it takes time, effort, and equipment; however, the results tend to be flavorful, due to sugars breaking down and flavors melding in the tomatoes. They are also ideal when your tomato harvest comes in within a few days or a couple of weeks, meaning that you can amass a lot of tomatoes at once and process them all in one sweaty effort of boiling. The final product makes you feel like you can take on the world, since you don't need continuous energy through a refrigerator to be able to have safe, homegrown tomatoes.
A Combination of Both
This happens pretty commonly. Most tomato ripening happens on a bell curve: a few tomatoes at the beginning and end, and a big spike in the middle. Freezing may be the ideal way to handle any surplus tomatoes in the beginning and end of the season. Just add a few at a time into the freezer so you don't waste all your freezer space too soon. When the real bounty hits, you can save up enough tomatoes to have a nice big canning day and return to freezing afterwards. This way, you have easy, quick tomatoes to add a few at a time to dishes, as well as full jars of tomatoes for sauces and other recipes. Perhaps most helpfully, this means all your tomato "eggs" aren't in one basket. For example, if you experience a power outage, you still have some canned tomatoes to tide you over if your frozen ones have to be eaten immediately or discarded.
Neither Freezing Nor Canning
In some cases, even a bumper tomato harvest can be fully incorporated into your diet while your tomatoes are fresh. If you have a good but not overwhelming amount of tomatoes coming in, consider gifting extra tomatoes, adding them to various meals, and making a yummy salsa that can be in the fridge to use as an appetizer at some point soon. This way, you take full advantage of the ripe flavors!
No matter how you choose to handle your excellent tomato season, your chosen method should work for your situation and provide you with the ideal mix of tomatoes right now and preserved tomatoes for the future. Either way, the results will have you extending your tomato harvest into the seasons when there aren't as many homegrown treats, so the memories of summer will return with every bite.