For those who want to extend the taste of summer tomatoes into winters savory stews, soups and chili recipes, learning how to freeze tomatoes for maximum freshness locks in the taste of lazy summer days and the gardens bounty. If your garden has been especially generous this summer and you have too many fresh tomatoes to eat all at once or you simply wish to savor the taste of summer, freezing fresh tomatoes offers a simple way to enjoy your garden harvest year-round.

Freezing Whole Tomatoes

Freezing tomatoes is easy and requires no special equipment. Its best to assemble the equipment ahead of time so that you have everything you need on hand and ready for the task. Make sure you have enough room in your freezer to store the tomatoes. A waterproof marker helps you identify the bags or containers for the freezer with the name and date frozen. During the winter, as you use up your frozen tomatoes, use the oldest ones first to rotate the stock of frozen tomatoes.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides instructions for freezing tomatoes whole, with the skin intact, or peeled. If frozen with their skins on, tomatoes still need to be peeled before using them in recipes.

Freezing Tomatoes with the Skin On

To freeze tomatoes with their skins on, you will need:

* Whole, ripe tomatoes

* Running water from the faucet and paper towels to clean them

* Sharp knife

* Cookie sheets

* Freezer containers or heavy-duty freezer bags

Select your best tomatoes for freezing. They should be ripe but not too soft, and blemish-free. Clean the exterior of each tomato by running it under cool water, then rubbing with a paper towel. Do not immerse tomatoes in water; bacteria can enter through the stem end where the tomato was picked and spoil it during storage. Instead, rinse tomatoes under running water or rub with disposable paper towels to clean any lingering dirt from the surface.

After cleaning tomatoes, use a sharp knife to remove the stem area. Place tomatoes on a cookie sheet and pop into the freezer for an hour or two to freeze. Move the frozen tomatoes into freezer bags or containers, packing them together as tightly as you can to keep air from forming ice crystals in the freezer container during storage. Label and store in the freezer until youre ready to use them in recipes. To remove the skin before adding them to recipes, remove a frozen tomato and run it under hot water from the faucet. The skin should come off easily, like a banana peel, under hot water.

Freezing Peeled Tomatoes

Some varieties of tomatoes have thick skins, such as Roma and crack-resistant types. These varieties are easier to use if theyre peeled before freezing. Blanching, a method of food preparation using boiling water followed by an ice bath, helps the tomato skins slip off easily prior to freezing.

To blanch tomatoes:

* Choose firm, unblemished fruits.

* Rinse under cool water and cut off the stem area with a sharp, clean knife.

* Make a small X-shaped incision near the area where you removed the stem.

* Heat a pot of water to boiling. The pot should be deep enough to cover four or five tomatoes at one time.

* As the water heats, prepare an ice bath in another pot of similar size. Fill the second pot with water and ice.

* When the water boils, place four or five tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Use a strainer or ladle to remove the tomatoes and immediately place them in the ice water for one to two minutes or until they are cool enough to handle.

* Remove tomatoes from the ice water and place them on a clean cutting board.

* The skin should slip off easily. Discard the skin, and place the peeled tomatoes in a freezer bag or container, packing them tightly. Make sure they are completely cool before freezing.

Repeat the procedure until all of your tomatoes are prepared and packed. Label the container and freeze.

Thawing and Using Frozen Tomatoes

Tomatoes frozen with their skin on should be quickly thawed under hot running water. Use your fingers to slip the skins off before adding frozen tomatoes to your recipes.

Tomatoes that were frozen without their skins can be thawed at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. As they thaw, they'll release a lot of liquid. You may wish to thaw them in a colander over a bowl to catch any of the excess liquid. Pressing or straining the frozen tomatoes before adding them to recipes removes excess moisture that can make dishes too runny. You may wish to experiment with your recipes when using frozen tomatoes by cutting back on other liquids if they come out a little watery.