Preserving the Last of the Summer Tomatoes
I have been growing tomatoes since I was in my early 20s. The first were planted in a crack in a sidewalk next to a fence in my back “yard” in Somerville, Massachusetts. There are a lot of things I don’t remember, but — buying seeds, using a spoon to dig up the tiny bit of soil I could find in that one-inch space, planting, watering, (sort of) praying, then somehow succeeding in growing my own tomatoes (bearing in mind that I was very much a city boy, and aware of what a miracle this was in a naïve, dumb-as-dirt way) — that event was singular. Maybe even formative.
OK, fast forward to around 10 years later, when I’d become someone who actually knew how to garden a little, and would grow 40, 50, 60 pounds of tomatoes annually. I started by doing this idiotic routine that old cookbooks told you to do: Cut a little X in the bottom of the tomato skin, drop it in boiling water, count to 10, take it out, peel the skin. (Let me tell you: NEVER do that. Unnecessary.) I made elaborate sauces with my skinned tomatoes and canned them.
Then I graduated to making sauce without peeling, and freezing the sauce. And, for sure, there is something nice about having quarts of sauce in the freezer. (And the skins slip off as you cook the sauce, anyway.)
Eventually, I realized you could just core and quarter the tomatoes, and freeze them that way. And, finally, I discovered, just last year, that you can harvest tomatoes, put them in plastic bags whole, and throw them in the freezer. Period. Done.
When you take them out, six months later, the first thing you notice is that their beauty is preserved. That is not a joke.
When you defrost them, of course, they become a little sadder looking. But you get refreshing tomato water to drink, and you get tomatoes with skins that slip right off and are ready for sauce or any other role that involves cooking.
So, I implore you, before the season is over, snatch up some beautiful ripe tomatoes, pop them in bags, and stash them in the freezer. This couldn’t be easier, and I’d pack away as many as you can fit. Your winter self will thank you.
Mark Bittman has written about food and cooking for nearly 40 years, and has published 30 books, including the “How to Cook Everything” series and “VB6.” Newsletter at markbittman.com.