Tomatoes are the prize of hobby gardeners and homesteaders alike. Here’s one way to preserve tomatoes in small batches, when you don’t have enough to justify pulling out the canner.
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One minute we’re in tomato heaven, the next minute we’re harvesting more tomatoes than we can eat (but not enough to justify canning). What if we could preserve them for a little taste of summer in January?
My solution: small batches of stewed tomatoes, stored in the freezer.
I like to keep “canned” tomatoes on hand for making easy meals in the slow cooker (here’s mine) or the stew pot.
Stewed tomatoes are more versatile than you might imagine. Recipe calls for canned tomato sauce? Puree the stewed tomatoes in the food processor (here’s mine) and no one will know the difference. Recipe calls for canned diced tomatoes? I dare you to use stewed tomatoes on top of those nachos!
How to Make Stewed Tomatoes
- Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for one minute, then cool in ice water for 2 minutes.*
- Remove skins and stem ends.*
- Chop tomatoes and add to stew pot.
- (Optional) Add any or all of the following per pound of tomatoes:
- 2 tablespoons of diced celery
- 1 tablespoon diced onions, green peppers, eggplant (peeled)
- Add 1/4 teaspoon salt per pound of tomatoes. Some people also add 1/4 teaspoon of sugar per pound of tomatoes, but I’m not a fan.
- Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Let it cool.
- Ladle 1 3/4 cup amounts into quart size freezer bags (pre-labeled with contents, amount, and date, of course!). (Have you tried this bag holder?) This is roughly the amount that comes in a 14.5 oz can. Suck out excess air with a straw (I like my stainless steel straws).
- Double bag for best storage quality and freeze flat.
*Tip: Removing Tomato Skins
Before freezing stewed and diced tomatoes, you’ll want to remove the skins (many people don’t; I prefer it). My old method was to plunge the tomatoes into boiling water one by one (usually splashing boiling water on myself in the process), fish them out one by one with a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a bowl of ice water.
But I found an easier way. I use my 12 quart stockpot with a pasta insert.
I lower all of the tomatoes into the water at once inside the pasta insert, and when the boiling minute is over, I raise the insert (letting the water drain), set it on a plate, fill the same stockpot with ice water, then place the pasta insert back into the (now ice) water. I then dump out the ice water and go on to make the stewed tomatoes in the same pot.
If I have more than one batch of tomatoes to blanch, I use a separate pot for the ice water (in order to keep the same boiling water for multiple batches), but the real prize is having all of the tomatoes together in the pasta insert, making it more efficient to move from step to step.
Freeze, Then Can Them for Shelf Stable Tomatoes
Freezing stewed tomatoes in small batches is a great way to preserve tomatoes that are trickling in. But eventually all of those trickles can add up to a lot. Did you know you can “can” some frozen-then-thawed produce? Tomatoes are a great example.
Just when I think the stewed tomatoes are threatening to take over the freezer, I will thaw them on the stove in a big pot, ladle them into pint jars along with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and pressure can them for 15 minutes. (I follow the standard pressure canning safety procedures that came with my pressure canner).
Now I have shelf stable, canned tomatoes, without the pressure (ha!) to have all of my tomatoes come in from the garden at one time.
Note #1: Pressure canning is necessary if your stewed tomatoes include any of the extras (celery, onions, peppers, eggplant). If you’re canning only tomatoes, then you can use the water bath canner.
Note #2: Eggplant has special canning instructions, so if you plan to pressure can your stewed tomatoes, better to leave out the eggplant altogether.
If you use a water bath canner, leave out those extras, and just use salt. Add the tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar, and process for 35 minutes.
How do you process small batches of tomatoes?