Choosing Tomatoes for Freezing, Drying and Bottling

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Heirloom tomatoes for putting by

All gardeners hope for a bountiful crop of tomatoes, with plenty of sun-ripened fruits to enjoy fresh and to put by for eating later. All types of tomatoes can be preserved by freezing, drying or bottling, but some preservation methods work best with specific types. Variations in the amounts of flesh, juice and gel in different types of tomatoes affect how they are best preserved.

Best Freezing Tomatoes

You can freeze any type of tomato, and it’s the best way to preserve small cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes contain so much juice and so many seeds that they yield a thin, bitter sauce when juiced or bottled, but freezing preserves their fruity flavours. Do take the time to clean cherry tomatoes before freezing them, because you will use them straight from the bag for sauces, soups or pasta dishes, or for roasting in a hot oven. All types of cherry tomato freeze well, and it’s fun to have a mix of colours for creative cooking.

“Tomatoes
Tomatoes for stuffing should be cored before freezing

Tomato varieties with partially hollow interiors that allow room for stuffing make good freezing tomatoes, too, and you can make any slicing tomato into a stuffer by scooping out its core with a knife and grapefruit spoon or melon baller. With their cores removed, stuffing tomatoes can be frozen on a baking sheet, and then moved to freezer bags when they are frozen hard – the best way to keep them from sticking together. On cold winter day, simply thaw, fill and bake for a delectable taste of summer.

Best Tomatoes for Dehydrating

Dehydrating tomatoes has become my favourite preservation method because it’s so easy, and dried tomatoes are endlessly versatile in soups, pasta dishes, or paired with eggs. And, because tomatoes are dried raw, with their skins intact, dehydrating tomatoes may preserve delicate nutrients that are lost when tomatoes are cooked.

Juicy heritage tomatoes are good choices for drying because the flavour compounds become concentrated as the tomatoes dry. Dehydrating tomatoes also preserves the colour of yellow or orange tomatoes, creating new possibilities in the kitchen. Cooking with dried yellow tomatoes is especially fun, because you get the flavour and aroma of tomatoes without a speck of red colour.

“Dehydrating
Drying captured the novel colour of these pretty ‘Garden Peach’ tomatoes

Using a dehydrator to dry tomatoes is the easiest way, and it’s the only way to obtain crisp, long-storing slices. However, you can half-dry tomato halves or quarters overnight in a warm oven, and then freeze the puckered, collapsed tomatoes. The concentrated flavours of oven-dried tomatoes show beautifully on pizzas, and thawed half-dried tomatoes are tender enough for salads. This is also a good use for excess plum-shaped saladette tomatoes.

Best Tomatoes for Bottling

Because they have thick flesh with few seeds and little juice, dense paste-type tomatoes are the best tomatoes for bottling, whether you are making salsa, pasta sauce, or all-purpose tomato sauce. They are also the best choice for canned, diced tomatoes, which can be done up quickly without the mess of a sieve. Paste tomato varieties that produce large fruits are desirable because it takes little time to scald them and slip off their skins. One of my current favourites is disease-resistant ‘Plum Regal’, but I’ve never met a ‘Roma’ strain I didn’t like. Some excellent bottling tomatoes like ‘Heinz 1350’ are round rather than oblong, and there are even deep yellow processing tomatoes such as ‘Illini Gold’.

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Paste tomatoes are best for canning

You won’t need a huge amount of space to have it all. In my tomato-friendly climate, I grow no more than 12 tomato plants, and stock up almost enough frozen, dried and bottled tomatoes to last the year. In a typical season I’ll grow 5 paste tomatoes, with the rest of my tomatoes a mix of shapes and colours – including one or two varieties I’ve never grown before. With thousands of available choices, trying new tomato varieties is part of the fun of gardening.

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