Although farm-fresh tomatoes are pretty scarce in the Northeast this summer, there are still some out there and they are as delicious as ever. While inexpensive, local, heirloom tomatoes are probably a pipe dream this year, now more than ever it is important to support your local farmers as they battle with the devastation of tomato, and possibly potato, crops ruined by late blight. With that in mind, I’ve bought a couple of 10-lb batches of tomatoes, in addition to what we are receiving in the CSA, and put them by for the winter.
Fire roasting is a lovely way to preserve tomatoes. The charring of the skins and the short roast of the flesh adds a subtle but delicious carmelized flavor to the tomatoes, enhancing their natural sweetness. The skins slip off easily and there is no fumbling with slippery tomatoes bouncing around in boiling water. Also I find this method to produce a much meatier, less watery/seedy canned tomato. Yield is lower than canning tomatoes whole, but the end product is that much more delicious. Once you have these put by you’ll find an endless variety of uses for them: soups & stews, a quick pasta sauce, pizza topping, bruschetta base or chicken cacciatore. Last year I thought I had put up enough to last me the year but I ended up running out in January! This year’s batch of canned roasted tomatoes will be all the more special because of their very scarcity; I shall have to come up with some fantastic recipes to do them justice.
- 10 lbs tomatoes, any variety other than cherry
- lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid
- Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Pre-heat the broiler of your oven. Alternatively, you could use a gas or charcoal grill. Core and halve tomatoes, trimming any bruised or cracked bits, and give each half a light squeeze to remove much of the liquid & seeds. Place the tomato pieces, skin side up, on a large rimmed sheet pan. Slide pan under the broiler and allow to roast until the skins are nicely blackened, about 15 – 20 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven (replacing with a fresh pan of cut tomatoes) and cover tomatoes with a clean kitchen towel. Allow tomatoes to cool, and steam slightly under the towel, until they are cool enough to handle, but still quite warm (the warmer they are, the easier it is to slip the skins off). Pluck off the skins and transfer the tomato meat to a clean, heat-safe bowl. Continue in batches until all the tomatoes are roasted and peeled.
- Drain excess juice from the tomatoes in the bowl. Roughly chop up larger pieces of tomato, in the bowl, using tongs or two forks, such that the final texture is chopped or crushed. Transfer chopped tomatoes to a colander, suspended over a bowl, to drain off most of the excess liquid. Strain liquid to remove seeds and reserve for another recipe.
- To each clean, hot pint jar, add 1/4 tsp of citric acid OR 1 tbsp of lemon juice. For quart jars, use 1/2 tsp citric acid or 2 tbsp lemon juice. Using a jar funnel and tongs, add tomatoes to the jar allowing a generous 1/2-inch of headspace. Push the tomatoes down with the handle of a wooden spoon, ensuring that juice covers all the fruit and that there are no air bubbles. Wipe rims, affix lids, and process pint jars in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes (quart jars for 45 minutes).
Ten lbs of tomatoes yields approximately 4 to 5 pints.
- Cut and prepare tomatoes as quickly as you can, in batches, as once tomatoes are cut the exposure to air activates a natural enzyme that begins breaking down the pectin in the fruit and causes the liquids and solids in the tomatoes to separate. Heat inactivates this enzyme, so the sooner you get your cut tomatoes under the broiler, the better your end product will be (less separation of liquid & solid).
- Be diligent with the chopping step to ensure safety in water-bath canning: raw-packed whole or half tomatoes packed with no extra liquid require 85 minutes of processing time, vs. the 40 or 45 minutes required for chopped tomatoes above.
- Tomatoes can be safetly packed without added acid in a pressure canner. I don’t use a pressure canner but the National Center for Home Food Preservation has instructions.
Canned, in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.