Some people really enjoy canning. Not me. I do it out of necessity, in order to avoid the BPA and other chemicals in canned tomato packaging. Because I like to have preserved tomatoes available in the off seson I’ve gathered a few tricks that make preserving the tomato harvest quicker, easier, and cheaper:
- Oven roasting tomatoes for canning
- Dehydrating tomatoes
- Freezing tomatoes
Easy Roasting Method
Instead of all the coring, mashing, boiling, stirring, sieving, and boiling again involved in making tomato sauce the standard Ball Bluebook way, I’ve found a much quicker method that starts by roasting your tomatoes in the oven.
The roasting process is a hands-off way to evaporate the moisture in tomatoes. Roasting also enhances the flavor as some of the sugars caramelize. This no-fuss method sure beats standing at the hot stove stirring and waiting for the sauce to cook down. Roasted tomatoes are easier to can and (in my opinion) they just taste better. Double win!
Although other varieties can be used, Roma, or paste tomatoes, are meatier and will make a thicker sauce. To roast the tomatoes cut them in half (in quarters if they’re large) and place them face down in a roasting pan (non-aluminum). Roast them at 450° for about 30 minutes. The skin will be shriveled and the edges should be just starting to char.
When the tomatoes are roasted to your liking put them in a blender or Vitamix and whir until smooth. I use the whole tomato, skins and all, for my tomato sauce. If you want to remove the skins pick them out with a fork. If the roasting created juice in the pan save it for soup.
Proceed to acidify your tomatoes and process them as you normally would. This post is not meant to be a full canning tutorial, just an explanation of saving time by roasting instead of boiling down your tomatoes. If you are not familiar with canning you can learn a lot here, or here. Reading these tips for newbies would also be helpful.
Caution: Do not can tomatoes from dead or frost damaged vines. Their acidity is not reliable.
Dehydrated tomatoes are the new darling of home tomato preservation, and for good reason, as it’s less time consuming than canning. Dried tomatoes are versatile since they can be used in salads, dips, or for snacking, or they can be thrown into soups or dishes with more moisture where they become reconstituted. Dried tomatoes add a gourmet touch to foods. You’ll pay an exorbitant price for dried tomatoes in the store but making them at home is very economical.
Drying tomatoes in an electric dehydrator or oven are the most popular methods. Whatever method of drying you use start early in the day because the length of the drying time is unpredictable.
As with canning, meatier tomatoes work the best for drying. Any tomato can be dried, but the more moisture they contain the longer the drying process. To prepare tomatoes for drying core them if needed, then cut them into uniform sizes. Cut Roma (paste tomatoes) in half lengthwise, or into 1/4-inch slices if they are large. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Large tomatoes should be cut into 1/4 -inch slices. If you want to speed up the drying process you can scoop out the gel and seeds, but you may lose flavor.
Dehydrator- Place the tomatoes, cut side up on the dehydrator tray, leaving space between the tomatoes. If you have a dehydrator with a thermostat follow the manufacturer’s recommended temperature. If none is given set it at 140°. Tomatoes take anywhere from 3-15 hours to dry.
Oven Drying- Place the tomatoes, cut side up on a cooling rack or some type of slotted tray if you are drying them in the oven. A cookie sheet (covered with parchment paper if it’s aluminum) works but takes longer since the air can’t circulate as well. You will have to flip the tomatoes mid-way through the drying process if you use a cookie sheet. Leave space between the tomatoes so they do not touch.
Set your oven on the lowest setting. If you have a convection oven use the fan. If you don’t have a convection oven, switching the tomatoes to different oven racks occasionally will help them dry more evenly. They will take anywhere from 3-20 hours to dry depending on the size and moisture content of the tomatoes, as well as your oven temperature and air circulation. They should end up leathery, similar to a dried apricot, with no visible moisture.
Canning tomatoes is probably the most popular way to preserve tomatoes, but in my mind, freezing is the easiest.
- Wash and dry tomatoes.
- Freeze small tomatoes as they are. Quarter or halve large tomatoes.
- Freeze them on a cookie sheet, skin side down.
- Bag them up and label them with a date.