A friend got a great deal on some tomatoes from a local farmer about three bushels full for $5 and was wondering what they could to to keep them without going through the hassle of canning them.
Canning is a great process that lets you store foods in your pantry without refrigeration. Normally for home canners you need to increase the acid level of the food by adding vinegar then cook the food to remove bacteria before you place it in quart jars and seal the lids. It is a long process but it means you can save a lot of food from your garden for an extended period of time.
Without the benefit of canning you can still freeze foods for a long period of time if you prepare them well and then lower your expectations a bit on how they will be when you remove them from storage. One thing you don’t want is freezer burnt food and that can happen to both meat and vegetables.
To prepare the tomatoes you should separate a portion of the greenest or unripe tomatoes for storage in your refrigerator. A cold refrigerator will inhibit the ripening of tomatoes for a short period of time. The tomatoes you keep for fresh use must be cared for a bit more than just throwing them in the vegetable drawer. You should wash them well to remove bacteria. Do not expect to keep any that have blemishes or bruises either eat them right away or cook them for freezing. Make sure the tomatoes are stored dry and you will want to inspect them every few days for one going bad. A bad tomato will take out the whole batch really fast.
Now you can concentrate on cooking the remaining tomatoes. First you want to remove the skin by boiling the tomatoes for about 2 minutes in very hot water. Then let them cool in a large bowl and remove the skins with a fruit knife.
At this point you need to decide do you want stewed tomatoes or sauce. For sauce you can use a immersion blender to process the tomatoes after chopping them roughly or squeezing them in your hands. For stewed tomatoes you want to chop the tomatoes up in a half inch dice.
Now you should cook the tomatoes for two reasons. One is to process them into sauce or stewed tomatoes for quick use the other reason is to make sure the bacteria is gone so they won’t go bad. Freezing will reduce the growth of bacteria very well but it does not kill it unless you are freezing in a sub zero freezer.
How long you should cook tomatoes to remove bacteria I will leave to the professional cooks. I normally make sure they reach boiling for a minimum of 10 minutes but normally for sauce it might simmer/slow boil for well over an hour or more so I suggest you find a recipe and follow it.
Cook the tomatoes and then you can store them in plastic containers that are clean. You can also use plastic drinking cups that you might have from a party. They are about the least expensive way to go and you can seal the top with plastic wrap and a rubber band.
You also have the choice to cook some of these tomatoes in dishes you can quickly serve. I think this is a great idea but it does take quite a long time up front. If you like to make lasagna or stew or soups they will all freeze well for a few months.
If I can I like to save plastic containers for this situation. Quart sized ricotta cheese containers are great for storing frozen soup or stew. Plastic trays from meals can be saved and reused at least once. Butter containers and basically anything with a lid on it thats plastic is good to save for freezing leftovers.
I think the idea of freezing the tomatoes alone instead of making meals is probably a better idea. First you will have them to make what you want later and second you won’t have the added expense of other ingredients such as meat and other vegetables right up front.
You can always pull a container out and make what you want right then even if its just plain stewed tomatoes as a side dish.