Homesteaders all know that bumper crops of any fruit or vegetable can cause issues.
Tomatoes are the perfect fruit (yes, a tomato is technically a fruit) to grow because they are nutritious and delicious, but when they begin to ripen, they often do so at a rate that’s too rapid to eat. Waste not, want not is every prepper’s motto, so it will behoove you to make sure no tomato goes to waste.
We have one word for you: preserve.
If a survival situation should occur, preserved tomatoes don’t require any refrigeration or cooking, making them an ideal go-to food. Come midwinter, when you seriously need some fresh foods, you’ll be glad you took the time to preserve when the bounty was at its peak.
If you love fresh tomatoes and use them in all sorts of fresh dishes, keep in mind that you will have less (but still plenty) to save for later. For many, it’s a balance of eating enough right away to appreciate the flavor of a freshly picked tomato, but saving enough to preserve. Some common ways to eat fresh tomatoes include eating them raw and sliced, perhaps with salt and pepper or sugar sprinkled on top. Other common uses include using them in salads, on sandwiches, in salsa and in fresh tomato sauces for pasta.
After you pick your fresh tomatoes, store them at room temperature out of direct sun. They should last like this for several days. Do not store in the refrigerator; it zaps their taste. But cooling does slow ripening, so if you have tomatoes that are getting overly ripe and you’re not ready to use them, store them in the fridge. If you plan to eventually preserve your tomatoes, use them when they are ripe, but not overripe.
Freezing tomatoes is an easy way to preserve. Since freezing changes the texture of the fruit, it’s best to use frozen tomatoes in cooked dishes. Some good options are making soups, sauces or sautéing.
You can freeze whole, sliced, chopped, pureed or juiced tomatoes. The most basic way to freeze tomatoes is to wash them, remove the stem and core, slice or cut (if desired) and throw them into freezer bags. You can also roast tomato halves in the oven or simmer or stew tomatoes before freezing. Both raw and cooked tomatoes freeze well, but save the seasoning until when you use the frozen tomatoes. Note: It’s best to eat frozen tomatoes within six months or so.
To safely can tomatoes, you will need to use sterile jars and a pressure cooker or hot water bath. This makes the process more time consuming than freezing, but for many, it’s worth it. You can do whole stewed, diced or crushed tomatoes or make sauces, salsas or soups.
Use a pressure cooker if you want to save time; they can be a bit costly, but are generally faster than doing a hot water bath, especially if you live at higher altitudes. The hot water bath involves adding the tomatoes to jars, then submerging the jars in boiling water and removing after a specific amount of time. This kills off bacteria and seals the jars to keep the food safe and fresh for future use.
Another great way to utilize tomatoes is to dry them. All you need is the tomatoes, some Ziploctype bags and an oven, a food dehydrator or even just an automobile and a hot, sunny day.
– First, cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and cut out the tough part around the stem, as well as any bruised or soft areas.
– If you’ve got a dehydrator, lay the tomatoes out on the tray, sprinkle with salt and set the thermostat for 140 degrees F. You’ll have dried tomatoes in three to eight hours.
– If you’re using an oven, preheat it to 150 degrees F, arrange tomatoes on cake racks, close the oven and wait for 10 to 20 hours.
– If all you’ve got is a car on a sunny day, spread the tomatoes out on a shallow tray and cover them loosely with cheesecloth. Put the tray on your dashboard and aim the car toward direct sunlight. This method could take up to two days, so be patient.
Let the tomatoes cool to room temp, then put them in the Ziploc-type bag (make sure you squeeze out all the air from the bag). Store in a cool, dry place (the freezer is best) and they will last for nine months to a year. Make sure you get as much moisture out of them as you possibly can, because they will mold if there is too much moisture. If you have access to a vacuum sealer, use it.
THE PERFECT FOOD
Whether you eat them all fresh or can them all to feed your family for the winter, tomatoes are a great option to have around the house. They are versatile and packed with tons of vitamins and other nutrients to keep you healthy, especially when fresh foods aren’t accessible or available. Have fun with your tomato harvest this year by finding new recipes and experimenting with solutions that work for your harvest, schedule and taste buds.
Lycopene, the nutrient most attributed to tomatoes, is actually a carotenoid (like carrots); it gives the fruit its bright red hue. Cooking tomatoes makes the lycopene more available to the body. Research suggests that lycopene is helpful in preventing certain cancers.
Other than lycopene, tomatoes also contain vitamin C, potassium and vitamin A (which comes from beta-carotene, another carotenoid). Vitamin A helps with eye health.
Perhaps most important, tomatoes contain antioxidants which help contain free radicals in the body and reduce inflammation. Some physicians are linking inflammation to a wide variety of serious health conditions, like heart disease and cancer, which makes antioxidants that much more helpful and important.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2014 print issue of American Survival Guide.