This is one of the busiest times of the gardening season. Right now, it is raining/snowing outside and my garden season is essentially over. What the deer (or my little rascal, MaeBelle) didn’t eat of my tomatoes and other veggies, I have harvested and either eaten or frozen or dried or canned in some form. In a way, it’s a relief to be finished with my own garden right now so I can focus on other things for a while. Garlic-planting is still to come—but not until late October. The summer CSA is still going strong for another 4 weeks, then our fall share will begin immediately afterwards and take us through Thanksgiving—so I’ve still got over 2 full months of fresh produce coming my way. So between the CSA, what I’ve harvested out of my own garden, and what my neighbors have given me, I’ve been busily preserving all sorts of foods for the past few weeks so I can enjoy them this winter and early next spring.
Since my tomatoes were nearly a complete bust this year I bought a 10 lb box of cherry tomatoes to eat and preserve.
I ended up drying 2/3 or more of the tomatoes because I absolutely love dried tomatoes and I use them all winter long for my tomato fix. And drying tomatoes is so easy AND economical! I cannot purchase sun-dried tomatoes at the supermarket. First of all, I don’t really like the oil-packed ones, and secondly, they are insanely expensive. If you have a food dehydrator (and if you don’t have a food dehydrator, you should seriously consider getting one if you want to preserve food) you can make your own dried tomatoes for pennies compared to those expensive jars in the grocery store.
I simply cut my cherry tomatoes into halves or thirds, depending on how large the tomato was, placed them onto the dehydrator trays, stacked them up (I have 4 trays), placed the lid on top, plugged in the dehydrator, and walked away.
Some of them dried overnight, others I had to dry a little longer because they were still a little too juicy. I dry mine until they are leathery, with just a little bit of give to them when you bend them. Because there is still moisture in the tomato, they are not shelf stable—meaning you can’t store them at room temperature or you risk spoilage via mold and/or bacteria. So I toss mine into a plastic zippered baggie and store them in the freezer. When I want to add that little sweet spark of dried tomato to a dish, I just reach into the bag and pull out however many I want. Easy peasy! Sometimes I re-hydrate the tomatoes by putting them in a small glass bowl with a little bit of boiling water, sometimes I just chop them up and add them to whatever dish I’m preparing. It varies depending on the dish and, more often, my mood. If you preserve no other food in your house, and you like dried tomatoes, you should seriously consider making your own.
For the remaining 1/3 of the tomatoes, some I used to make a balsamic vinegar caramelized onion & cherry tomato conserve a few weeks ago that was beyond words yummy on a slice of bread with some cream cheese. And I simply ate a ton of them—just popped them in my mouth most of the time, though I did get on a kick of making this awesome cherry tomato, cucumber, mozzarella cheese, basil, and balsamic vinaigrette salad for a week or two. Sweet, tart, tangy, cheesy, herby—oh, it was so good! That’s the stuff summer is made of. I will miss that salad in January, but I know I’ll be able to enjoy it again next summer with fresh, locally grown veggies & herbs…and that the wait will be well worth it (because I know damn well if I make it in January with a cucumber and tomatoes from the supermarket I will hate myself because it will have absolutely no flavor—so no giving in!).
Last weekend I made some plum & blueberry preserves. This weekend I’ve got several things on my plate. I need to make some pear preserves with the 10 pounds of pears my neighbor gave me, I need to smoke the backlog of cheese I have in the fridge (this week’s video!), and I need to make garlic scape pesto from those garlic scapes I harvested waaaaaay back in early summer and have been sitting in my fridge, patiently waiting for me to make time for pesto. It will happen this weekend. It has to happen this weekend because I’ve got the next 4 or 5 weekends booked up with work, festivals, travel plans, in-laws visiting, (rifle) hunting season beginning, and finishing the fence, among other things. I also need to render some more lard (more on that in another post) to clean out the freezer in preparation for hunting season—right now, we have no space to put any meat! But that will have to wait until late October as well.
No rest for the weary this time of year. But you know what? When I slather a spoonful of pear preserves onto a biscuit this winter or sprinkle some chopped dried tomatoes on my pizza I’m going to be so glad that I put the time in to preserve this bounty of food that I am incredibly fortunate to have.