Summer is over, but luckily for us, most farmer’s markets and gardens are still coming through with some delicious bumper crops. Among the tasty offerings from Mother Nature are tomatoes, which we pine away for once their season is past. Out-of-season tomatoes are often watery and tasteless, not to mention the fact that they usually come from thousands of miles away. So pick up a few pounds of organic or low-spray tomatoes next time you are at the farmer’s market or raid the last of the tomatoes in your own garden, because it’ll be several months before most of us see these locally grown beauties again! Here are 6 ways for you to enjoy the last of this season's tomatoes… and savor them year-round!
Freezing tomatoes is a super simple way to turn what seems like a million leftover tomatoes into the promise of several great meals. I think little tomatoes, such as teardrop or grape, work best (and don’t take up much of that precious freezer space). Simply cut them in half and lay them cut side up on a cookie sheet. Freeze until hard and then transfer them to a bag or other container. When you need a yummy meal, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put tomatoes in a single layer in an oven-proof glass container or cookie sheet, sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt and bake until the tomatoes are well-cooked, about 45 minutes to an hour. Toss with rice, pasta, or other grains or as a topping for salad (or eat just as a snack).
Sundried tomatoes are full of flavor, super tasty, and usually very expensive when store-bought. Cut out the middleman and save yourself a ton of money. Buy several pounds of tomatoes and cut them: smaller tomatoes can be cut in half, larger ones in quarters or slices. If you have a dehydrator, place them cut side up on the vented dehydrator sheets and let dehydrate for about 10-14 hours, until the tomatoes are completely dry. You can also add herbs and spices and a little salt to the tomatoes before dehydrating to flavor them.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Place the tomatoes cut side up on a cookie sheet and bake until they have released their juices and shriveled up, around 2-5 hours depending on the size of the tomatoes. These tomatoes will keep for months and also make great culinary gifts! If you find after dehydrating or baking them that you didn’t get all the moisture out of the tomatoes, simply consume them sooner to avoid spoiling.
Tomato juice offers a great source of nutrients such as Vitamin C and lycopene, believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. It’s also tasty and easy to juice at home. After juicing, drink immediately or freeze in ice cube trays or in glass jars (making sure to leave some space for expansion at the top of the jar). When you need the tomato juice for recipes (we recommend trying a beet, tomato, apple juice mixture or using the juice in a soup or sauce), simply defrost and add as needed.
Canning tomatoes can be a little tricky because of the risk of botulism, a rare but serious illness caused by bacterial growth in improperly canned fruits and vegetables. Some of this risk stems from the difficulty of canning at a high enough temperature for the toxins to be destroyed. For this reason, pressure canning (not boiling water canning) is recommended. Recipes use citric acid or lemon juice to lower the ph of the tomato, therefore making it possible to safely can.
5. Making Sauce
Homemade tomato sauce tastes so much fresher than the store bought version-and the best part is, you can modify it to your tastes. A basic recipe: sauté some onions and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil, add a lot of diced tomatoes and simmer for about an hour until the sauce has reduced and the flavor is concentrated. Add salt and pepper and herbs as necessary. To make things a little more interesting, throw in some other veggies, tear up some basil leaves and toss them in, add some spice for an arrabbiata sauce.
Tomato sauce also freezes well so that you can enjoy a quick, healthy taste of summer even during the winter months by just defrosting your sauce. Tomato sauce is also another great thing to can, again being mindful of botulism.
6. Making Tomato Face Masks
Eating tomatoes is obviously the more traditional way to take advantage of the fruit’s plentiful vitamin profile, but they may make a great addition to your skincare routine as well. On skin, tomatoes are known for removing excess oil and helping with blemishes. Recipes for tomato masks can be as basic as mashing up a tomato and massaging your face with the pieces or can involve mixing in some oatmeal with the pulp and leaving the concoction on your skin for about 30 minutes. Experiment by adding tomato pulp to some of your favorite facial home remedies-it doesn’t get more natural than that! Not interested in being a tomato face? Kick up your feet with this tomato jalapeno foot scrub.
Lead image © flickr user anderbknudsen