Eating garden tomatoes in the winter…

​I don’t know about you but with the gorgeous fall we’ve been having, I still have my tomato and pepper plants in the ground, not to mention all of the cool season crops that continue to produce. A few light frosts have nipped my basil but other than that, this has certainly been the longest growing season that I’ve known since moving here. I feel grateful that our garden continues to produce (although there are certainly days when I want it all to be over!).

I hope you’re having the same problem we are in terms of being inundated with tomatoes this season. In that vein, I wanted to share some of the recipes and preservation techniques that I use to extend garden tomato eating well into the winter. 

As long as we have garden tomatoes, there is nothing better than fresh salsa. Here is the simple recipe I use: ​

Garden Salsa
3 medium tomatoes (diced, I keep the seeds in the mixture)
1/3 cup onion (we prefer red but white or yellow will be equally delicious)
¼ cup cilantro
1 small jalapeño (finely chopped)
½ cup sweet peppers (this year we have all sorts of lunch box and mini red bell peppers that we use)
¼ tsp cumin
Lime juice and salt to taste

Often, I will just throw all of these ingredients into the food processor, adding the onions and peppers first. I add the tomatoes last and only pulse it a few times so it doesn’t get too soupy.

In addition to eating them fresh, my preferred methods for preserving tomatoes are oven-roasting them before freezing, freezing them whole, or dehydrating them.
I find that freezing is the easiest and quickest way to preserve my tomato harvest while still maintaining its flavor, especially at a time of year when a lot of other vegetables are needing to be preserved. Because we already have a large chest freezer for wild game, it makes even more sense for our household. I prefer to oven-roast the tomatoes before freezing them. That extra sweet flavor is retained and makes for a simple and easy pasta dish in the winter. The preparation is fairly quick and easy: cut the tomatoes in half, add olive oil, some garlic, basil and rosemary and bake at 325 degrees for a couple hours.

Of course, if I am really scrambling during harvest season and the tomatoes are getting soft or going bad, I will throw a bunch of whole tomatoes in a bag and chuck them in the freezer. I find I do this a lot with cherry tomatoes. I then defrost them and cook them down for sauces. To save space in your freezer, you can puree the tomatoes in a food processor before putting them in containers or bags to freeze.

Dehydrating is another great option for food preservation and one of the better ways to retain many of the nutrients in the food. Roma tomatoes are excellent candidates for dehydrating because they are more fleshy than juicy. I often have them as a healthy snack or throw them into a pesto dish – again, another easy meal.

What I don’t do is a lot of canning. I find that after dicing the tomatoes, boiling them down, straining them and prepping the jars, my kitchen has exploded. If you’re like me, tomato sauce is smeared across the counters, on dishrags and on oven mitts and all I have to show for it are 6 pints of canned sauce. For me, it’s a lot of effort, time and energy for very little yield. I always like to weigh the input of time/resource use vs. my output. I’m sure if it were done in larger batches, all the water, energy and time would be worth it but I prefer the taste of my other preservation options, so it’s my last resort. 

One of the principles in permaculture is to not only obtain a yield (e.g. tomatoes from the garden) but to extend that yield in time. In cold climates, learning how to preserve food is especially important. There is nothing more disappointing to the palette then a tasteless pale red tomato from the grocery store in the dead of winter. With the preservation techniques that I use, we are eating tomatoes from the garden well into March.

If you have any special ways that you preserve your harvest, I would love it if you shared them in the comments below.

Happy preserving!