How to Freeze Fresh Tomatoes
Buy local, buy cheap
Want tomatoes year round without buying them canned at the grocery story or growing them yourself? Then head to the local farmers' market or roadside stand at the height of summer. That's when you'll find boxes of seconds on sale at reduced prices.
What are seconds?
Seconds don't look as perfect as the tomatoes growers sell at top prices, but they're perfect for freezing or canning at home.
The trick to getting the best price on seconds is waiting. When the hottest days of summer hit, tomatoes in the field ripen quickly, and prices drop dramatically.
How cheap seconds will be depends on when you buy them and how well local tomatoes are producing.
The first time we bought seconds, we paid only $5 per bushel box. The second year, a tomato blight affected growers throughout Maryland, and we paid $8 per bushel box.
This year, our usual supplier (a local Amish farmer) has had problems with his tomato crop. We switched to a different local seller and got three bushel boxes of beautiful seconds for $10 each.
Although more expensive, they're such high quality with so few "bad" tomatoes, even at the bottom of the box, that they were well worth the price.
You can make tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, even ketchup with seconds.
Seconds are very ripe and often damaged, so they're time sensitive. You have to use them immediately.
The easiest way I've found to "put them up" before they spoil is to freeze tomatoes in chunks.
Easy Frozen Tomato Chunks
How long will it take?
Prep Time: It takes about 4 hours (an afternoon) to prep and freeze a bushel of seconds.
Yield: About 25 quart-size freezer bags of chopped tomatoes.
What you'll need
- 1 bushel tomatoes
- boiling water
- ice water
- 25 quart-size freezer bags
- sharp knives
Create a work area for yourself that includes a bowl for placing peels and cores, a large bowl for cooling blanched whole tomatoes and a large receptacle for the chopped tomatoes.
Core the tomatoes.
Wash the tomatoes in cold water. Because they're fresh from the fields, they'll be dirty. Expect mud, dried leaves— even a few bugs.
Once you've rinsed them off, remove the cores.
Once the tomatoes are cored, score them.
Score the tomatoes by making an X across the tops & bottoms.
If the tomatoes are very ripe, you may be able to pull the peel away at this point.
If the skin is still tight, you'll have to blanch the tomatoes to remove the peel.
Scoring the tomatoes will make it super easy to remove the peel once the tomatoes have been blanched.
Blanch the tomatoes.
Immerse the tomatoes in boiling water 15 seconds, then place them in iced water. This is called blanching.
The purpose of blanching is to remove the skin, not cook the tomatoes. To that end, boil them briefly— 15 seconds tops— and then place them in cold water so they won't continue to cook.
If you boil them longer than 15 seconds or don't immerse them in cold water, the meat under the peel will become mushy, and the tomatoes will be too hot to handle.
Peel & chop.
Discard the peels and cut the tomatoes into halves, quarters and chunks.
To make the chunks, first halve the tomatoes and then quarter them. (If they're very big, you may have to halve the quarters, too!)
Once the tomato wedges are a manageable size, cut them horizontally into bite-sized chunks ideal for sauces and stews.
If you are going to remove the seeds, now is a perfect time to do so. I only remove seeds that are either black or a bright green, as these are sometimes bitter.
Place the chunks in freezer bags and seal.
We use a Food Saver vacuum sealer, but you could also use plain freezer bags or jars.
If freezing in Mason jars, don't tight the lids all the way and be sure to leave some room at the top, as the tomatoes will expand as they freeze.
When the bags are cool, place them in the freezer.
Things to keep in mind
- Use sharp knives. Your knife should slide through a ripe tomato like it's butter. If it doesn't, sharpen your knife. Otherwise, you could cut yourself.
- If you're not used to using kitchen knives, cut the tomatoes on a cutting board rather than in your hand.
- Begin with a clean, organized work space. Creating a place for peels and cores, a place for the bowls, etc., before you begin will make the process go much more smoothly.
- Work in batches. Because our kitchen is small, I find that if I do about six lbs. of tomatoes at a time, it's easier.
- Clean up periodically. After finishing a batch, dispose of the peels and cores, change out the water, sharpen your knives and wipe up.
- Reuse the water. Blanching uses lots of water, which I always feel guilty about, so I let it cool and then water outdoor plants with it or pour it onto the compost pile.
- Compost peels and cores. If you don't have a composter, you can bury the waste. It will enrich your soil.
Frozen tomato chunks are handy to have in winter for soups, stews, pot roasts and sauces. And they're much healthier than tomatoes from a can.
Although we go through the tomatoes we put up in summer by Christmas, with the Food Saver, they could last up to six months in the freezer.
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© 2015 Jill Spencer