Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Garden To Table ~ Tomatoes

Besides sun-scorch on several of our beefsteaks, the tomatoes did really well this year; the Roma's especially.  We planted Caspian Pink Beefsteak and Martino's Roma; both are heirlooms. 

Garden Notes  
  • Caspian Pink Beefsteak were ideal for where we live because they are an early variety.  I learned that once the temperature gets higher than 95F, the pollen in tomato flowers burn up and can't render fruit.  It stays above that number basically from mid-June until September so the earlier our tomatoes can flower out, the better.  This also made me very happy that we were able to start the plants as early as possible and get them into the garden the second day after the Last Frost Date.  That was a risky move, I know, but it paid off.  They aren't, in my opinion, the prettiest of heirloom tomatoes, but their flavor.  Wowza.  Unbeatable.  I also love how thin their skin is.  These guys are indeterminate, meaning they'll grow and produce fruit (barring exposure to extreme heat) until they die off from a frost.  They can grow up to eight feet tall!
  • Martino's Roma were wonderfully easy to grow and so prolific.  They are determinate, meaning they bare their fruit at one time (over the course of a few weeks) and die.  They only grow a couple feet high so there is no need to steak or trellis them.  Glory!  Their fruit is smaller than the Roma's that you see at the market, but the flavor is wonderful and I have made so many tasty canned goods with them (listed below).

To the Table

I was more than happy to put up many different tomato-based canned goods at the beginning of the season.  We have been waiting for them all year and just about every meal has fresh tomatoes tossed in somewhere these days.  Now at the end of the season, I just traded twenty pounds of Roma's for some of my friend's peaches.  Those little guys wore me out.  But oh, the flavor of garden-fresh tomatoes...

Dishes with Fresh Tomatoes
  • Ratatouille (Smitten Kitchen version) has quickly become a new favorite.  Serving it over some polenta and sprinkling feta on top is unbeatable.  We grow each of the ingredients, making this dish extra satisfying.
  • Salsa (pictured above).  I wish I had a recipe to share, but I don't.  It changes a little every time I make it (which is currently a daily ritual)  All I can tell you are the ingredients that usually go in are tomatoes (about 4-6, chopped), an onion, cilantro, a few peppers from the garden (poblano, sweet Italian, and jalapeƱo), a few garlic cloves, a heaping teaspoon (probably closer to a tablespoon, actually) of cumin, Celtic sea salt, and the star ingredient that takes it to the next level: smoked paprika.  If your kitchen is without this little gem, go get some.  Now.  It will change your life.
  • Zucchini Noodle Pesto Pasta.  We make several batches of pesto (to freeze and use throughout the year) after the weekly basil harvest and this is usually what we have for lunch on those days.  The picture above with the two fried eggs on top is a much simpler version.  Instead of pesto, I used basil flowers and leaves and for protein, I fried up those eggs (complements of our now-laying hens) instead of lunch meat.  I enjoy this version because everything came from our land (well, except the salt and pepper that was sprinkled on top) and it's quicker to make.
  • Caprese Salad.  A fresh tomato must.
What We Canned
This was my first time canning anything with tomatoes.  I decided to make what we use a lot of.  That just makes sense, right?  I also learned that unless I am canning salsa, it is an exercise in futility to use any other tomato than a Romas when canning tomatoes.  Any other kind has to cook down so far that it feels like there's almost nothing left.
  • Catsup. 24 pints.  12 with the cayenne, 12 without (because I was worried that it would be too spicy for the children who seem to think catsup is a food group).  Both batches came out really well, but I will cook it down more (and not use anything but straight romas next time) because it was still on the watery side.
  • BBQ Sauce. 24 pints.  I like it.  Jeremy really likes it.  That's all I am interested in.  We are the only ones in the family who use this sauce to begin with.
  • Salsa (found in The Rhythm of Family). 24 pints.  Nothing beats fresh salsa, but when these golden days of ripe tomatoes are over, these pints will be treasures to pull from the pantry; little tastes of the summer past.
  • Tomato Sauce.  36 pints.  I used fresh lemon juice instead of the bottled kind (ew).  This guy and I were best friends in the kitchen during tomato season.  Wow, it sure sped things up (once I realized you mill the tomatoes  after they have been cooked and not before).  We will use this sauce throughout the year for chili, pizza sauce, and spaghetti sauce, mostly (using 2 pints sauce instead of 3 jars paste).
  • Tomato Paste.  9 half-pints.  I didn't make much of this because it takes forever and I still have about 12 half-pints that I had bought in bulk a few months back.
I have also froze many tomatoes whole to thaw for later when it's soup season to make this creamy tomato bisque.

So yes.  Tomatoes are largely to blame for this season of Riddlelove silence.  They have kept me just a little bit busy.  I know I will thank me as I pull those jars of summertime out to use throughout the year though.  I think it was worth it.  I quite enjoyed it all, actually.

How do you like to eat and preserve tomatoes?  I'm thinking about dehydrating some of the next batch...

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

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