Category Archives: Tomatoes

The Busy Girl’s Guide to Preserving Tomatoes

August and September. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. On the one hand, all of my work as an urban farmer during the spring and summer is paying off in the form of incredible bounty and homemade food. Every where you look in the garden, there’s something to bring to the table. Fruits and vegetables are ripe and the time to eat them or put them up is now.

Pick_TomatoesOn the other hand, my life as a school teacher is the craziest it is all year during the months of August and September. August is go-time in the life of a teacher. These days I find myself coming home from an eight or nine-hour day of training or meetings with my colleagues and going straight to the kitchen to preserve some harvest that needs tending to. Life as an urban farmer and teacher is the craziest during these late summer months.

So, when you find yourself with a million tasks at hand and only so many hours in the day to do them, you need to strategize and be as efficient with your time as possible. This strategy for putting up tomatoes is one of my most trusted strategies. It’s one of the ways I’m getting it done.

I’ve decided that besides eating them fresh and also oven-roasting and then freezing a couple of trays of tomatoes, this will be the only thing I will do in the way of preserving my substantial tomato harvest. It is that good. My busy girl’s advice for preserving tomatoes is this: make tomato paste “ice” cubes.

Tomato_CubesI made a tray of tomato paste cubes last year at the end of the season and wished in vain that I would have discovered this method earlier. These gems are packed full of sweet tomato goodness and add an amazing depth of flavor to anything you’re cooking. Here’s how I used the cubes from last season:

  • Thaw and use in any recipe that calls for tomato paste
  • Add a cube to lentil soup (Where have you been all my life, tomato paste lentil soup?)
  • Add a cube to any soup or stew
  • Thaw a cube or two and slather on homemade pizza dough as a pizza sauce
  • Add a cube or two with chili-making ingredients for a delicious, slow-cooker chili
  • Add a cube or two to a pot of garbanzo beans to create a make-shift chana masala meal
  • Soak and drain cashews and blend in a high-powered blender with a thawed cube or two. Then heat to make a simple “cream” sauce for pasta
  • Thaw and use as a spread on homemade veggie burgers

Garlic

What you need

At least 1 pound of tomatoes (3 1/2 lbs. yielded about a tray and a half of cubes)

About 1 clove of garlic per pound of tomatoes (honestly, I often add more), finely chopped

Olive oil, to coat the bottom of the pan

Salt

What to do

Put your widest enamel dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan and sauté the garlic until just light golden brown. The goal is to toast the garlic a bit and add flavor to the oil.

Blend_TomatoesMeanwhile, in batches, add the tomatoes to a high-powered blender. I add them whole – no chopping, no coring, no peeling, no food mill. Remember, this is the extremely busy girl’s method.

Puree the tomatoes until smooth and carefully add them to the warm garlicky oil in the dutch oven. Continue until you’ve finished pureeing and adding all of the tomatoes.

Blend_Tomatoes2Add a few generous pinches of salt, stir and let simmer. This is a long process, but really the tomatoes just need some time to reduce and cook down. This part is a multi-tasker’s dream – I use this time to complete other things on my to-do list, while occasionally (every 15-20 minutes or so, especially when it really starts reducing) stirring and scraping the sides to incorporate all of the yummy tomato goodness into the mix. Like this:

This mixture will reduce by more than half, to about 1/3 of the tomato liquid you started with. Once it starts getting to be a rich, red color, you’re getting close. This year, I’ve been calling it done when the mixture is a really thick sauce, but not quite a paste. If what you want is tomato paste, continue cooking until the oil sort of starts to separate from the tomato mixture. You will be able to move around the mixture almost like a dough, like in one mass, when it’s really paste-like.

When you reach the consistency you prefer, remove from the heat and let cool. Then, fill up an ice cube tray with the paste and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, pop out of the tray and into a plastic freezer bag. I’ve already filled an entire gallon-size bag and I can’t wait to fill up some more.

Do you have any strategies for putting up fruits or vegetables in a hurry? What are your busy girl (or guy) strategies? Share in the comments below. I can use all the strategies I can get!

Mason Jar Caprese Salad

picnicInstructions for a Perfect Seattle Picnic:

Step 1:  Get your bike and head to West Seattle. Park your car at the end of the Alki beach path closest to the West Seattle bridge, on Harbor Avenue.

panniersStep 2: Pack your bike with your picnic supplies. I’ve decided that panniers are for picnics. Bike your way down the path toward Alki beach. Enjoy the views along the way.

skylineStep 3: Once you get to the end of the Alki beach trail, keep riding in the same direction into the adjacent neighborhood. If you keep following that street, Alki Avenue SW, it will become Beach Drive SW just around the bend.

bikeAs you ride your bike along the quiet, residential Beach drive, you will cruise along the water and will feel like you’re somewhere else. California? Florida? It feels like a mini-vacation. Keep following this street until it comes to a “dead end.” You’re about to go onto a gravel path that will lead you to Lincoln Park. You know, that park you see when you’re waiting to board the ferry to Vashon? That’s the one.

Step 4: Find a good spot to lay down your picnic blanket and enjoy the view. Rip off a hunk of a just-baked Bakery Nouveau baguette and soak it in the delicious dressing and fresh tomato juices of your mason jar caprese salad. Your mouth and belly will thank you.

Salad_jarMason jars seal up tight, which is great when you’re transporting something liquidy on a picnic. Also, the fact that this salad is stacked in a jar makes the flavors meld even better somehow. It takes minutes to throw together and is magically delicious. I made it without cheese, but I imagine this would be even more amazing with coins of fresh mozzarella layered in.

salad1Mason Jar Caprese Salad

Use a jar that’s a bit too small rather than too big – it helps the tomatoes and basil to stay in better contact with the dressing. 

Super fresh tomatoes
basil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt

At the bottom of the jar, add a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Add a layer of tomatoes, keeping them fairly flat, though it is ok if parts of them overlap. Add a layer of basil, covering the tomato layer.

Add another layer of tomatoes and then add another dash of olive oil, vinegar and a sprinkling of salt. Continue adding layers of tomatoes, basil and the oil/vinegar/salt combination until the jar is filled. Seal tightly and buy a super fresh baguette to go along with it! You will not be disappointed! Enjoy!

Take This Class and Grow Tons of Tomatoes This Year!

IMG_2545I’ve heard lots of Seattle gardeners say they’re done growing tomatoes in this city, but I am not one of them! Tomatoes are kind of my thing and I usually end up with the tomato bounty to prove it! My record is 80 pounds in one raised bed when everyone said it was a “bad” summer for tomatoes. With a few simple strategies and a little determination, you can grow tons of tomatoes too!

I am offering a specialty garden nerd class all about this heat-loving gem, Tons of Tomatoes in Seattle! In this demo and discussion session, we’ll go out to my tomato bed and learn about:

  • strategies for planting a lot of tomatoes in a small space, including square foot gardening and planting using the trench method
  • crop rotation and other strategies for healthy tomato plants
  • tomato plant maintenance, including trellising and pruning

I’m offering this class on four different dates, right around the time when plant sales and farmers’ markets start selling tomatoes. You can go buy a couple of tomatoes from the Seattle Tilth summer garden plant sale in May and then I’ll show you how to take care of them so they thrive!

To sign up, just select the date you want and click the button below! I’ll send you a confirmation email with directions to my little urban farm and you’ll be set!


Class Dates



Sign up, spread the word and let’s talk tomatoes!

Also, it’s not too late to join my Spring Fling! There are still a few spots open on April 7th and May 11th!

Spring_FlingIn this special class and luncheon, Spring Quarter: Seeds and Seedlings, you will learn techniques for growing vegetables from seed, an economical and rewarding way to get your garden started. We’ll cover square foot gardening, seed sowing and strategies for thinning and transplanting new seedlings. This class will be hands-on and an awesome confidence booster for beginning gardeners! You’ll get the skills you need to get your own garden growing, whether you have a large garden or just a few containers on the balcony.

Click here for more details and email me at seattleseedling@gmail.com to sign up!

Video: Seed Saving is Ugly

I’m just going to put this out there. Seed saving is ugly. If you didn’t know any better, you’d take one look at my yard and think I let my once beautiful garden go. The browning leaves I see everywhere make me feel guilty of garden neglect. Brown brings to mind forgotten, dying plants. Somewhere along the lines we’ve learned this. Green is good, brown is bad.

The bolted greens that tower and lean over my garden beds look out of place and unkempt. But I know the truth. I know these plants are not being ignored. They have not been neglected – they are bearing edible dry beans, spices and seeds for next season.

Even though I know this to be true, I have to constantly remind myself of this every time I walk into my yard. School started last week and my two worlds as working girl teacher and urban farmer, collided. I see things all around me that need to be done, but there are only so many hours in the day and only so much energy to get everything done.

Luckily, nature is on my side. A long string of dry, sunny days have been ripening my tomatoes and drying the pods of seeds I am saving. Things look like they are in disarray, but really my little farm is still thriving, paying me back for all the love I’ve put into it.

I especially love my garden in June when everything is seemingly maintained, “pretty” and in bloom. I’m starting to notice now that the organized chaos of late summer, the myriad of khaki that abounds, makes me anxious. So maybe what my garden really needs is a little unconditional love. Maybe my June and September gardens are like lightness and darkness. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Dark is merely the absence of light and without one you can’t have the other. Maybe what I need to do is adjust my idea of beauty. Maybe it isn’t beautiful or ugly, positive or negative, good or bad. Maybe it just IS. This is my garden in September and it’s harvest time. It’s kinda “ugly”, but isn’t it beautiful?!

* The song on today’s video has been a favorite of mine since the first time I heard it. So many of the silly things she sings about I can relate to – most gardeners probably can.  A dear gardener friend (Hi Amy!) shared it with me and now I share it with you! Enjoy!