Vine-ripened tomatoes are finally maturing in High Country gardens. We have nearly three months to binge on this seasonal treat, and preserve some to make the winter months a bit more bearable.
Fortunately, heirloom tomatoes have made a comeback because of their rich, complex flavors. Paste tomatoes, like the oval-shaped Roma, are ideal for sauces and canning. They are "meatier" and less watery. Cherry or grape tomatoes are perfect for salads or a bite-sized snack.
All types are best when stored at room temperature, since the refrigerator seems to zap flavor.
Tomatoes may be preserved by canning, dehydrating (think sun-dried tomatoes) or freezing.
Canning is a good bit of work, but if you devote a day to it, many pounds may be preserved in the form of sauce, crushed or sliced tomatoes and even salsa. If a winter storm knocks out electricity, not a problem. This link provides many recipes that have been tested for safety: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can3_tomato.html.
To dehydrate in our humid region, you must have a food dehydrator. Follow the recipes specific for the dehydrator.
Freezing seems to be the easiest preservation method. I have frozen cherry tomatoes by placing them on a cookie sheet to freeze, and then into a freezer bag. That keeps them from clumping together. Larger tomatoes may be sliced to desired size and then frozen the same way. Some people like to blanch them first to remove the skin. Just dip in boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge in ice water bath and peel.
Slow roasting is a technique that may be used to serve immediately, or to prepare tomatoes for freezing. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash and cut tomatoes into half-inch slices or quarters and arrange on a baking sheet. Brush the tomato slices with olive oil and sprinkle with an herb blend. Roast slowly for about three hours. Serve as a side dish or over pasta, or package for freezing.
Nutritionally, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which provides the red color and may help prevent heart disease and cancer, especially prostate cancer. They are also a good source of vitamin C and A, with only 22 calories in a medium tomato.
Try this recipe for a tasty snack or beautiful appetizer.
Tomatoes with Mozzarella and Basil
Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced (or crumbled feta)
Fresh basil leaves
Balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Top sliced tomatoes with mozzarella cheese or sprinkle with feta crumbles. Cut fresh basil leaves with scissors and sprinkle on cheese. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. To contact Margie, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 264-3061.