Conserving summer

Every year since I started writing a food and gardening blog I have posted photos and descriptions of the different methods we use to preserve the huge numbers of tomatoes we grow.  Recipes vary depending on our mood and the time we have available, but in my view the magic never varies.  From small seeds in March we grow the seedlings, nurture them indoors and then on the balconies until the plants are strong enough to survive in the garden. We water them every other day at least and watch the flowers and then the tiny green fruits appear. Towards the end of June or at latest the beginning of July we pick our first ripe fruit and then by the end of July the Roma variety start to ripen in large numbers, ready for picking and turning into purée to be used throughout the winter and spring until next year’s crop is ready again.

Tomatoes are so important here, as a basic ingredient of Mediterranean cuisine and I wrote a post four years ago about the significance of the gardeners’ query ‘vous avez des tomates?‘ – literally translated as ‘do you have tomatoes’, but in fact meaning ‘is everything all right?’  No one in our village could imagine living without them.

 

Some of the tomatoes we picked in the garden, carried home in a recycled fruit box fittingly labelled ‘soleil’.  When we pick them they feel hot, full of the sunshine we’ll store to eat in winter.

 

We’ve found by trial and error over the years that the simplest method of preserving tomatoes is to quarter them, sprinkle sea salt over them and roast them in the oven for a couple of hours.  When they’re beginning to brown slightly and have lost a lot of the liquid (the water we have patiently given the plants over the past couple of months!), we put them through a mouli légumes (a sieve would work too) and then heat the resulting purée in a pan on the hob until it has reduced a bit more (the choice of how thick you want your purée is up to you – we keep it to a pouring consistency) then add a dash of vinegar and pour it into sterilised jars. We cover the purée with a thin layer of olive oil and seal them. Because this purée is always heated again when it’s eventually used in in sauces I don’t worry about heating the full jars in a steriliser, but some people do.

 

The box of tomatoes made four jars of purée – we’ll be making many more during the next few weeks.

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15 thoughts on “Conserving summer

  1. What a wonderful post. I wish I had the “problem” of having many tomatoes. Of course I live in a high-rise and have no garden, but this year even those who have gardens in the Pacific North West are struggling to have more than hard green knobs where they had hoped for tomatoes. We’ve had precious little sunshine this year. I bought one tomato at the Farmer’s Market last week–ONE–and it was $4. It was fairly tasteless, and I probably won’t buy many more. I love knowing that “vous avez des tomates” is a way of asking if everything is well. Wonderful. I’m happy that those of you in the balmy, sunny Mediterranean have plenty of tomatoes.

  2. You are lucky to be in France. In Italy it has been a disaster for crops this year. We grow tomatoes in our country house, but we have had a bad year since it hasn’t rained that much. Just today my mother in law was complaining that she does not have good rippened tomatoes to make tomato sauce. We have only gotten our cherry tomatoes, but these are not good to make sauce. Yours look wonderful!

  3. I love that question! When we first spent summers here, we didn’t have a garden and we’d be given bags of tomatoes by complete strangers in the street, or find them hanging on the door handle in the morning. There was a joke that these door handle ones got recycled round the village under cover of darkness, as people desperately tried to offload their surplus tomatoes.

    $4 for one tomato — ouch! At the market last week, tomatoes were a couple of euros a kilo, and when there’s a real glut you can get them cheaper than that. I like drying them in the oven too, but I hadn’t thought of pureeing the result. Normally I make passata and freeze it.

  4. Dehydrating tomatoes before preserving them in a bit of oil sounds like a delicious way to do it. I’d love to give it a try but I lack the shelf space to store them. You may have just given me the impetus to reorganize a bit to make some room.

  5. That sounds a good way to bottle to me. I don’t normally roast first, but I am sure it must improve the flavour. The problem with picking them hot in the sun is that they taste so good and I eat them while picking :) Have a good Sunday Diane

  6. Pingback: harness that sun! (part 2) « and then make soup

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