Before Fabien and I were ever in a position to grow our own food, we were very budget-conscious when it came to grocery shopping. Fresh out of university, pinching and saving, we didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of our food, but we made the effort to stretch our money as far as we could.
We would scour competing grocery store fliers on the weekends and make our game plan: buy as many of our staples as we could in bulk, for the best possible deal we could find. That often resulted in us standing behind long lines of canned tomatoes, moving slowly down the checkout aisle toward the cashier.
And that was okay for a little while, but it always bugged us that we were hoarding cans of something we could so easily grow ourselves. If we had the space. And we stopped continually moving. It took a few years, but eventually that “one day” dream finally came.
We were so excited to finally grow a vegetable that we used so much of.
I have to admit that we (okay, me) went a little wild and crazy. I planted 18 beef steak tomato plants. Eighteen. I wanted to make sure that if some of the plants didn’t take, we would still have a good amount to last us through the winter.
Amazingly, every single one of the plants took! All eighteen!
So we then had a new problem, similar to the zucchini problem: what were we going to do with so many tomatoes?!
We initially left the tomatoes to ripen on the vine, but there were so many of them that the stems started snapping and a lot of the tomatoes ripened against the dirt, rotting before we could get to them. (On the plus side, our chickens really enjoyed those ones!)
Thankfully my mom came to the rescue with a wonderful, life-saving tip that her uncle had always used with his tomato crop: bring them inside and let the tomatoes ripen on cardboard!
Taking large, flat cardboard boxes, I would harvest tomatoes every few days, before they ripened completely, and bring them inside to our basement. This gave the stems some reprieve from all the weight, and the tomatoes ripened beautifully in the cool, dark space we left them in (we were able to eat them fresh, well into December.)
Instead of being faced with sorting through potentially rotten, very ripe tomatoes on the vine, I was able to sort them in the cardboard boxes based on their ripeness. Once I had a full box of ripe tomatoes, I would get to work blanching, peeling and freezing them. This also helped break up the preservation process, because as much as I wanted to have a year’s supply of tomatoes, I didn’t have the energy to do it all at once! (At this point in the season, Fabien was back at work full-time, so the tomato preservation fell mostly on me…)
I decided to freeze the tomatoes instead of can them for a couple of reasons, mostly because I don’t have much experience canning and I was concerned about the tomatoes being the proper acidity. But freezing them was a breeze: I blanched them for a couple of minutes, until the peels split and came off easily. I had two bowls on the go, one to collect the tomato juice while peeling (this is a very messy job!), and the other to hold the tomato flesh. I froze the tomato juice in ice cube trays; ideal for when you want just a bit of flavour in a recipe. The flesh I froze in sandwich-sized Ziploc bags; the perfect amount for a yummy bowl of soup!
The only downside of preserving the tomatoes this way is the waste. I’m not happy with the amount of plastic bags that we used last year, and would like to find a more eco-friendly solution…but we’ll save that for another post!
With this now bountiful supply of tomatoes in our freezer, my go-to tomato soup recipe is an easy, 6 Ingredient Roasted Tomato Soup by Half Baked Harvest. It works perfectly for one of my sandwich-sized Ziploc bags of tomatoes, and allows the delicious flavour of our garden tomatoes to shine through, even in the monotonous depths of winter.