You planted them, watered them, fertilized them and now it’s time to harvest them! Nothing matches the taste of vine-ripened, home-grown tomatoes. But what do you do when you have an over abundance? We’ve put together some recommendations for harvesting, holding, storing, as well as suggestions for pairing tomatoes with fresh grown herbs. If you’ve stored and eaten as many as humanly possible, we also have a few suggestions on where you can donate your surplus garden harvest.
Harvesting and Holding
Pick tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored. Harvest by grasping the tomato and twisting until it comes loose from the stem, or use clippers and cut the stem close to the fruit. Tomatoes ripen from the inside out. So if they look ripe on the outside, they’re ripe inside. Fully ripened tomatoes taste better than those picked early. However, there is an exception. When daytime temperatures exceed 86 degrees tomato vine ripening sometimes stalls, in which case early harvesting is suggested. If you do pick before tomatoes are fully ripe hold them in a place out of direct sunlight where temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees. Tomatoes need warmth, not light to ripen, so don’t put them on a sunny window sill. In fact, you can store them in a dark cupboard and they will still ripen. Once they are ripe don’t put them in the refrigerator!Refrigeration dulls the flavor and affects the texture of tomatoes. Have you ever had a store bought tomato that was pulpy and tasteless? One of the reasons that happens is because those tomatoes were refrigerated on their journey to the grocery store.
As good as they are, one can only eat so many fresh picked tomatoes, but by drying, canning and freezing tomatoes you can enjoy your bountiful harvest year round. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method. Drying concentrates the tomato flavor and adds a gourmet touch to salads and other dishes, but dramatically changes tomato texture. Canning takes a little extra work, but preserves much of the fresh flavor of your tomatoes, and canned tomatoes can be eaten as a side-dish or incorporated in recipes. Freezing is the easiest way to preserve fresh tomatoes but, freezing sacrifices some of the tomato flavor and texture. We recommend pureeing your tomatoes before you freeze them. The puree will make wonderful sauces and soups.
While eating a freshly sliced tomato sprinkled with a pinch of salt may be your idea of tomato heaven, consider a number of herbs that complement the natural deliciousness of tomatoes. Basil, the staple of Italian cooks tops the list. Try it fresh sprinkled over bruschetta, or add its pungent flavor to your next marinara. Oregano is often paired with basil in many Italian dishes. Add oregano to your next Greek salad, or sprinkle liberally on pizza. Parsley is more than a garnish. It’s nutrition-rich and adds subtle flavor to a tomato-spiked tossed green salad. Cilantro is a common herb used in the cuisine of many cultures, but perhaps most identified with Mexican dishes. It adds subtle favor atop a bowl of chili or garnishing a mixed salad.
Take your taste buds on a Trip the Mideast with Tabouli Salad
1/3 cup bulgur
8 cups loosely packed parsley leaves, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh mint (preferably spearmint)
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 Cucumbers, unpeeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
1 medium tomato, seeds removed, finely chopped
4 radishes, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Instructions: Cook the bulgur as the label directs; cool. Transfer to a large bowl, then stir in the remaining ingredients; season to taste.
Pasta Gets Authentically Italian with a Tasty Sauce
10 fresh ripe tomatoes (beefsteak, use more tomatoes if using roma)
5 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
Instructions: 1. Wash, and core tomatoes. 2. Place whole tomatoes in a large pot and drizzle 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over tomatoes. Place lid on pot and heat over medium. 3. After about 15 minutes give the tomatoes a stir, ensuring not to break them up. This moves the ones on top to the bottom to help the skins to become loose and to prevent burning any skins. Cover and allow to cook for 15 more minutes. 4. After another 15 minutes, take a fork and fish out a tomato from the bottom. Keeping the tomato in the pot, use two forks, or a fork and wood spoon to start removing the skins. If you like, you can take the tomato out and place on a plate or in a bowl to do this, just make sure you keep the juices. If the tomatoes are not fully ready to be skinned, put the lid back on and check every 5 minutes. 5. After all or most of the skins have been discarded, lower the temperature to medium low and allow to simmer uncovered. 6. Once an hour, check the sauce and stir thoroughly. Using a wooden spoon, start to break up the tomatoes over the period of checking them. Don’t break them all the way up on the first, second of even third time of checking them. Break them down over time. 7. After about 5 hours, smash all tomatoes with whatever instrument you can find that will work. Add whole garlic cloves (Do not mince/chop garlic) and allow to simmer for another hour. If you feel the sauce has reached your desired consistency or is nearing, you can add the garlic earlier. 8. After 1 more hour, the garlic should be soft enough to smash easily on the side of the pot and the garlic will literally disintegrate into the sauce. If sauce is at your desired consistency, remove from burner at this point and go to the next step, if you like your sauce a little less runny, or thicker, leave on and continue to monitor to your liking. 9. Once the sauce is to your desired consistency, remove from heat and add 1 cup of fresh basil leaves, stir. Fresh is important to making really good sauce. Salt to taste. If you like a little spice, add some crushed red pepper to make an arrabiata sauce.
Opa! Greek Tomato Salad
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp fresh basil, chopped
1/8 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 cup thinly sliced red onions, separated into rings
1/2 cup coarsely chopped green pepper
4 medium tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
6 media pitted while ripe olives, halved
3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
Instructions: In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, oregano, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Add red onion and green pepper; toss to coat. Stir in tomatoes, olives and cheese. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve with a slotted spoon.
Sharing Your Bounty
Ok, you’ve made some sauce, had some tabouli and you still have more tomatoes and other other vegetables from your garden than you can possibly use. Not to worry, your fresh produce won’t go to waste. There are several food pantries in the area that accept fresh produce donations. The Peoples Resource Center (Drop off hours: M-F: 8am-4pm) and Loaves & Fishes (Drop off hours: M-Th: 8am-5pm, F: 8am-2pm. Please make sure a staff member knows you placed fresh produce in their bin.) Another great resource to find a food pantry near you is not-for-profit AmpleHarvest.org. It connects gardeners with excess produce to local food pantries. Committed to fighting hunger and malnutrition in America, the Ample Harvest website lists almost 7000 food pantries in the U.S., many in and near Naperville and Aurora. Type in your zip code and the site will find food pantries in your area that accept fresh produce.
Posted on 8/7/2014 at 1:30:00 PM