Preserved Tomatoes

9 Nov

There are few things I love more than a sweet, sun-warmed, just-picked tomato. Which is why, every spring, I overload my tiny veggie patch with tomatoes and baby them, and then let the rest of the veggies play Survival of the Fittest. And what do I do with my abundance of tomatoes? I’ve taken to freezing them, and then pulling them out in winter for sauces, soups, etc… I nearly went the whole of 2010 without buying a single tomato, fresh, canned or otherwise.

But this fall, I’m wondering: am I wasting my time/money? Would it be easier, cheaper or just plain old better to buy canned tomatoes? I could have a BLT Bonanza, or make an awesome soup from the freshies (yum!), and then buy canned this winter. Frozen and canned tomatoes work the same way, and they’re both preserved for a rather long period.

Fresh tomatoes

Worth the trouble to freeze?

Challenge: Canned tomatoes vs. frozen tomatoes*!

One can of tomatoes contains tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, calcium chloride and citric acid.

Home-frozen tomatoes contain tomatoes. And perhaps a little love. But that’s really it.

To freeze the tomatoes, you first should to de-skin them. Bring a pot of water to boil, set up a bowl of ice water near the stove, then slice off the stem ends of the tomatoes. When the water is boiling, drop in a few of the tomatoes and let them heat until their skins split and wrinkle (a minute-ish). Then scoop them out and drop them right away into the bowl of ice water. Let them cool for a minute, then squeeze the tomato at the base to slip the skin off. Repeat.

Last step? Cut the tomatoes in half (or not) and slip them into a freezer bag. Remove all the air. Seal. Place in freezer.

Time and Cost Comparison:

The Can contains 1 lb., 12 oz. of tomatoes. It cost $1.95 (or about $0.07/oz.), and took very little time to select in the store.

Homemade produced 2.5 lb (or 40 oz) of frozen tomatoes. Since I used home-grown tomatoes, I went to a farmer’s market to find a price. Tomatoes there were sold for $0.99/lb, so hypothetically, if I’d bought them, they’d be about $0.02/oz. It took about 40 minutes to get them all processed.

Ingredient Comparison:

The major differences in ingredients are tomato juice, salt, calcium chloride and citric acid. Calcium chloride is a firming agent and citric acid is a natural preservative.

Taste comparison:

The two-person taste test found that frozen tomatoes are sweeter and taste more like real, fresh, from-the-vine tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are saltier (uh, duh, they have salt added) and taste more like a good marinara. Different flavors, but both good.

Homemade PITA factor:

4. This isn’t overly difficult, but removing the skins does take time, and it’s easy to make a huge tomatoy-watery mess.

DIY or Buy?

DIY when tomatoes are in season (mid to late summer, and early fall), you can get them super-fresh (from your garden or a farmer’s market) and you want to bring out the natural sweetness of fresh tomatoes, or you’re really conscious about sodium intake. In any other situation, buy the can. And for the love of Earl, do not go to the trouble of preserving store-bought, off-season tomatoes. You will not like the results.

*I realize that for a true, apples-to-apples comparison, I should compare homemade canned tomatoes to store-bought canned tomatoes. But home canning requires special equipment (tongs, jars, lids and rings) and lots of time (you sanitize, you de-skin, you pack, you boil, you cool), and if you screw it up you get spoiled tomatoes and botulism. No thanks.

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