Summer gardening is in full swing for most of us right now, and the one dilemma shared by many is what to do with all those tomatoes. It's a feast or famine situation nearly every year. You wait patiently for those succulent, red beauties to come to fully ripened perfection only to find you have a little more than you can handle. Whatever you do, don't let them go to waste!
Besides serving your tomatoes fresh from the garden, here are a few ideas for using them to their fullest frugal potential:
- Can them. Visit your local county extension office for all the free information you could possibly need on the process of canning any fruit or vegetable under the sun. Take your pressure canner with you and have them test it before using it the first time, especially if you've picked one up from a yard sale or thrift shop or haven't used it for many years.
- Freeze them. Some folks say you can't freeze tomatoes, but my mother-in-law has done it successfully for years. She picks the tomatoes at their peak of ripeness, uniformly red but still firm. Then she washes them and slips them into gallon-size freezer zip-top freezer bags. Her tip is to only freeze the perfect ones. Take them out as needed and thaw before using in soups, stews, and sauces. Use them within a few months for best flavor and nutritive value. You may also stew peeled tomatoes for twenty minutes (no water added), adding seasonings as desired before cooling and packing into freezer bags or plastic containers.
- Dry them. There are both outdoor (solar/wind) and indoor (oven) methods which are very easy to follow. Check out books from the library (Putting Food By and Stocking Up are my favorites). About.com has some simple instructions for drying tomatoes. You may also wish to do a Web search for more ideas.
- Set up a roadside stand and sell them. If you're not hard up for cash, let the kids have this project for a little spending money and good lesson in business. Set it up on a folding table under a shade tree or on a table with an umbrella set up near the road. Place the tomatoes on the table with a box of grocery bags. Cut a large opening in the lid of a coffee can (about 1 X 3 inches) and wrap a paper label around it stating the terms of sale such as "50 cents each or 3 for $1" or whatever you think they are worth. If you really have a lot of produce, consider 25 cents each or 5 for a $1. You may have to reduce your price if they are moving slowly.
- Give them away. Check with the older folks in your family first. Even those in a nursing home may be able to enjoy a tomato or two (ask the staff first for dietary restrictions). Box them up and take them to church with some grocery bags or take them door-to-door to your neighbors. You may be helping someone else to be frugal by your gift.
- Don't let the green ones go to waste! Did you know it is possible to store green tomatoes until they ripen? Just before the killing frost, choose only those which are green all over. Wash and allow to dry. Pack them no more than two deep in a shallow box or tray. These should ripen in about four to six weeks if kept in a moderately humid environment at between 55 and 70 degrees. Most basements or cellars are perfect for this experiment. If there is still a little orange on the tomatoes, use them to make chow chow (recipe follows).
God Bless your bounty and your store.
1 gallon green tomatoes
1 med. head cabbage
6 bell peppers
6 hot peppers (red and green)
1 c. onions
3 c. vinegar
2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. plain salt
Grind vegetables in a food processor. Bring vinegar and sugar to a boil. Combine other ingredients and add together. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Really great as a side dressing for beans and cornbread. Nummy!