Once considered a rare delicacy, tomatoes are now a staple garden fruit that is easy to grow and bears an abundance of various shaped and colored tomatoes to use in sauces, recipes, or even eaten as is. Easily forced, you can find them in the grocery stores at any time of year as well, or even grow your own under a grow light even in the dead of winter.
No matter your preference of origin, stocking up on tomatoes when they are fresh allows you to store them for future use. No need to worry about them becoming overripe, rotting, or going to waste, these fruits are easy to store as this guide of tomato storage methods will show.
How to Know Which Tomato to Pick
The benefits of growing your own tomatoes don’t just surround the savings you reap as well as the amounts of fruits you will harvest. It also includes the fact that you can pick and choose from the many, many varieties of tomatoes that exist to personalize how you want to use them in your recipes.
But whether you prefer to grow your own or grab a selection from your nearest market, you should know which tomatoes are best to take for storing. First, smell the blossom (not the stem) end if you can. Color does not always highlight the ripeness of the fruit since tomatoes can come in a wide variety of colors and hues. You should smell a rich aroma that relays that it is ripe fruit and reading for picking (or choosing).
Be sure it feels full and heavy, with taut skin. Avoid tight, split, or shriveled skin as this means it may be overripe- as well as fruits that are bruised or feel soft anywhere. Obviously, if you are gathering from your own garden you want to take all of your fruits regardless of age. Be sure to use tomatoes that you feel are overripe immediately- whether in a recipe or stored (overripe fruits that are not being used immediately are great candidates for drying- see below).
Storing Fresh Tomatoes
Ripe tomatoes can last a few days on your counter before they start to get soft. If you plan on using your tomatoes within a few days of gathering them, simply place on the counter out of sunlight and not touching to keep them fresh.
You can also place them in the refrigerator to keep them for about a week. If your tomatoes are leaning towards the overripe category, a fridge can let them go a few extra days as well before they should be used.
Fried green tomatoes are a delicacy in the south, but most people prefer to put up large quantities of ripe tomatoes to use later in the year. If you end up picking your tomatoes green in to avoid the first frost, you can easily ripen them in the house. Simply place them stem side down in a paper bag or cardboard box and close it up in a cool area to capture the ethylene gas they release until they begin to turn red.
Ripe and overripe tomatoes are the perfect candidates for drying. Dehydrated tomatoes are popular toppings for salads, pizza, and soups and are incredibly easy to do. You can do them in a dehydrator or in the oven and then store them in the refrigerator or freezer for long term storage. You can also preserve them even further in olive oil.
To dry your tomatoes do the following:
- Slice into halves or quarters and sprinkle with salt.
- Layer in the dehydrator at 105 degrees for 36 hours. 105 degrees helps preserve the enzymes and mimics a true ‘sun-dried’ tomato. You can always increase the temperature to 150 degrees and then allow to dry for about 20 hours as well.
- Set your oven to 180 degrees and allow to dry for around 8 hours
- Store in a plastic bag with air pushed out or a glass jar for up to 3 months. Place in a cooler area or freeze for longer storage. You also can cover with olive oil for longer countertop storage which keeps them softer and more readily available for recipe use.
Tomatoes can be canned in a variety of ways. Can them whole, crushed, diced, strained, pureed, sauced, or as a juice. Whatever you do is up to you, all you have to do is simply prep them for the form you want to have canned. You can use a water bath or in a pressure canner depending on what you are comfortable with, with the fruit good for up to 6 months. To can your tomatoes whole or cut, do the following:
- Sterilize your jars and lids using boiling water.
- Blanch your tomatoes to remove skins by placing them in boiling water for a minute and then putting in an ice bath- skins will peel right off.
- Cut out any blemishes and either cut tomatoes into fourths or leave whole.
- Put tomatoes in jars, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and top with boiling water.
- Put on lids and rings and place in boiling water bath.
- Water should cover jars by at least an inch. Allow boiling for 40 minutes for pints.
- Place jars in the pressure canner and follow the directions of your pressure cooker very carefully as each may be slightly different. This process only takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Freezing tomatoes is probably the easiest way to keep any amount of fruit from spoiling before use. The flavor is well preserved, but yo u are unable to use the tomatoes ‘fresh’ like you can if you can them. Like canning, you can freeze your tomatoes any way you choose to prepare them. It is best to remove the skin in advance by blanching, and then cut and lay out on a baking tray in the freezer and then place in a plastic bag once frozen. Or you can put into ice cube trays if juiced or made into a sauce or paste for a quick defrost later.
Tomatoes are one of the simplest fruits to grow and one of the easiest to store for later use. They rarely lose any flavor through any process you choose to apply and supply a fresh taste to your favorite recipes all year round. Rich in vitamins and minerals, they also are a healthy option to your diet.
We’d love to hear of your favorite tomato recipes, as well as which ways you prefer to preserve your fruits. If you have any questions, let us know below, and, as always, please share!