Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What I Did With Too Many Tomatoes

I can already hear all my fellow PNW garden bloggers gnashing their teeth over "too many tomatoes."

This was just the first wave!

The PNW, on the western side of the Cascade Mountains, is a notoriously bad climate for growing tomatoes, which like prolonged heat. We don't get prolonged heat here, even at the height of summer. Last summer, I got no tomatoes. None, nada, zip. Actually, not true. I did bring some tomatoes into the house to ripen, but they were, each and every one, afflicted with late blight. Horrible, black, disgusting lesions.

So, this year I decided to experiment with tomatoes. I planted a wide variety of cold-hardy types, and put seven indeterminate-type plants in one of my raised beds under a hoophouse. I documented the planting of them here and their growth here.

Ukrainian Heart, an oxheart type, was a favorite this year.

I planted several others in pots, and put some on the south side of my house, and others I lined up in the veggie garden in what I thought was a sunny area. The ones in pots did ok, not great, but the really big ones here all came from the hoophouse. I planted them all out early in April, with the ones in pots under Walls-o-Water. The potted ones produced the first fruit, but were not prolific. The ones in the hoophouse fruited late, but grew huge, and produced a lot of fruit.

Sun Gold -- as sweet as candy!

The early start, helped by the WoWs and the hoophouse, was a successful strategy that I will definitely repeat next year. In fact, next year I plan to put my basil and my peppers in the ground in the hoophouse too (I left both in pots this year, and they did not fare well.)

One major change that I will make next year with the tomatoes that I cover with the hoophouse is that I will support them better, probably with sturdy cages, rather than the stakes I used. I didn't use enough stakes, and the plants became so top-heavy with their robust growth that they actually bent the stakes right over, and ended up cascading over the side of the raised bed, putting many of the tomatoes within easy reach of slugs, and smothering others to the point where they rotted from lack of air circulation. I truly did not expect such rampant growth. Despite these problems, I did get more than enough to eat fresh and to process for sauce and other uses.

The top-heavy plant bent the stake right over!

In the darkness and closeness, these rotted, and became slug fodder. There is nothing like reaching in to get what you think is a ripe tomato, only to have your fingers sink into slime.

Gogoshari Striped -- a strange, knobbly, hollow tomato with very little pulp, made good sauce.

Despite the early start, we never got a long string of days all summer where the heat got much above 80. Until I went away at the beginning of September, when we got over a week's worth of hot, sunny days. The day I left, I had gotten maybe three ripe tomatoes. There were no red toms on the plants when I left. When we returned, they had started ripening like gangbusters!

Tigerella -- small fruit (bigger than cherry toms), but incredibly prolific.

They slowed down, but they didn't really stop ripening until yesterday, when I pulled all the plants in anticipation of frost, which will most likely hit some time in the next couple of weeks. The last few days we've had some nice weather, a string of not-rain and not-cold, so even though I'm not expecting a frost in the next few days, I took advantage of the comfortable weather and cut down all the plants, and brought in all the green ones that hadn't been chewed by slugs.

If I had chickens, I could feed this nasty bugger to them!

The aftermath of the tear-out is so disheartening. I have to come back soon and really clean up all the carnage.

So, what did I do with my embarrassment of ruby riches, once it became obvious that we could not keep up with eating them fresh?

Roasted them and turned them into sauce!

Sliced in half if small, or cut into chunks if large, then drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted on a tray in a 450 degree F oven for about an hour.

Charred or caramelized, then scooped into a cup and given a whir with a stick blender, they make a great basic puree, which can then be turned into tomato soup or marinara.

Some of this became cream of tomato soup, the rest was portioned into smaller containers and frozen.
Cream of Tomato Soup

2 TB olive oil
2 leeks, washed well and chopped
4 cups of roasted pureed tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme (or a handful of fresh thyme, stripped from the stems)
2 bay leaves
4 cups of vegetable broth (or 2 14-oz. cans)
12 oz. fat free evaporated milk
1 TB dried basil
1/8 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/8 tsp. black pepper (or to taste)

Coat a large saucepan or soup-pot with the olive oil and set pan over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through.

Add broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low nd simmer, covered for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Puree tomatoes and leeks with a stick blender (or process in batches in a regular blender). Return to low heat.

Stir in milk and heat it just enough to where it is warm throughout (you don't want the milky mixture to boil). Remove from heat and stir in basil, season with salt and pepper. Serve with a garnish of herbed croutons, and shredded Parmesan cheese.


That first batch required a cooking marathon, about 6 or 7 hours of chopping and cooking and blending. I followed that up a week later with another 6-hour cooking spree. At that point, I thought I had enough sauce to last the winter, but I still had tomatoes. So, I made tomato jam.

I've never made it before, and it turned out sweeter than I thought it would. I was hoping for something with a savory, salty/sweet vibe to it, and it turned out very sweet, and not very tomatoe-y, with a stronger flavor from the spices and the brown sugar than from the tomatoes. It was yummy on a biscuit, though.

Here's the recipe I used. I actually used less chile powder and cayenne than called for here, cause I don't like things too hot.

Tomato Jam

1 pound tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 TB olive oil
1 TB red wine vinegar
1/4 cup  plus 1 TB brown sugar
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan and bring  to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have dissolved and what remains is a thick, jam-like consistency, about 1 hour. Cool before storing. The jam can be stored in an airtight mason jar for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.


My source for this recipe was actually the Food Network site, here. I've been looking for other recipes to try. Here are some I'm planning to have a go at, maybe over the weekend.

Panini with Fontina, Tapenade and Tomato Jam

Tomato Jam

Savoury Tomato Jam

And now that I've hauled in so many green tomatoes, I'm probably going to spend the weekend Googling recipes for Green Tomato Jam, Pickled Green Tomatoes, and Fried Green Tomatoes. If you know a good way to use green tomatoes, please let me know.