August 10, 2011

The Maine Ingredient: Bag it and boil it to preserve best of the harvest


In the summer, especially at the end of the season when all of a sudden there is so much to do to capture the harvest, I sometimes will pick whole tomatoes and freeze them (skins and cores intact) in gallon-sized bags.

click image to enlarge

Tomatoes fresh from the garden can be frozen, skins and all, in gallon-sized plastic bags for use during the depths of winter.

Elizabeth Poisson photo


FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION on how to process canned goods in a water bath, go to:

National Center for Home Food Preservation, uga.deu/nchfp

University of Maine Cooperative Extension,

Canning Pantry for canning supplies,

A full bag holds about 3 pounds of tomatoes and is perfect in the middle or end of winter when my canned tomatoes are running low and I'm jonesing for that bright tomato taste.

I encourage you to try it.

The first recipe here shows how to use the frozen tomatoes in the deep of winter. Preserving tomatoes this way sure beats standing over a pot of steaming water for several hours on a sweltering afternoon (although I have such good memories of doing just that with my mom and grandmother that canned tomatoes will always have a place in my repertoire as well).


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups peeled and diced onion (about 1 medium onion)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 tablespoon minced garlic, about 3 cloves

1/2 cup white wine

3 pounds whole tomatoes, fresh or frozen, or two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons minced parsley

2 tablespoons minced basil

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and then the onions, salt and pepper. Saute for 7 to 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the wine and reduce to 1 tablespoon.

Add all of the tomatoes. If they are frozen, like mine were, cover with a lid for 10 minutes until they have completely defrosted. Remove the lid and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, as they will have more liquid than the canned ones. If they are canned, leave the lid off and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. The consistency should be about the same as canned sauce when you are done. Run the whole lot through a food mill and use as you will.

Makes 4 to 6 cups.


1 1/2 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves

3 cloves garlic

1 jalapeno, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups diced onions

6 cups peeled and cored tomatoes, quartered

1/2 cup lime juice, about 2 limes

1 teaspoon salt

Pulse cilantro, garlic and jalapeno in food processor until minced. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until still chunky but mixed. Pour or ladle into a measuring cup and divide between 4 pint-sized freezer containers. Date, label and freeze for up to six months.

Makes about 6 cups.


Canning in general, but pickling in particular, can be a maddening process where you spend hours processing mountains of cucumbers with less than stellar results. During the past several years, I've found that pickle recipes are like antiques – one person's favorite is another's junk.

Then one day, the new light of the dawn shown upon my kitchen when I became comfortable enough with the process to begin experimenting with my own recipes and discovered – aha! – if I liked the taste of the brine before it was canned with the pickles, then I liked the pickles.

So if you want to experiment or are just putting your big toe into the hot pot of pickle making, I suggest you taste the liquid that will bathe your cukes. You'll have a much higher ratio of success.

If you are experimenting, try different salts or spices, smoked sea salt, smoked paprika, curry, red pepper flakes, garlic, dry mustard and horseradish. Go for it. You also may want to try to make refrigerator pickles first to see how you like a small batch before you dive in with a whole bushel of cucumbers. In any event, be brave.

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