Suzanne made the most delicious salsa the other day. This time of year we have more tomatoes and peppers than we can possibly eat or sell, so we like to put them away for the winter and spring. Suzanne's simple salsa is a great way preserve the wonderful tastes, vitamins and minerals that are so readily available this time of year. We never buy tomatoes or peppers. We rely all year on what we grow in the summer.
Salsa is easily made in the food processor out of what's available in the garden. Right now, that's a mixture of paste, slicing, and cherry tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, tomatillos, cilantro and parsley. Add some of the onions and garlic we harvested this summer, perhaps a bit of Balsamic vinegar or tamari, and that's it. So quick. The harder ingredients - onions, garlic and peppers - are chopped first. By choosing the kind and quantity of peppers, the salsa can be mild, hot or fiery. For this batch, Suzanne used jalapeno peppers. They have a wonderful kind of hotness. Salsa lets us use cherry tomatoes with their skins on and the "not-so-perfect" produce. We just cut out the bad parts. Cilantro adds a distinctive and authentic taste to the salsa. This year we had a self-seeded fall crop. Other years we've saved some of our large volunteer spring crop in the freezer for salsa-making time.
Once the salsa is all chopped and mixed up, it is ready to use, or it can be stored in the freezer. We reuse assorted yogurt and cottage cheese containers, and label them carefully with the contents and date. Salsa may also be stored in jars and processed in a hot water bath. This uses more processing energy and less storage energy, but the salsa loses the wonderful fresh taste of the uncooked sauce. Salsa is always a treat to take from the freezer and spoon onto black beans, eggs, or any of your favorite dishes in February.
We also preserve tomatoes and peppers using a dehydrator which blows warmed air over a stack of racks filled with vegetable slices. Usually they're dry in less than a day. We store them in gallon glass jars. The tomato slices are great straight from the jar as a snack, and they are wonderful additions to a variety of winter meals.
Suzanne's also made quite a bit of tomato sauce this year. Recently she's been using the apple sauce method. The tomatoes are cut up and cooked in a large stainless-steel pot with just enough water on the bottom to prevent burning at the beginning. After they've softened, they are put through the Foley food mill which we usually use for applesauce. This mill pushes the soft parts through a screen and separates the skins and some of the seeds. Tomato seeds are smaller than apple seeds. I believe special strainers are made just for tomatoes.
Tomato skins curl up and become pointy when they are cooked, which is why they are usually removed. Sometimes we take the skins off by dropping whole tomatoes into boiling water for one minute and then letting them cool. After that treatment, the skins slip off easily. Once they're skinless, tomatoes can go right into the freezer in a bag or container, ready to bring summer's flavor to a winter soup. You can also freeze whole tomatoes.The skins will come off easily when they thaw.
For sauce, the skinned or milled tomatoes are returned to the pot and simmered until they reach the desired thickness. Here's when you can add flavorings like basil, oregano, onions or garlic. The longer the sauce cooks, the more water boils off, the thicker it becomes and the more concentrated its flavor will be. Tomato sauce becomes tomato paste with further cooking the way apple sauce becomes apple butter.
While we're cutting tomatoes, we often save the seeds from nice specimens of our open-pollinated varieties, especially the paste tomatoes. With a bit of processing the seeds can be separated and stored for planting next season. If you'd like to know how to save tomato seeds or you'd like a copy of these recipes, send a self-addressed, stamped envelop to Tomatoes, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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