What to Do with Your Bountiful Summer Tomato Harvest

Ask anyone, the most common plant in the backyard summer food garden is the tomato. Big ones, small ones, green ones, red ones – they are everywhere. First time gardeners are often caught off guard by the plant that just keeps going and going and going, producing more of those delicious red fruit than the average household can handle!

This summer, after having this so-called “problem” myself, I’ve developed a five part strategy that I call EATMO to keep my freezer full, my counters clear, and my friends happy.

1. Eat
2. Attempt to Reduce
3. Train Your Friends to Love Tomatoes
4. Make them Fit In Your Freezer
5. Overcome loss, Make Better Soil

EAT
What better way to enjoy the fruits (literally) of your harvest. With a plethora of recipes for everything from main dishes to sauces and appetizers, you can take advantage of the bounty at every meal. Some of my summer favorites include tomato mozzarella salads, BLT (baccon lettuce tomato) sandwiches, and pasta tossed with tomatoes sauteed in olive oil and garlic. Use recipe search websites like www.allrecipes.com, www.epicurious.com and www.foodtv.com to find recipes that you and your foodie friends will enjoy.

ATTEMPT TO REDUCE
At some point, you may discover that you no longer really want to eat all of your tomatoes right now. This is when you start cooking the tomatoes so that they are in a form you can enjoy at a later date. Pulling a fresh tomato sauce or soup out of the freezer in February is a happy reminder of summer and worth the work. Using the same websites listed above, look for recipes for tomato sauces (be it marinaras, garden vegetable, or pizza), tomato pastes, stewed tomatoes, salsas and chutneys, and soups. On allrecipes.com I found a great recipe for homemade tomato soup – you’ll never want to go back to the canned version again. Tomato paste is also a great way to get a lot of tomatoes into a small space – cooking tomatoes and spices for hours can reduce them into a flavorful base that you can use for sauces and soups later in the year.

This step is when many gardeners start canning their tomatoes as well. There are many many websites where you can learn. A favorite is Paul and Bernice Noll’s page where they have step by step instructions and photos for canning a variety of vegetables – www.paulnoll.com

TRAIN YOUR FRIENDS TO LOVE TOMATOES
If you have more tomatoes than you can possibly eat or cook, it’s time to start sharing. At first, your friends and family will likely be excited about free produce but they may eventually feel obligated to take your tomatoes, even if they don’t like, want or need them.

My strategy for dealing with this is to rotate groups of people I share with: co-workers one week, neighbors the next, then other friends the week after. This keeps everyone happy and by the time you get back to group 1, they’ll be hungry for more. If you cannot do this, then try enticing them with recipes that you found during the EAT stage. Saying “you have to try this new recipe I found” sounds much more appealing than “please take these tomatoes, I don’t know what to do with them!”

MAKE THEM FIT IN YOUR FREEZER

Did you know that you can put tomatoes directly into your freezer (skin and all, no prep work) for use later in the winter? Clear a space in your freezer so that you can put a tray or cookie sheet inside with tomatoes on top. Space the fruits so that they are not touching each other and leave overnight. In the morning, you’ll have tomatoes that are frozen solid – put them in freezer bags and tuck away for the winter.

OVERCOME LOSS, MAKE BETTER SOIL

There will be casualties in this process: tomatoes will rot or split or otherwise be inedible. If you can, think about starting a compost pile. Composting means to allow organic waste to decay so that it may be used as fertilizer. The website www.howtocompost.org is a great resource for any composter, from a beginner to expert.

In all, just remember to enjoy your harvest time and share that enjoyment with others. These strategies should help you deal with the plethora of fruits and make you want to do it all over again next summer.

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