freezing tomatoes

Guess you can tell what time of year it is here at the Damsel’s cottage, with all the preserving, etc. posts. The end of summer, the harvest season.

So what about freezing tomatoes? Does that work?

It actually works quite well, the main drawback being limited freezer space. And, of course, the possibility that your freezer might go out/the power get knocked off/the end of the world. In that respect canning in jars is, well, safer. But if you have a nice big deep-freeze, and you feel pretty confident about the world continuing in its normal orbit for at least another few months, then freezing tomatoes is a great option.

It’s ridiculously easy. You don’t have to do ANYTHING to the tomatoes except maybe wash them.

Then put them, as is, into a ziplock freezer bag. After they freeze, they’ll be like cold, hard balls. Or cold, hard oval-shaped thingies if they are Romas.

To use them, you can put them in a strainer like so and let them thaw. Or just put them in a bowl. A LOT of liquid comes off these babies. When they are thawed (or even partially thawed) the skins will slip right off. That’s right. Just by freezing them, the skins will slip. No blanching necessary! The Damsel loves this so, so much.

The Damsel also loves that all that liquid drains off, so the resulting tomato goo is Nice and Thick. To get it this thick, you’d have to cook it down for a long, long time. Yay! Even less time slaving over a hot stove!

The other thing that is perfectly wonderful about freezing tomatoes is: if you find yourself falling behind in canning your tomato harvest…or have tomatoes you just can’t use quick enough…you can just throw them in the freezer. Then later, you can take them out and do stuff with them. Maybe it will even be winter by then, and you won’t mind the hot stove so much.

Now, just remember that the thawed tomatoes are going to be mushy, and are fit only to be used in a cooked dish. The Damsel doesn’t want to create any unrealistic expectations here. But these guys are perfect in a marinara sauce, or any other cooked tomato-based dish.

Think about how fun it will be to have both mysterious cold, hard, red balls AND black bananas in your freezer.

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make your own “sun-dried” tomatoes

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Drying tomatoes is a Damsel-approved method of preserving tomatoes for eating later. She likes doing it because:

  1. No slaving over hot stoves, as opposed to canning.
  2. No peeling.
  3. Takes up way, way less storage space.
  4. The end product is very versatile.

To dry tomatoes, you need only tomatoes and a heat source. Yes, you can sun-dry tomatoes, and you can do them in the oven. The Damsel used a dehydrator because she has one.

Wash the tomatoes well and then slice. Some people peel them first but the fancy kind you buy in the store aren’t peeled, so why should you?

The Damsel used Romas but any kind will do. If you slice in rounds, they will dry faster.

But, if you want the look of the sun-dried tomatoes you buy at the store, just cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise like so. (Large beefsteak tomatoes need to be cut more than just in half, or you’ll wait a very long time for them to dry.)

Cut a shallow slit on the skin side. Goodness! Be careful!

Arrange the tomatoes on the dehydrator screen (or cookie sheet if you’re doing them in the oven) cut side up, and sprinkle with salt, if you like. The Damsel likes.

Turn the dehydrator on, or set your oven for the lowest temperature and leave the door ajar. The Damsel would NOT like to have her oven on in this manner in the summertime, so she’s glad to have a dehydrator. The Damsel has heard of people drying stuff in cars, and she can believe it because hello, cars can be freakishly hot inside. But this is a problem if you need to actually DRIVE your car anywhere.

And…yes…you could dry them in the sun. But you’ll have to fiddle with some way of covering the trays that doesn’t touch them, like a cheesecloth tent of some kind, because bugs will get on them. And you’ll have to bring them in at night, or the morning dew will be dewy on them. Using the sun is terribly old-school, it’s true.

So, get it set up with your hotness of choice. Walk away. It takes a while. The Damsel hates waiting, but there’s nothing for it. After a couple of DAYS the tomatoes look like this. They are done when they are still pliable, but no moisture remains. If you tear one in half, you should see no beads of moisture along the tear. Check them every few hours…take the smaller pieces out as they dry. The circular cuts may dry in only one day.

The dried tomatoes can be stored in glass, ziplocks, etc.  Just something that will keep them cool and dry.

If you want to make them into those fancy “sun-dried” tomatoes in olive oil, like you buy in stores for $$$$, just put these in a pretty jar, add any herbs you like, (the Damsel likes garlic and fresh basil) and then cover with olive oil. Leave for 24 hours at room temperature before using, then refrigerate. The Damsel has heard it’s best to make this up as you need it rather than keep tomatoes in olive oil for months on end. Also, don’t be alarmed if the oil gets solidified in the refrigerator. Once it comes back to room temperature (or you nuke it) the oil will melt and look normal again. Delicious in pasta and pizza!

Stay tuned for more uses. If you have a favorite way to use dried tomatoes, chime right in.

pressure canning salsa

The Damsel made her first batch of salsa for the year today. There’ll be more.

The Damsel would like to inform you that canning salsa isn’t tricky. The skill level is similar to boiling water. But it ain’t for sissies, either. It takes a while. There’s a good bit of working on your feet, and there’s the heat.

On the good side . . . (pause while the Damsel tries to think of a good side) . . . she only saw one bug during the entire process, and it was a dead spider in the bottom of an empty canning jar. It could have been much worse. There could have been earwigs. It was a completely earwigless day.

And of course there was another good side . . . yummy salsa was made and put away for a winter’s day.

In order to can salsa safely, you have to follow strict recipes and directions. That’s because salsa contains both acid vegetables (tomatoes) and non-acid vegetables (onions and peppers). The balance of acid has to be high enough for it to be safe to do waterbath canning. But the Damsel can’t be bothered with all that. She wants to make salsa her own way, so it tastes the way she likes. And when you pressure can, you don’t have to worry or measure or any of that tedious stuff. When you pressure can your own custom mixtures, you can be safe by figuring out which vegetable in your mixture requires the longest processing time, and then use that time.

But the Damsel is getting way ahead of herself.

First, get the goods. The Damsel stretched forth her hand to her sprog, who went forth to the cottage garden and brought back Roma tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and a handful of hot peppers.

Here’s how to skin the tomatoes: Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Drop in the washed tomatoes. You can use regular or Roma. “Blanch” them for a minute or two and when their skins split, remove them from the water to cool a bit.  Don’t worry if some tomatoes don’t show a split. If most of the tomatoes in the pot have, the rest are ready as well.

See the split? Now the skins will slip right off. Just nip off the stem with a little knife and poof.

Now the Damsel would like to introduce you to her pet, otherwise known as her grandmother’s grinder. It’s very old school. You put stuff in the top, turn the crank, and perfectly diced things come out. Not like some food processors, that end up pureeing the bottom layer and haphazardly chopping the top layer. Perfect. Perfect. Every time. It can never break, it doesn’t need electricity, and it doesn’t have a million weird little parts to wash. Plus it’s fun to turn the crank. The Damsel has known sprog to fight over the chance.

The Damsel loves her pet, and encourages you to adopt one of your own at your first convenience. As far as she knows, you can only buy them at yard sales.

Dice up your tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers in whatever way seemeth you best if you don’t have a pet. Put it all into a large pot. Add chopped cilantro and garlic, if you know what’s best, plus a lot of salt and pepper. Add some chopped hot peppers, like jalapenos, if you like the heat.

Notice the Damsel hasn’t said how much of anything? She just puts stuff in until it has the balance of red, green, and white that she likes. Taste, taste, taste, and adjust. Taste some more. She guesses the end result if probably 75% tomato, 12% onion, 12% pepper, or something like that.

Oh heaven on a chip.

When it’s just right, ladle into canning jars and assemble the two piece lid/ring, screwing the ring on finger-tight.

The Damsel uses pint jars for salsa. Put 3 or 4 inches of water in the bottom of the pressure canner, along with the rack, and heat to boiling. Put in the jars…as many as will fit. Nine pints fit in the Damsel’s ridiculously big pressure canner. Put on the canner lid tight, and let it start to steam. When a plume of steam is escaping from the vent, set the timer for 10 minutes. Then put on the petcock and pressure will start to build inside the canner. When it reaches 10 lbs. pressure (or whatever pressure you’ve been recommended to use in your area) begin counting processing time. Let the canner cool on its own, then remove the jars and CAREFULLY retighten any jar rings that are very loose.

Here they are, the little beauties. Wait 24 hours and check the seal. If the middle of the lid bops up and down, it didn’t seal, and needs to be refrigerated or reprocessed.

Oh, the delights that now await you! Who can wait for winter?

canning turkey

The Damsel and her sister went completely insane and bought 40 pounds of turkey meat from a farmer. It had been cut off the bone, in great slabs of quivery raw meat.

The Damsel is a tentative carnivore. She eats meat happily, but doesn’t like to think about it too much. She likes it cut and shrinkwrapped on a little styrofoam tray, sort of unrecognizable, so she doesn’t have to think about what it used to be. Her favorite way to look at a piece of meat is on a plate at a restaurant.

Being faced with this great blob of turkey was difficult, but the sister petted and soothed the Damsel until the worst was over. They canned 21 quarts, plus a little for the freezer. And canning meat is pretty darn “old school.”

It’s really not that hard, no harder than regular canning. But to can meat, you MUST have a pressure canner, and you MUST follow the simple directions in order for it to be safe.

Put seven quart mason jars in the dishwasher (along with the breakfast dishes) while you:

. . . cut the meat. It’s up to you if you want it bite size, like the Damsel, or bigger hunks.

When your all finished cutting, perhaps the jars are finished washing. Stuff the meat in to the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of chicken bouillon into each jar, if you’d like. The Damsel likes.Here’s our handy headspace picture . . .

Put on the jar lids and rings, screwing the rings on finger-tight. Now it’s ready to process.

Put three inches or so of water in your pressure canner on to heat. Put the rack in the bottom (this keeps the jars from being in direct contact with the bottom of the pot, which can break the jars) and then the jars . . . seven will fit in one batch. Check the water level. It should be about up to the shoulders of the jars . . . where it starts to curve in. The jars shouldn’t be immersed as they are in a water-bath canner. Add or subtract water as necessary. Then put on the canner lid so it’s tight.

Adding a glug or two of vinegar to the water will keep the jars from getting cloudy during processing. Doesn’t affect the meat–just the look of the jars.

There is a gadget called a “petcock” that fits over the pressure canner’s steam valve. This shouldn’t be put on yet. Let the canner continue to heat until a steady plume of steam is coming from the valve. When the stream of steam is steady and plentiful, start counting ten minutes. Let the canner vent in this manner for ten minutes.

Now place the petcock over the steam vent. It should settle into place so that steam no longer escapes, but instead builds up pressure inside the canner. The Damsel admits she was scared when she did this the first time. Just be careful not to burn yourself.

Now it’s time to do a little quick google-fu. You need to find out how long you should process the jars, and at what pressure. This depends on your altitude, and whether you’ve used quarts or pints. There are plenty of charts online with this info, or you can call your local extension service. The Damsel lives at 4500 ft, so she processed for 90 minutes at 13 lbs. pressure.

Now you babysit the canner. Watch the dial carefully, and adjust the temperature on your stove up or down to maintain the correct pressure. Remember it takes time for stoves to react, especially electric ones. It’s better to have a little too high pressure than too low, but don’t let it get too high. Pressure canners can be dangerous if they aren’t watched.

A “cool” idea: the Damsel’s sister has this groovy campstove, so they did the canning outside. This worked out great, especially because it’s VERY HOT in the Damsel’s village at the moment, and a kitchen can become a sauna pretty fast after blowing hot steam for 10 straight minutes, and then 90 more minutes of hot, hot, hot.

When the 90 minutes of babysitting are over, remove the canner from the heat source and let it cool. You aren’t supposed to hasten it . . . just let the temperature drop naturally. It takes a while. The Damsel hates waiting, but there’s nothing for it.

Finally! A glimpse of the finished product. The turkey has formed its own broth. Take the jars from the canner and set in a non-drafty spot to finish cooling. Carefully check the rings. If they are really loose (this sometimes happens with the violence inside the pressure canner) you can retighten them gently, but it’s best to not disturb the lids as they begin forming the seal. After 24 hours, check the lids. If they are depressed, it’s sealed. If the middle bops up and down when you press on it, it isn’t sealed, and needs to be reprocessed or put in the fridge.

Now the hard part is trying to get yourself to open one of these babies and use it, because it’s so precious to you by now.

freezing herbs

If you have herbs growing in your garden and want to preserve some for later, yes, it’s very “old school” to dry them as we did in this lesson.

But dried herbs are one thing, and fresh herbs another. Here’s one method of preserving more of that fresh taste: freezing.

This method works with most any herb. The Damsel is using oregano in these pictures.

First harvest your herbs. The Damsel uses kitchen shears, and since most herbs are perennials, you can use this as an opportunity to shape the plant and encourage it to branch the way you want it to.

If only it were so easy to guide and shape the sprog.

Some people say you should do this first thing in the morning for best flavor, but if you don’t get to it until later, don’t fret. There’s not a huge difference that the Damsel can discern.

Wash the bugs off, and then strip the leaves, if that’s appropriate for the type of herb you are using. Oregano has little leaves, but if you are using something with larger leaves, chop them a bit.

Pack the herbs into an ice cube tray. Put in as many leaves in each section as you think you’d use for a single usage, like a pot of soup or spaghetti sauce. To use these, you’ll be simply dropping an ice cube into the pot. It would be hard/silly to split an ice cube. So restrain from putting more leaves in each section than you’d use at one time.

Pour water into the ice cube trays, filling them just as you would for ice cubes. If herbs are sticking out, just poke them down into the water as best you can, but don’t fuss.

Fussing just gives you wrinkles.

Slide these into the freezer and let ’em freeze just like you would for ice cubes.There’s something cool about how they look.

Pop them out into a ziplock freezer bag to store them. When you next make a pot of something, it’s so easy to just take one out and plop it in.

And, if you don’t have an herb garden, you could use this same idea for leftover herbs you buy from the store. How many times have you needed only a little of that bunch of parsley or cilantro, and the rest gets slimey in the drawer of the fridge? Cube ’em.

Thanks to Green and Chewy for the post idea.

freezing bananas

Y’all know about this, right?

“This” being putting whole bananas in the freezer?

Sometimes the Damsel is enticed by banana displays at the grocery store. They look so perfectly perfect, and the Damsel buys them for her sprog.

Who sometimes eat them. And sometimes the bananas get looking, well, less pristine. And no matter how much better a very ripe banana might taste, her sprog aren’t likely to eat one that looks a little freckled.

Ever hopeful, the Damsel tells herself she’ll make banana bread. Her purchase is not a waste. But the day gets busy, and then another, and the bananas get blacker. The Damsel will console herself by recalling someone said bananas can never be too ripe for banana bread: the riper the better.

The Damsel is here to sadly inform you that there is indeed a point where bananas are too ripe. When they are liquidy and the buzzards fruit flies are circling, you’ll know that time has come.

Once upon a time, the Damsel thought she’d rescue some bananas about to go around the corner by peeling them and putting them in freezer bags. These could then be used for smoothies…or yes, thawed for the banana bread that never seems to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be even that hard. You can just Put Them In The Freezer. In their skins, as is. The skins may darken or even turn totally black, but the flesh inside is fine.

The best part about this is the guilt that is taken away.

canning apricots

It is the Damsel’s wish that you know how to preserve food. It’s one of the basic skills of becoming more self-reliant.

When you put stuff in glass jars and seal it, it’s called “canning” or “bottling” or “putting up.” And the easiest thing to “put up,” in the Damsel’s humble opinion, is apricots. So if you’ve been cringing over there, wanting to know how but were too scared, come along. The Damsel’s here to hold your hand.

Canning does require equipment, and the dollars can add up. You might even feel it doesn’t make financial sense. But nearly everything can be bought second-hand (or borrowed, even) and can be used for years.

Here’s what you need:

  • waterbath canner with rack
  • jar lifter
  • canning jars with rings
  • canning lids
  • Things most people have in their kitchens: a large pan, measuring cups, timer, sugar

Canning supplies are commonly seen at yard sales, and often if you ask around, people will give you things. You see, it takes away their guilt if they think someone will actually use the stuff.

The most expensive part about canning is the fruit. So it really helps if you have one of these:

and it REALLY helps if you have one of these:

exhibit A: Sprog #1 utilizing his tallness

Apricots are the easiest thing to can because there’s not much prep, and they’re pretty hard to mess up.

First, put seven canning jars in the dishwasher, plus seven matching lids and rings, and get them going. (Along with other dishes.) Or, of course you can wash them by hand, but if you use a dishwasher, it’s handy because it keeps them hot and sterile. Take one jar out of the dishwasher at a time as you fill it, closing the door after taking each one out, and you’re good.

But don’t stress. Grandma did fine without, and these jars will get sterilized again later on.

In a large pot, make a sugar syrup. You can make light, medium, or heavy syrup according to your taste. The Damsel has made extra-light syrup before, and although it’s safe, the fruit lost some of its color and texture because sugar is a preservative. So, now the Damsel uses a medium syrup. For medium, add 3 1/4 cups sugar to 5 cups water and heat until the sugar dissolves.

At the same time, fill the water bath canner with water and get ‘er boiling. It takes a while. Most canners have a mark that shows how full it needs to be. The water level needs to be at least a couple of inches over the tops of the jars. But, if you fill the canner really full of water, and then start submerging jars, OH NO water spilling over oh no. Once you find out how full of water the canner needs to be, take note of that level. It will be the same for any waterbath canning project.

Wash the little darlings, in a colander or right in the sink.

Split the apricots in half with your fingers, remove the pit, and place into the jar. It’s traditional to layer them, face down and overlapping. Obviously this is easier with a wide-mouth canning jar. If you have narrow ones, you can fiddle them into position with a fork, or enlist a child. You can just dump them in willy-nilly if you want. Grandma isn’t looking. The Damsel actually tried it both ways, to see if more apricots fit in the jar if they were stacked, and was surprised to find out exactly the same number of apricots fit, either way. So you decide.

Fill the jar to roughly 1/2 inch from the top. Don’t stress, you don’t need to measure.

Pour the syrup over the apricots, once again leaving 1/2 inch headspace. If it looks like there are large air bubbles, release them by sticking a knife carefully down the side of the jar. Wipe the top of the jar with a damp paper towel to remove any syrup that may have dripped.

Grandma used to always boil the lids before putting them on the jars, but the now the thought is that boiling can damage them. So now just wash them in hot water (or dishwasher.) Set on top of the jar and screw on the ring, finger tight. Don’t overtighten.

Place each jar into the waterbath as soon as they are filled. Seven jars make a batch. When you’ve got those done, wait for the water to come to a boil, and start timing 30 minutes. If for some reason the water stops boiling, you have to start the timing over, so that you have 30 minutes of continuous boil.

When the time is up, use the jar lifter to take the jars from the canner and put on a dishtowel on your counter to cool. Over the next couple of hours, you should hear “plink, plink” as the jars form a seal. After they are cool, check the seals by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it pops up and down, it has not sealed. Either put them in the fridge to eat soon, or reprocess by putting on a new lid and doing the 30-minute waterbath again. Don’t cry. It’s really common for one or two jars to not seal. It’s not your fault. It’s the Canning Demon.

Write the year on the lid with a sharpie, if you’d like. Also, it’s normal for the apricots to float to the top of the jar after they are processed.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing these jars sitting on the counter. The Damsel has been known to leave them there for days before taking them down to the cellar.