Well, 2018 was not the year for tomatoes in Zone 6a. It started out well. I grew all my plants from seed indoors and then transplanted 17 plants. Remembering I had late blight last year, I scattered the plants in three locations far away from each other. That should cover me, right?
By mid July, I was seeing the dreaded fungus. I tried copper fungicide, neem oil, and Serenade off and on as appropriate for weeks. We are now nearing the end of August, and what a disappointing harvest.
The rains were the problem. We had quite a few torrential downpours. When my vines had reached 5 feet tall, we had an especially bad rain that caused much of the plants to collapse or bend and crack. I worked hard repairing them, cut the lower leaves off so much there was barely any left.
But you know what? I wasn’t alone. So many gardeners were also feeling this fungal fiasco. I ended up with bare plants, but still producing. I’m getting a bowl of tomatoes every week now, but not what I should have.
My plans next year are to hit the plants with fungicide early; however, I am also moving my location and building a very large trellis. Goodbye tomato cages and hello tension wire/string! I will share the build next spring.
So what do I do with all these tomatoes? Last year I managed 55 total jars of canned tomatoes and sauce, and we ran out somewhere around January or February. I knew I needed to double that to last the year. I honestly didn’t realize how bad diced tomatoes in cans tasted until I started canning my own and then had to go back to store bought for a few months. What a difference! There is truly no comparison.
I ended up going to a local farm market and got boxes of “seconds” tomatoes and Romas. To my surprise, I found that their version of seconds were perfectly good tomatoes, just weren’t as pretty. I decided the seconds would be seasoned diced tomatoes and the Romas would make my sauce. I also added my own tomatoes.
I keep my canning simple. It can’t get any simpler than this.
Seasoned Diced Tomatoes
It’s just so easy. Make an X in the bottom of the tomato,
Submerge in boiling water for about 30 seconds (sometimes longer for larger tomatoes). Then submerge in ice water… Look at these tomatoes – they are considered “seconds” so at $13 a giant box, who can resist? This is amazing! (I spent more on that on fungicide this year!!!)
The skins slide off easily. If they don’t, put them back in the boiling water for a few seconds.
After that core, slice, stuff jars (add garlic, basil, etc. if desired), make sure to add a tablespoon of lemon juice concentrate to pints and two tablespoons to quarts as well as a teaspoon of salt to pints and two teaspoons to quarts. Leave 1/4 inch headspace and 30 minute hot water bath for pints and 45 minutes for quart (varies by altitude – check sources).
Homemade Easy Tomato Sauce
I like to do a lot of things in a day and to do this, I cannot get hung up on small details for certain things in the kitchen. One prime example is tomato sauce. I see so many people going through all the steps above to make tomato sauce. Why discard the skins? Why take the time to take the seeds out of the tomatoes? I guess if you want a perfectly smooth sauce, that’s fine, but I like my sauce a little hearty. I also like to make this basic sauce that I can use for many recipes, not something exclusive for a certain recipe. It’s a foundation that I can build upon with my tomato-based cooking. But I have to admit, sometimes less is more and this tastes amazing even without adding anything else.
I choose Roma tomatoes whenever possible for sauce. I clean them well since the skins will remain….
…..and toss them into the vitamix. Okay all, a Vitamix is a must have for me. Mine is still going strong after 10 years. Did you know you can even make flour with a Vitamix? I will talk about that in another post…. But the Vitamix, although expensive, has more than paid for itself over the years.
But enough about that….
This takes seconds……. I also added some of my fresh basil that I have way too much of into the Vitamix as well with my last couple container fulls.
oh, and also lots of fresh garlic…. so my sauce consists of tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, fresh basil and fresh garlic. Simple but incredibly good.
Next, I cook the sauce down. Once it reaches a boil, I simmer for about 30 minutes to an hour. I just watch the consistency. I want it thickened but not too thick. I have another secret – tomato powder, that I use to thicken my sauces if I need to after opening a jar later on. For instance, I may use this sauce on pizza, but it needs to be thick, so I add a teaspoon of powder to a jar of sauce, and it’s perfect.
The same with the diced tomatoes, I put a tablespoon of lemon juice concentrate and teaspoon of salt in my pints and double that for my quarts. I fill the jars, leaving a quarter inch head space and then water bath process for 30 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts (varies by altitude – check sources).
Oh, and if you do not have chickens, do you realize they are the best for composting kitchen scraps? My chickens love me this time of year.