BOTTLE IT UP
There are one million ways to love and appreciate tomatoes this time of year. September is full on tomato season here, and while they may be challenging for many SF folks to grow, farmer's markets are filled to the brim right now with beautiful ripe fruit.
There is nothing better to me than an in-season tomato, so I think it's essential to bottle up this quintessential flavor of late summer for those long, cold nights come January. I just had the chance to visit my most favorite place - a farm I spent my summers as a child, then again got to work on in my mid-20s. It's miles deep down a dirt road, along a river, and has the most incredible 2 acre production garden. While we were there, we offered to help process some of the tomatoes that lined the storage shelves of the cellar. With production just getting into full swing the farm needed to start canning sauce to keep up with what was coming out of the garden.
I learned a new way of making tomato sauce, under an arbor of wisteria and grape vines, in the outdoor farm kitchen. We washed tomato flat after tomato flat, cooking down some whole, and chopping others up. After a morning of processing we made 91 quarts of sauce and the next day I stepped in to the cellar, where the shelves were once again full of tomatoes. While we left the next day to continue our road trip north, the farm had a lot of work ahead of them!
This column has been running since 2012 (!!) and I am finally getting the recipes online and tagged by subject. It's a work in progress but here we go!
Full Maggie's Market Guide Recipe Archive
Turns out, I've written a LOT about tomatoes! Here are some other past columns, with lots of useful tips and tricks!
- Slow Roasted Tomatoes
- Market Guide: Tomatoes
- Caprese Salad with Two Summer Fruits
- Susie and Catherine's Tomato Tart
- Canned Whole Tomatoes
- Corn and Tomato Summer Salad
Farm Inspired Tomato Sauce
- As many tomatoes as you have of different varieties
Find you heaviest bottom pot. Tomatoes are high in acid and will cook for a long time so stainless or enameled cast iron is best.
Wash all your tomatoes and set aside the ones with imperfections or soft spots. Cheaper, soft tomatoes are ideal for sauce. Take whole tomatoes without rot or major blemishes and fill your pot. Use what you have! Roma, heirloom or early girl tomatoes all work well. Squish a few tomatoes with your hands, letting the flesh and juice run out. I squished about one of every 8 tomatoes. If you have enough, mound your tomatoes so the tops are sticking out of your pot.
Put the tomatoes on low heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Once simmering, slowly bring the heat up for a bit until you have a strong simmer. Use a wooden spoon to squish the tomatoes into the pot, helping them to release their juices. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook for as long as you can handle (5 hours is best!). The most important thing here is the liquid amount. If the tomato sauce becomes thin and watery, increase the heat to cook off some of the liquid, concentrating the tomato flavor. While your tomatoes are cooking, chop your remaining tomatoes (about 1/2 as much as you used whole) into a chunky dice. Be sure to remove stems and core, any soft or moldy bits, and on heirlooms cut out the cracks and hard bits that often develop.
Once your sauce is done, run through a food mill which will leave the stems, core and other harder bits behind. Take the sauce that has been pureed through the food mill, add the diced tomatoes to it, and return to the heat. Again, play with the amount of liquid here. If the sauce is not thick enough, cook it down a little by increasing the heat, being sure not to burn the bottom of the sauce in the pan. Once the tomato chunks start to break down, salt to taste, then cool your sauce. You can then freeze it in batches to defrost come winter, or for longer term storage, can your sauce in a 40 min water bath.