August 31, 2009

A Few Extra Tomatoes

Basket of freshly picked garden tomatoesOne of the challenges of gardening (to me anyway) was the question of "how much?" How much seed do I need, how long do my rows need to be, or how many plants will it take to provide me with what I want from my garden? Books and charts provide a stating point, but my gardens have never behaved in a predicted fashion: weather, soil conditions, disease, bugs, birds, and wildlife all take their toll and have to be factored in. The obvious adjustment is to plant extra, work hard to keep things under control, and hope for the best.

Since we just moved on to the place at the end of May, this year's garden was a small one. Maybe it would have been wiser to wait until we could test and build the soil, but I hadn't had a garden in four years (unless last summer's balcony garden counts), and just had to have one! I finally got it into the ground in June, mostly with 20 cent seeds from WalMart. For tomatoes however, I needed to buy plants.

We love tomatoes fresh, and as sauce for pizza, spaghetti, etc, but I never used canned tomatoes in my cooking. We just don't care for them that way. Consequently, I like to plant two or three plants for eating right off the vine in salads and sandwiches, then plant a lot of paste tomatoes. I remember when we were a family of four, I would plant 18 paste tomato plants and about four "regular" plants.

Well, this year I couldn't find any paste tomato plants, I suppose because it was so late in the season. In fact, I couldn't find any heirloom varieties either, much to my great disappointment. I ended up purchasing eight Celebrity tomato plants. I chose them because they are determinate. They've produced pretty well, over 17 pounds so far, and they have an excellent flavor. However, I have not found them to be crack-free (though they're getting better), nor blight resistant as they are advertised to be. Oh well. At least we have plenty of fresh tomatoes!

So we've had plenty of fresh tomatoes to eat, and to give away. And I even sold a few. Well, DH did anyway. When I got home from last Saturday's weavers' guild meeting (of which I have the honor of being president), he handed me a $5 bill. In response to my puzzled look, he said an elderly lady stopped by and told him that our tomatoes looked so good that she wondered if she could buy some. She said they were just too expensive in the grocery stores, and she was so hungry for fresh tomatoes.... He told she could help herself. When she asked how much, he told her she could just have them. She said she couldn't possibly do that so he told her to just pay whatever she thought they were worth. I don't know how many she took, but she gave him $5.

Even so, I still have more than we can eat, so I decided to try making tomato sauce with the extras. I also decided to cook it down in my crock pot, because I knew it would take awhile. So I first quartered or halved them into a regular cooking pot...

Tomatoes in the pot... cooked them down till soft, and then ran them through my Foley food mill to remove the skins and seeds....

Processing them with my Foley food mill.I added a handful of dried oregano and a handful of dried rosemary, a little garlic, plus a chopped onion and chopped green pepper. It took about two days to cook it down by half.

Crock pot tomato sauceAt this point I though it looked pretty good, so I added salt to taste and declared it done.

But here's the real test -- how well it lays down as pizza sauce. My homemade sauces usually look thick, but somehow they are still always a bit watery. Will this one be the same? Will the water separate out when I spoon it onto the rolled out pizza dough? Observe....

Oops.  Didn't pass the pizza test.Sadly, yes. The sauce forms a ring; you can see it seeping up the edge of pizza dough. Ah well.

Readers, what's the answer? Cook it down longer? Add a can of tomato paste? Use a thickener? Let me know your sauce making secrets!

Taste test-wise, it passed with flying colors. It was a yummy pizza and I was pleased to be using our own sauce. That batch made about 5 and a half cups, and I'm starting a second batch today. If I end up with enough, I'd like to can it in pint jars. It's very handy to have around.

A Few Extra Tomatoes is copyright August 2009 


Cynthia said...

I'd just cook it down longer. I haven't made thick tomato sauce but that's what I do with fruit butters when they are still a little too runny.

You can do a big batch in the oven which is faster than the crock pot but still doesn't run the risk of scorching.

Michelle said...

I agree with Cynthia on cooking the sauce longer; patience, dear; patience! As for canned tomatoes, we don't like to eat them that way, either, but I use them in minestrone and Spanish rice, so always try to put some up. I also can homemade condensed tomato soup, which my son and husband LOVE. Email me if you want the recipe.

Renee Nefe said...

I think your pizza sauce looks pretty good. I've never had homemade but the jarred stuff comes out looking like that as well. I know the stuff we used at the pizza places that I worked at were all very runny - they were made from sauce and paste...heavy on the sauce.

I was able to find roma & one heirloom tomatoe plants this year. The heirloom find was a total fluke as the place I went thought they were out, but apparently someone had set this plant down in the wrong place. I have small green tomatoes but no ripe fruit yet...praying that we don't get anymore hail as all previous flowers were beat off.

I gotta learn how to can the tomatoes though. I usually end up giving away tons.

Michelle said...

Oh Renee, tomatoes have got to be the easiest thing on earth to can! You just dip them in boiling water so the skins slip off, cut out the stem end if it's big, then squish them into jars until the jar is full and their own juice rises up. Wipe jar edge, put on lids and rings, and process in a water bath canner for the recommended time (I think it's 30 minutes but have forgotten since last summer).

charlotte said...

This looks so delicious and I feel quite hungry! Nothing beats sun-ripened tomatoes right off the plant nor homemade tomato sauce.

Sharon said...

I have no idea since I've never been able to raise a bumper crop. I was at Mim's earlier today and came home with two hand-fulls of red ripe tomatoes. She said that now she knows how to get me to come over there!

Anonymous said...

If you want a tomato sauce you can put over hot or cold meats I have my grandmothers that is to die for, doesn't need canning and will last in a dark cool room for over a year, recipe on my blog:)

If you want a tomatoe paste, here are recipes I use, one for canning, one for drying:

Leigh said...

Cynthia, thank you for visiting and commenting. I hadn't thought about doing tomato sauce in the oven. Maybe once I get a regular stove in my summer kitchen I will try this. Fruit butters too! (I do them in the crock pot as well.)

Michelle, patience is not my middle name *LOL*. I would absolutely love your recipe for homemade condensed tomato soup!

Renee, you're right, a lot of commercial sauces are runny. I never considered those the best though, do you? I really hope the rest of your summer is hail free! Those heirloom toms sound yummy. And yes, do learn to can tomatoes! Michelle is correct, they are super easy.

Charlotte, I admit I'm spoiled. Store bought tomatoes are so bland and tasteless that I can't bring myself to buy them anymore. I need to get my greenhouse going so I can have year-round tomatoes!

Sharon, so nice to have a generous neighbor like Mim! Maybe you all need to concentrate on different bumper crops. And trade.

Molly, thanks for the links! Your grandmother's sauce looks like a definite "must try," though it may have to wait until next year as my tomatoes seem to be winding down. I did take a look at the other two links. I like a lot of the recipes on but to be honest, their tomato sauce recipe was more complicated than mine so that's one I won't bother with. The dried tomato paste on the other hand, looks like another "must try."

Holly said...

I get a thick tomato sauce for pizza by roasting the tomatoes. The recipe was originally in Sunset magazine (I think) but here's a close version of what I do:

The main difference with this recipe and what I do is red wine -- I add it at the end -- 1/4 cup.

Heather said...

I made catsup last week and I found that, even though I had cooked it for a long time and run it through a press a few times, it didn't get the super smooth thickness I wanted until I ran my immersion blender through it for a bit. I was surprised by the difference it made, actually because it already did seem quite smooth and thick. Maybe you would find that worth a try next time?

Antonio said...

wow, those look really juicy. I already miss tomatoes, one of the things I miss most in winter

Leigh said...

Holly, I've heard good things about roasting them, but have yet to try it. I'll have to. Also adding red wine. I've only used it so far for pickled beets, which were really tasty.

Heather thanks for the tip! I'll have to see if I can find my immersion blender and give it a try.

Antonio, there's nothing like homegrown tomatoes, is there!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog when I was looking for a homesteading book on amazon. I started from the beginning. This blog talks about tomatoes. You like to grow paste tomatoes. I have a suggestion. I read a blog about a lady who used to give the tomato skins to her chickens. One day she just dried the skins and ground them. She uses them for paste.Email:

Leigh said...

Tincancooking, hello and welcome! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog and comment. I recently found that same suggestion and, like you, thought it very clever. I'm definitely going to try it next year (assuming my tomatoes do better than last summer :o ) I very much appreciate your taking the time to share the idea.