Pacific Northwest Tomatoes

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'Jaune Flamme' (L) 'Black Prince' (R)

Cultivating patience…isn’t that what we gardeners are really up to out there in the backyard, out on the balcony, or at the community garden?  Even the “virtual” gardeners among us who shop farmers markets and fruit stands – we’re all waiting (sometimes patiently, sometimes – not so much) for the next crop to arrive on our plate; isn’t that the whole point?!  Whether it’s a seedling poking its first leaves above ground, a long awaited blossom portending fruit, a ripe harvest or a groaning table at the market, we’re all at the mercy, whim, and sometimes caprice of the sun, rain, and season – you know, TIME!

We all know TIME flies when we’re having fun – can I possibly be taking my youngest to college tomorrow?!?  Wasn’t he just a muddy toddler?  Times leaves marks on my body…Lord, don’t get me started.  Time robs me of friends and family, yet gifts me with new acquaintances destined to become dear.  One of my favorite quotes is by Groucho Marx, wise man of wit:

“Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.”

What does all this have to do with TOMATOES???  Well it’s a stop-and-smell-the-tomato-foliage kind of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  Record heat together with our long days are presenting us with a bumper crop of this luscious, totem fruit of summer.

'Red Currant' - only I don't think so

'Red Currant' - only I don't think so

You have to understand, some years rain and cool weather rob us of anything remotely tomato related beyond the musky, sensuous fragrance of their sticky leaves that clings to our hands as we tie up the vines or prune the foliage in an effort to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit.  You would not believe the optimistic coddling and gentle handling, let alone pure CHANCE, that goes into Puget Sound tomato cultivation.

'French Carmello'

'French Carmello'

This year is different.  This year is hot…84 today…90 tomorrow.  Granted, there’s a great deal of whining going on but the tomatoes are lovin’ it!  Knowing this year is likely to be an exception rather than the rule – climate change notwithstanding – I am trying to savor every moment of the abundant tomato harvest.

We’re eating them sliced fresh with sea salt and pepper; dolloped with Greek yogurt; roasted with olive oil and garlic; and popped in the mouth while tending the garden followed by a quick “salad” of golden purslane and arugula flowers filched right from the plants themselves.

But I really know it’s a bumper year when I have an entire box of ripe tomatoes on the kitchen counter goading me into making something of my my farm stand purchase before they weep and rot all over the counter – not to mention produce a world class population of fruit flies!!!   Remember, I’m supposed to be helping my son pack and getting him ready to go forth into the world as an adult…not playing “Little House on the Prairie” during harvest season!!!

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So whatever I made had to be simple, quick, and preserve pure simple tomato flavor…and fast.  No water bath…no slow, time consuming drying ritual, no complicated chutney, salsa or jam.  Just pure, quick, easy, straightforward fresh tomato sauce destined for the freezer.

Fresh Simple Tomato Sauce

5-6# fresh tomatoes, I used a 3-4″ salad type, most likely Early Girl, peeled
olive oil
fresh garlic
salt
basil
pepper

To peel the tomatoes, slice a shallow X into the blossom end of each fruit and plop into a pot of boiling water just until the skins burst and begin to peel back from the soft flesh.  Remove from the boiling bath with a slotted spoon and drain well in a colander over the sink – no plain water is gonna sully my tomato sauce!!!

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When cool enough to handle – and yes you will burn yourself because if you’re anything like me you’ll rush this step; it’s that patience thing I guess – peel the now-loosened skins and core the fruit over a large bowl to catch all the juices that will be running down your arms.

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Once I had a bowlful of naked tomatoes I simply reached in a crushed them one by one with my hands.  The juices were flying – but it’s all part of celebrating a bounteous tomato season; the kitchen needs painting anyway.  On to saucing.

I put my tall stockpot on the stove top and added about 6 glugs of good olive oil and a generous amount of minced garlic.  Turning the heat to medium low I brought the temperature up slowly to gently cook the garlic without turning it bitter, burnt and acrid.  (I got this tip from Cooks Country magazine – a bastion of learned kitchen hints, science and delicious hearty recipes.)

Once the garlic was sizzling and just barely golden I added in 4# of tomato pulp, juices, seeds and all and a good size pinch of salt.  (there was still a couple of pounds of extra tomato pulp…I must have started with more than 6 #)  I kept the heavenly smelling, incipient sauce uncovered, at a low simmer for about an hour.  The juices cook down and concentrate as the warm garlic flavor infused the whole batch.

Once it was “thick enough,” code for – I don’t want to cook anymore, it’s time to make dinner – I seasoned the sauce further with salt and pepper and stirred in a generous handful of ‘Pistou’ basil.  The tiny leaves of this bush-type basil mean you can simply zip the stems clean with your fingers; no need to chop with a knife which bruises this tender herb.

'Pistou' bush basil

'Pistou' bush basil

I got seed for ‘Pistou’ last spring from Cooks Garden and it will forevermore be my go-to basil in the garden.  My big leaf ‘Genovese’ basil is still at it’s tiny seedling size – and this is the second or third sowing.  Face it, I just don’t have the basil-gardening gene.  But ‘Pistou’ is thriving, slow to bolt (go to flower), looks like a darling topiary to boot.  I’m sold!

ready for the deep freeze

ready for the deep freeze

My fragrant sauce cooled while we ate dinner. I packed it into freezer containers and left it in the refrigerator to chill completely overnight.  Today I’ll pop it in the deep freeze in the basement and look forward to some cold, rainy, bitter day next winter when we’ll dine on garden fresh sunshine and memories of a “REAL” summer in Seattle.

No doubt due to its ease and the speed with which quantities of food can be processed, freezing is the most popular method for home preserving.  Freezing retains more nutrients than any other form of food preservation, and it is very safe.  However, for serious food storage you’ll need a separate upright or chest-style freezer capable of maintaining temperatures well below freezing, ideally at -5F.  Equip yourself with a reliable thermometer; the freezer life of food drops dramatically at even a few degrees above zero.

preserving-cover1From Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest by Carla Emery & Lorene Edwards Forkner, 2009 Sasquatch Books.

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3 Responses to “Pacific Northwest Tomatoes”

  1. anitaa August 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    One week left of vacation, time for me to start preparing tomato sauce to freeze and be happy next winter.
    Just found your blog, I like it a lot.

  2. admin August 24, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    Welcome Anita and good luck with preserving a little bit of summer!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. planted at home » Blog Archive » Canning Across America, born in Seattle - August 26, 2009

    [...] some sort of flaw or bruise – but they are just perfect for saucing. I want to make lots more of my Fresh Simple Tomato Sauce to fill our freezer in the basement.  I might just have to do some noshing and nibbling as well, [...]