Yup! I'm a Tomato Lover
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of red and noticed that the homeless gentleman had his right hand held at ear's level, holding a large ripe red tomato. The tomato had a big bite out of it, and juices ran down and off the man's elbow.
His left hand was holding two additional tomatoes. And I said to myself, “Yup! Another tomato lover.” A few minutes earlier, he had been helping me unload some of my garden surplus tomatoes at the homeless shelter's kitchen.
And I'm a tomato lover too. I'd rather sit down in front of the TV with a pint jar of canned tomatoes than with a bowl of ice cream. My favorite soup is tomato. My favorite cocktail is a Bloody Mary. My favorite sandwich is just sliced tomatoes and mayo on toast. The list goes on and on.
My tomato gardening starts around the middle of March, when I plant different varieties of tomato seeds in individual containers. All it takes to grow them is a sunny south-side window, water and six weeks of tender loving care. I always grow Rutgers, Roma, Brandywine, beefsteak, and red cherry tomatoes. Every year I also grow three or four additional heirloom or hybrid varieties just for the heck of it.
I always place an old coffee can with both ends removed over each of the new seedlings. This protects them from the wind and too much direct sunlight while they are young. When the plants are mature, the coffee cans allow direct watering to the plants roots.
The biggest mistake that tomato gardeners make is planting them in the same spot each year, which creates a great environment for disease. You also need to place some kind of a wire ring around them in order to keep the growing plants off the ground and allow the air to flow through them.
Every year for the past 10 years, I have home canned or processed 60 pints of tomatoes, 30 pints of tomato soup, 20 pints of salsa, 8 pints of tomato preserves, 10 quarts of Bloody Mary mix, 15 pints of spaghetti sauce, 7 pints of catsup and 20 pints of tomato sauce. Plus, I dehydrate cherry tomatoes and freeze any surplus tomatoes to use in chili or stews.
Here are a couple of my old standby recipes:
Homemade Tomato Soup Recipe
- Tomatoes, chopped (Roma's work best) -- 7 quarts
- Medium onions, chopped -- 3 1/2
- Celery, chopped -- 5 stalks
- Garlic, crushed -- 6 cloves
- Parsley, chopped - 1 tablespoon
- Oregano, crushed -- 1 tablespoon
- Basil, chopped 1 tablespoon
- Bay leaves -- 2
- Flour -- 7 tablespoons
- Butter -- 7 tablespoons
- Salt -- 1 1/2 tablespoons
- Sugar -- 1/4 cup
- Pepper -- 1 1/2 teaspoons
- Lemon juice -- 3 tablespoons
- Add the tomatoes, onions, celery, garlic, parsely, oregano, basil and bay leaves to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until the celery is tender and the tomatoes are cooked down to about two-thirds of their original volume.
- Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool a little. Working in batches, put the soup through a sieve and discard the solids. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer again over medium heat.
- In small pan, rub the flour and butter together with your fingers to make a smooth paste. Whisk in a little of the soup into the paste to thin it out. Then add the paste to the boiling soup and stir in well. Add the sugar, salt and pepper and simmer 10 minutes more to blend all the flavors.
- Fill pint jars and add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to each jar. Process in boiling water bath for 15 to 20 minutes.
This recipe makes about seven pints, but only process five of them. Save the remaining two for supper that night. Nothing's better than fresh homemade tomato soup. Mmmmmmmm!
Old-Fashioned Tomato Preserves Recipe
Makes about 5 pints
- Ripe tomatoes -- 5 pounds, or around 11 cups
- Sugar -- 8 cups
- Lemons, halved lengthwise and sliced very thinly -- 2
- Scald, peel and quarter the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes and sugar to a large, non-reactive pot and stir together. Cover and let stand for 6 to 8 hours.
- Drain off the juice, reserving the tomatoes, and boil the juice until it spins a thread (Translation: reaches about 220°F on a candy thermometer.).
- Add the reserved tomatoes and the lemon slices to the boiled juice and simmer until its consistency is thick and clear.
- Pour into pint jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
That's it! No Sure-Gel. No pectin. Just these three ingredients. Yes, you leave the rinds on the lemon. They cook down into a fantastic flavor. The tartness of the lemons and the sweetness of the tomatoes create an incredible taste sensation. Hmmm! I'm gonna go pop some bread in the toaster right now.
See ya! -- Farmer Dan