By Ari LeVaux
When tomatoes rain, they pour. One day you’re wondering if any of your tomatoes will ever ripen, and the next you’re wondering what to do with them all. And then before you know it, you’re stuck with the memories of tomatoes that you were able to enjoy, a crimson froth on the wave of summer, with whatever tomatoes you managed to stash away.
But now, the tomatoes languish, growing soft on countertop platters, where they are easily taken for granted, as if there will always be tomatoes. One can also feel crushed by the weight of all the responsibility those tomatoes embody. If any rot, you have committed a crime against food.
Whether they come from a flush garden, friendly neighbors, a farmers’ market or food bank, if you don’t have tomatoes to deal with yet, you will soon. So here are some ways of handling the red monsoon of late summer.
Simple Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
This sauce is the ultimate way of putting away tomatoes quickly and efficiently while leaving the widest array of options on the table. Other than a little bit of salt and some vinegar to raise the acid level, I kick that jar down the road, knowing that when the time comes I can decide how to season it. I leave the sauce uncommitted, and add whatever spices or veggies I care to at the time of cooking.
Remove the stem scab and any imperfections the tomatoes may harbor. Lay them flat on a cookie sheet(s), and roast them at 400 degrees until the tomatoes collapse into round, wrinkled piles. Remove the tray from the oven. When the tomatoes are cool, lift off the skins, squeezing their pale juice back onto the tray.
Many people blanch their tomatoes in boiling water and remove the skins that way. But since learning the oven-roasted tomato attack, I never looked back.
But however you reach the point of having peeled your tomatoes, dump the remaining juicy pulp into a thick-bottomed pot and simmer on low heat for an hour or two—until it reaches your desired thickness. Season with salt.
Assemble your sterilized jars. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to each quart, and half a tablespoon to each pint. Then ladle the sauce into the jars, and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. This sauce can also be frozen in freezer bags, after first letting it cool.
Ma Ma’s Chunky Spicy Ketchup
This sauce, courtesy of my friend Allen Broach’s grandma, comes from southern plantation country. I’ve only been making it for a year, but it’s already developed a following among my circle of canning enthusiasts. The original recipe uses canned, drained tomatoes, but I’ve made it with fresh tomatoes and it works great. The juicier specimens, however, might take longer to cook down sufficiently. I like to use a combination of Roma and slicing tomatoes.
4 quarts canned (drained) or fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 rounded tablespoon of whole mixed pickling spices, tied in a 5×5-inch square of cheesecloth, and crushed with a mallet
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black peppercorns (Broach admits to using a lot more)
1 cup sugar
¾ cup dark vinegar (I used cider)
5 medium onions, chopped
1 or 2 pods, hot pepper (optional, but recommended)
Add everything to a thick-bottomed pot and cook on low/medium for two-to-three hours, stirring often. Occasionally mash the bag of spices to release flavors.
“Don’t hurry with this sauce,” Broach cautioned. “Ma Ma was a very patient person and cook.”
Pour into sterilized jars, and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Keep them away from my Ma Ma-in-law, as she would happily eat them all.
With this recipe in your arsenal, you will never again fear a pile of tomatoes.