Too Hot to Can? Try a Deep Freeze
That slurping pop when you break the seal on a jar of canned tomatoes in January is like having a warm ray of sunshine stream into the kitchen on a short, cold day. By then, you’ve likely forgotten about the humid, 90-degree August day you spent laboring to transform 50 pounds of garden tomatoes into 10 jars of canned ones in a kitchen-wide mess that made it difficult to tell if that was tomato juice or your own blood, sweat and tears spattered all over your white cabinets.
This summer, simply freeze them.
Core the tomatoes with their skins on. Lay the fruit apart from each other on a sheet tray or a cleared-off shelf in your freezer and keep them there overnight. The next morning, toss them into a bag, letting them safely clack against each other like billiard balls, and then into the freezer to sit until you want to use them. The magical thing about frozen whole tomatoes is that the skin peels away from the flesh as they thaw, a very welcome improvement over the traditional blanch, shock and peel process involved in canning them.
According to Dana Gunders, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, a freezer is the perfect place to preserve summer’s colorful bounty for winter’s seemingly brownish seasonal cuisine. But she warns that you do need to know how to prep and pack any item going into the freezer.
Moist produce like berries, sliced peppers and skin-on tomatoes need to be placed in the freezer spread apart from each other to avoid clumping, therefore making it easier to pull out just the amount you want to use later on. Watery items like melons or skinned tomatoes should be pureed. Most garden vegetables must be blanched—cooked between one minute (for things like spinach) and four minutes (for things like corn kernels and diced potatoes)—in boiling water and then immediately plunged into ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching stops destructive enzymes in the vegetables so that they keep their quality, color and vitamins while frozen.
Gunders says that once the vegetables are prepped, it’s best to pack them in clear, airtight containers (it helps immensely if these are stackable) that are properly portioned for your household and very clearly labeled to avoid surprises. These can be either plastic or glass, but if using the later, make sure there is one-half inch of headroom in the jar so that it will not break when the food expands slightly as it freezes.
And she cautions that both fridge top (or bottom) freezers and stand-alone deep freeze units should be organized for good airflow. Items should be stacked tightly but not shoehorned into every available space so that the air can go between the bundles to keep them frozen long term.
Finally, food intended for freezing should be added to the freezer gradually. The National Center for Home Preservation says not to add more than three pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space in a 24-hour period. So pace yourself. You’ve got plenty of time now that you’re not canning 50 pounds of tomatoes.