Tomatoes

Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum).

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Oh, no. My cupboard is almost bare. Actually, it’s not my cupboard. It’s my new upright freezer. After many years, my old chest freezer died. I planned to replace it with another chest-type freezer, but the uprights were irresistible. I know that cold is lost when the door is open, more so than with a chest. But I don’t have to keep it open so long hunting for stuff. And I know what I still have at a glance.

I should say a word about my preserving techniques here. I don’t use plastic containers or bags. Everything goes into freezer jars. Yes, they will break if I don’t take precautions. Don’t fill them too full. Don’t tighten the lid until they are frozen, and then only loosely. I keep an ice cube storage tray from an old ice maker in the freezer, which I set the jars into until they are frozen–just in case they spill. Then, when they are frozen, I can tighten the lids–loosely–and put the jars on the proper shelves. It works for me.

Why not plastics? Well, there are the possible health issues, but at my age I could probably eat plastic and not die too much sooner. Doing so might compromise my quality of health, I suppose. Also, I should consider the health of my family and guests eating my cooking.

There’s the recycling issue. Our town has a good recycling program for plastic containers. The local Stop’n’Shop has a bin for used plastic bags. So, I don’t have to put too much plastic in the trash.

My opposition to plastics is a consumer statement. Just as I like to support organic or sustainable farming with my food dollars, I like to support non-plastic alternatives to everything as much as possible. I’ll never be rich and philanthropic, which is OK with me. Philanthropy has too many unintended consequences for my personal comfort level. Therefore, my only way of making a small consumer statement is to buy, as much as possible, according to my own ethical standards. So, as little plastic as possible. Still too much even at that.

But back to tomatoes. Last summer, after eating tomatoes and giving them away, I managed to freeze a fair amount of marinara sauce and salsa. I used them steadily since November–4 months now–and I’m almost out. So I need to freeze more this year, especially with the thought of my new freezer urging me on.

In addition to quantity, I hope to improve the quality of my frozen products, particularly the marinara sauce. This winter, some of the sauce was too soupy. It was fine for stews or chili, but not good for pasta dishes. I think this is because I made sauce from whatever tomatoes were overripe–regardless of whether they were slicers or plum tomatoes. Can’t do that. I also want to reduce some tomato sauce down to paste and freeze it in small jars, which requires a huge mass of ripe tomatoes.

So, my tomato goals for 2015 are to label soupy sauce versus saucy sauce, and to make tomato paste.

By the way, my standard marinara recipe is a version of Lidia’s. Olive oil and garlic in the sauce pan, add tomatoes, add fresh basil leaves toward the end. Simmer. Put it through a food mill. Freeze.

To get a saucier sauce, I have to use plum tomatoes and simmer longer. If I use slicers or don’t simmer long enough, OK, but label it juice and use it in stews.

I limited my varieties of tomato seeds this year to 5. One cherry, two slicers, two plums.

One determinate, four indeterminate (I think).

Three heirlooms, two hybrids.

How many other ways can they be divided up?

Determinate tomatoes are bush tomatoes. They do not have to be staked or pruned.

Indeterminate tomatoes go sprawling all over and will grow until they are a jungle. They should be staked, although they always escape their stakes, and pruning is a good thing. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a good video on pruning. But more on that when we get that far.

Johnny’s describes heirlooms as famous for being fickle, lower yielding than hybrids, and thinner skinned. Heirlooms have stood the test of time with their seeds being saved and passed down through generations.

1. Celebrity F1. Hybrid determinate bush tomato. 72 days from transplanting. This is my most sensible tomato. The Jane Austen of my vegetable garden. Really red slicer tomatoes in a beautiful just-the-right-size round shape. 7-8 oz. Flavorful. My mother always planted these, so nostalgia may play a part in my choice here.

2. New Girl F1. Hybrid indeterminate. 62 days from transplanting. This is a new one for me, although I’ve tried and loved Early Girl. Johnny’s says New Girl has more flavor and is more disease resistant than Early Girl. Another slicer. Will have to be staked and pruned. So we will see.

3. Amish Paste. Heirloom. 85 days from transplanting. Plum tomato. The packet says tall vine. I consider it indeterminate, so staking and pruning are in order. This will be my third year for these. Amish Paste and Speckled Roman (below) have replaced a San Marzano variety that I planted for many years. Both make great tasting sauce but can also be sliced lengthwise for immediate eating if necessary. 8-12 oz.

4. Speckled Roman. Heirloom. 85 days from transplanting. Plum tomato. As with Amish Paste, they aren’t called indeterminate, but the vines are tall and sprawling enough to require staking and pruning. I’m thinking now that perhaps I should experiment with not pruning one vine of each of the plums, just to see how they do. 6-8 oz. I love the look of the Speckled Romans. They have subtle golden stripes lengthwise. I should choose between Amish Paste and Speckled Roman–they are so much the same. Perhaps next year.

5. Matt’s Wild Cherry. Heirloom. 60 days. Cherry tomato. Johnny’s doesn’t say indeterminate, but . . . . I’m thinking perhaps the determinate/indeterminate distinction is for hybrids. Maybe all heirlooms are indeterminate. That would make sense. Johnny’s says Matt’s Wild Cherry doesn’t produce as well as modern varieties, but I have no complaints with yield. I pick and eat and eat and pick some more. I can pick and eat while I’m weeding the garden. When I bring them in, they disappear off the kitchen counter within the hour. They are like candy. The vines also take over vast amounts of space. No amount of staking and pruning can contain them. They come up volunteer in all parts of the garden and have to be ripped out like weeds. They make wonderful salsa, if they don’t get eaten first. They are also great in any summer recipe. Can’t say enough good things about Matt’s Wild Cherry.

I’ll be back with lots more information about tomatoes when it’s time to start them indoors–5 to 6 weeks before planting out. I figure the early part of April. Johnny’s warns not to start them too early. They will get leggy and not transplant well.

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