We eat a lot of tomatoes in our family but very few of them fresh. Usually they take the form of canned crushed tomatoes or tomato paste (and, of course, ketchup).
Tomatoes are so easy to grow but I never grew many of them because processing them myself seemed so daunting.
Last week I was determined to take the plunge and make my own homegrown crushed tomatoes.
It was a 5 step process:
1. I planted, watered and picked the tomato plants over a period of 3 months (this was the least intimidating part). Read my easy guide to growing your own tomatoes in Israel
2. I sliced off the stem part and cut an X into the bottom with a paring knife
3. I blanched them in boiling water for approximately 3 minutes, before lifting them into an ice bath with a slotted spoon.
4. When they were cool, it was extremely easy to peel off their skins. Then I had some impressive looking whole skinned tomatoes.
5. I ran them through the blender for 30 seconds.
Then I had crushed tomatoes – organic, super-duper-local and free of any packaging or transportation emissions.
They tasted great in the shashshuka I made – using homegrown zucchinis, peppers, garlic and eggs.
I felt like the Mediterranean farming queen!
Once the royal feast was completed, I asked myself the question: could I do this tomato processing thing on a bigger scale? For some reason, of all my food growing/processing/zero waste projects, this one has struck me as significant and worth investment.
It only took 15 minutes with 10 tomatoes, but that is only 1 large can. We go through 2-3 large cans a week. I’d have to get the family involved, like the Italians do on the their annual Tomato Day every summer. And that would involve learning safe canning practices – something I’ve never attempted.
I would also have to grow a lot more tomatoes! Maybe my whole yard would just be tomatoes, and that doesn’t fit with my diverse farming philosophy.
This is not simple. But I feel like I made progress towards a goal in my first tomato processing attempt!
Update 3 Years Later (August 2023)
This post asked a question: “Will I ever do this again?”
Three years on, I can say the answer is YES!
Processing tomatoes is something I now do a few times each summer. I’ve even done it in workshops I run for private groups on my city farm. My visitors find it very hands-on, eye-opening and fun.
I really enjoy the process and the results, but there are a few things that I have learned since writing this post which I would like to share.
If you are planning to cook tomatoes, then the best kind to use are egg-shaped ones, such as Roma Tomatoes.
These tomatoes are a lot less juicy and more fleshy than typical eating tomatoes, which means you get a thicker sauce. With regular round tomatoes, the sauce can be quite watery, and you either need to drain it or boil it for a long time to evaporate the excess water.
This year, I grew egg-shaped tomatoes and I noticed a big difference in how juicy they are. When you cut them, no juice spurts out at all. They taste wonderful too!
However, regular tomatoes work fine if that’s all that you can get. I did that this year earlier in the season and the sauce was great.
To Skip the Peeling, Use a Food Mill
I am not a lover of gadgets and I don’t buy many, but after two years of wanting, learn I finally splurged my $40 on a food mill from Amazon.
I use it year-round for making homemade applesauce without any peeling or coring. I am a little obsessed with applesauce, which is one of my go-to treats whenever I’m craving something sweet. Here is my recipe.
When I bought the food mill, I also knew it would make tomato processing a lot easier, as I would no longer need to peel the tomatoes – which cuts out about 80% of the work. The truth is, I quite enjoy peeling tomatoes and apples. But I realized the time-consuming nature of the task was preventing me from undertaking it very often.
The food mill has changed all that. Large batches of homemade tomato sauce (and applesauce) are just so easy now!
Still, I am not recommending that anyone clutter up their home with gadgets that just collect dust. Don’t buy a food mill unless you know for sure you will use it pretty often – say at least 10 times a year.
If you are just experimenting, peel the old-fashioned way. It’s actually really fun!
Roast the Tomatoes for an Old-World Touch
If you want do something really special, slow roast the tomatoes before processing them into sauce. They get an amazing extra sweetness and depth of flavor.
Roasted tomato sauce is an old technique that is hardly used anymore because it’s extra work for just a small improvement in flavor. It hearkens back to the day when a kitchen garden was a woman’s pride, and the superior flavors of her cooking were the ultimate expression of her love for family and guests.
It’s an extra special farm treat that is worth trying!
My conclusion: all forms of tomato processing are a rewarding and fun late summer activity that increases your appreciation for the processed tomato products we consume every day.
Please pass the ketchup!
My name is Naomi and this is my tiny little farm in the heart of the rapidly growing city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. I enjoy growing, making and processing as much of my family's food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life.