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Tomato season

August 6, 2008 - Kathie Evanoff
Tomato season is exciting and even if you aren’t a fan, you certainly know at least 10 people who are.

A friend recently told me that the best time of the summer is when she can enjoy that first tomato sandwich of the season. She wasn’t describing grocery store tomatoes, of course, but that first huge slicing tomato that comes out of the garden, juicy and sweet and tasting unlike anything we’ve had since last year. There is nothing like it.

Unless of course, you can plan for colder weather by preserving some of those tomatoes. Nearly everyone I know who preserves tomatoes spends hours in the kitchen, first blanching the fruit to get the skins off easily and then grinding in some sort of mechanical gadget to separate the seeds from the pulp.

New models can also separate the peel, making blanching unnecessary. And if you are mechanically handy, as my husband is, you can hook a small motor up to the contraption and you won’t even have to do the grinding by hand. Then there is standing by the stove for hours while the juice cooks down into a thick sauce. It takes a lot of time, not to mention heating up the house and being ever watchful because tomato sauce can burn quickly if left unattended.

One of my favorite methods of preserving tomatoes is drying. They aren’t literally “sun-dried” tomatoes because I don’t dry them in the sun, but I layer several trays of sliced, plum tomatoes and let them dry for about 16 hours while I go about my business. The temperature is so minimal, it doesn’t create any extra heat in the kitchen. While I can’t pour “sun-dried” sauce on my pasta, I can rehydrate the slices in a small amount of hot water and toss them into a pan with olive oil and garlic for a great pasta topping.

But I don’t pine for this dish in winter. Instead I have two other favorite ways of using my dried tomato slices. I can tightly layer slices in a jar with a couple cloves of garlic and cover it with olive oil and use it to add to salads or top sandwiches all winter. Its best to use baby food jars for this because it must be used within five days and must be kept refrigerated. Anything used to flavor oils is highly perishable.

I also use these slices on pizza all winter. I make individual pizzas on English muffins, flat breads or even pita bread rounds. Top with other vegetables and low-fat cheese (or homemade mozzarella), bake for a few minutes, and you have a filling and quite tasty meal.

I placed these plum tomato slices in the dehydrator last night and will bag them up tonight when I get home from work. I put them into quart-size freezer bags and store them in the freezer where they will keep for several months.

Don’t think because they are dehydrated that they have a shelf life. Moisture in the air can permeate the bags and rehydrate the tomato slices enough to provide a breeding ground for some toxic, food-poisoning producing bacteria. Freeze them or nothing. There are no exceptions.

You might think that tomatoes are acidic and have their own built-in immunity to botulism or salmonella. Wrong! Maybe the old fashioned varieties once did, but our soils and hybrid tomatoes do not have enough acid to prevent trouble. Stay safe and either pressure can, follow explicit instructions in your up-to-date canning recipe, or freeze. I can’t stress this enough. For proper canning methods, contact The Ohio State University Trumbull County Extension at 330-638-6783.

This morning I began my day with two organic, local farm eggs and two slices of homemade whole-wheat bread. The bread was dry, but is so good, it doesn’t need anything else. I also had my usual cup of tea.

I didn’t pack this morning as I was busy taking garden photos instead of getting myself together for work. Instead, I checked out nutritional information for Subway online and found I could get a Subway club sandwich (without cheese) for less calories than a cheeseburger. The Subway sandwich has more vegetables and was more filling. Although I sort of craved a burger, I knew that an hour later, I’d be ready to graze, so I opted for the vegetables instead. I found that not only was it filling, but I couldn’t finish it all and ended up tossing about a quarter of the six-inch sub. Less calories for me although I still counted them.

 
 

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Breakfast: 2 ounces meat; 1 ½ ounce grains; 30 discretionary calories. Breakfast calories: 326