Freezing Pureed Tomatoes

I was in a panic over tomatoes. We’d had an unseasonably sunny October, and the local tomatoes were like pure vegetal candy.

But rain was in the future. The weather channel predicted a deluge unlike any we’d seen since spring, in just two days time. We live in Oregon, and folks here know that when the rains start, it is time to hunker down and hibernate until they clear up some time in June.

So I was running around like crazy, trying to maximize our last few days of golden rays. We went to Bushue’s to ride a tractor around the pumpkin patch and pick out a stellar specimen for the front porch.

But also to pick the last of the tomatoes, before the rains split their juicy innards open.

I came home with about 20 pounds of tomatoes, and visions of their sweet nectar sustaining us through the dark, soggy depths of winter.

Of course, that meant I had to actually do something to preserve them for our future selves, and quickly.

Never mind that I had never actually “put up” before (no, no, not “put out”, you dirty little birdy! Put UP, as in preserve!).

But a couple weeks back I heard from the farmer who grows our vegs that you can simply throw tomatoes in the freezer whole, no skinning, seeding, blanching or chopping necessary. Tomatoes you plan to cook, that is.

My mind was blown.

That is when I hatched the plan to acquire a supply of tomatoes and put her bold statement to the test. I would get a bunch of beautiful local tomatoes, freeze them, and use them in place of the canned tomatoes stewed in BPA that I normally use during the dark months.

But then I thought, wait, instead of freezing them whole, which would make them a little difficult to use, why not purée the tomatoes before freezing them, since that is what I usually do with canned tomatoes before adding them to sauces and stews and soups?

Couldn’t I just purée the tomatoes , then freeze them flat in two cup portions in ziplock bags? That way they would be easy to store, and quick to thaw? It would be a bit of work on the front end, but then they would be ready to dump into whatever I happened to have bubbling on the stove.

Normally I would spend the better part of a day researching the answers to these questions, but I didn’t want to end up with a bunch of moldering tomatoes so I just went ahead puréed away.

It took about half a day to get through all the tomatoes, but by the end of it, I was thrilled to have 20 lovely ziplocks chilling in my freezer – roughly the equivalent of 20 14.5 oz cans.

I did have some mishaps though. I wasn’t paying attention when I stuck the first four ziplocks in the freezer, and they ended sliding partially over the edge of the shelf and freezing in a right angle – not the most convenient for storage. Also I managed to get tomato gore over every surface in the kitchen. So worth it though.

Freezing Pureed Tomatoes

Recipe notes: This is not so much a recipe, but instructions for freezing a bounty of glorious tomatoes.

a big old pile of ripe tomatoes (San Marzano of course are considered the best for sauces, but I don’t even know what kind of tomatoes I ended up with, and the puree turned out just lovely)

a supply of quart-size freezer ziplock bags

Wash all the grit off the tomatoes. Lop off the stem and any nasty bits. Chop into chunks (I cut the smaller ones into quarters, larger ones into eighths). Fill a blender about half way full of chunks (my blender had trouble blending if I filled it too full) and puree. I left mine a little chunky. Pour into a bowl. Scoop two cups of puree into a ziplock bag, seal tightly and lay flat in the freezer. I laid mine on the back of a cookie sheet to prevent any slipping and sliding around. Continue until tomatoes are gone, or you are sick of it. Pat yourself on the back for making your life a little tastier.

Update 11/14/12: So I’ve had the chance to use some of my stash, in the form of veg chili, ribollita and tomato sauce. All very tasty, with a distinct sweet tomatoey goodness that was lacking when I used the canned stuff.

That said, the texture turned out much different than expected – the puréed tomatoes were super watery and the flesh seemed to almost melt away.

Hubbie’s verdict on the veg chili: good, but mushy. When I made another batch several days later with canned tomatoes, he found it more toothsome and to his liking. Poop.

So I did some digging around and finally learned why certain tomatoes are best for sauce and others for eating fresh. It turns out that San Marzanos and other plum-type varieties such as Romas are meaty, and not so juicy. When cooked, they break down into a thick, luscious sauce. Tomatoes for eating fresh, on the other hand, are bursting with juice, but the flesh can’t withstand the heat. What you end up with is essentially tomato-flavored water.

In my tomato-induced panic back in October, I paid no attention to any of this. I just headed for the fields and blindly started picking. I had no idea what variety of tomato I was picking, although it’s clear to me now that they were tomatoes intended for eating fresh (they were round, and ranged in size from golf-ball to tennis-ball).

All is not lost though. I will still use my precious harvest in the coming winter months. But to combat the wateriness, I will simply keep the pot on the stove a little longer and let the water boil away. I find that if I just turn up the heat, take off the lid, and let my stew or chili or soup simmer away, eventually the water will evaporate and the concoction will thicken up nicely. Sometimes it takes a while, which is kind of annoying when you’re hungry. Just eat a snack and quit your grumbling, OK?