Saturday, November 8, 2014

End of Tomato Season Deliciousness

At the end of the gardening season (in places with seasons, anyway), a gardener always has to make a decision on when to call it quits.  At some point, the summer veggies slow way down and have to be babied to keep them from getting frostbite, providing an annual test of a gardener's patience.  What is the cutoff?  We'd like to say we have some fancy algorithm figured out, where we take the derivative of the day length multiplied by the angle of the sun's trajectory which is divided by the number consecutive nights with frost forecast for the coming week or something, but we don't.  It usually works out that if we've had to cover things at night for more than about a week, the next available weekend day is slated for putting most of the garden to sleep for the winter.

On said weekend day, we usually find ourselves with a large pile of tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness.  From the nearly ripe and softball-sized beefsteaks all the way down to completely green cherry tomatoes that are probably only a few atoms in diameter, we do our best to rescue them all from direct sacrifice to the compost pile. (We also save some whole plants to let ripen on the vine in the garage, but mostly we pick the tomatoes straight away.)  What's our protocol for dealing with the sudden influx of tomato refugees? Read on and we'll reveal the methods to our madness. (Or at least, convince you of our madness.)

First, we sort everything into three categories: "Use now, has spots/cracks/etc," (Slytherin, top), "Use now, perfectly ripe," (Gryffindor, lower right), and "Let ripen on counter," (Hufflepuff, lower left). Peppers also have their names thrown into the sorting hat.

Among the Slytherins, we trim any bad spots off the greenest ones, and start converting them into one of a few end products.  Our current favorite is a green salsa-type sauce.  Other options we've considered are green pasta sauce, and any of these.

For our salsa-sauce, we boil the green tomatoes in a little bit of water until they start to soften, blend 'em up with the stick blender, and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, dried chives, and garlic.  A guess at how much we added to around 3 lbs tomatoes (also a guess) is 1 tablespoon each of salt, pepper, oregano, and chives, 3 tablespoons garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.  Katie says that's too much cayenne.  Jake says it's about right for a salsa in the 'hot' category.

The key is to keep adding spices until it tastes right.  Lots of testing and empirical recipe development make for a fun and filling night!

When the sauce finally tastes right, it goes in jars in the fridge, to be used on chips, nachos, eggs, potatoes, pork, and other things.  It might also go into containers in the freezer, if we have any handy at the time.  The red and partly-red tomatoes in the Slytherin basket get a similar treatment, but the sauce might be more of a pasta sauce, depending on our mood when we're dumping in the spices.  Any spotty peppers also end up in one of the two sauces.

For the Gryffindor basket, we're likely to turn the tomatoes into a pasta sauce straight away.  The good peppers go in here, too, along with an onion, and they get boiled up as for the Slytherins.

Blended up, too.

But for a thicker sauce, we like to save some time and energy with the old t-shirt-inside-a-colander-inside-a-bowl trick.  This way we don't have to boil off all that water.

We keep scraping the t-shirt with a wooden spoon to keep the water going through, and before long the sauce is nice and thick.

The filtrate is a nice tomato-ey juice (or a V-3 juice in our case, since we added peppers and onions), and can be drank directly, or mixed with Mary seasonings to provide refreshment during the next death match breakfast.  For what it's worth, if we have an electric stove (at 65% thermal efficiency) and pay $0.10/kWh for electricity, we're saving more than $0.09 per quart of tomato juice recovered.*  Booyah!

The filter cake goes back in the pot with some seasonings (salt, pepper, oregano, and lots of garlic, to taste).

Mix in some browned up hamburger meat, slap it on some spaghetti noodles, top it with a little parmesan, and we've got something tasty to go along with some roasted potatoes!  (Don't forget to top the taters with sour cream and some of that green sauce from up above.  Ketchup is for heathens.)  The Hufflepuffs we can wait patiently for as they ripen on the counter.

*Calculation assumes vaporizing water at its boiling point (2260 kJ/kg), 8.34 lb/gal of water, and standard conversions of 2.204 lb/kg, 3600 kJ/kWh, and 4 quarts/gal.

What do you do with your end-of-season tomato influx?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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