October 11, 2011

2011 Tomato Sauce & Tomato Powder

Yowzers! How about that storm last Wednesday?  I have never seen hail that size in California.

I've worked in the insurance industry for seven years and I don't think I'd ever seen a hail claim before last week.  Hail is more of a problem in the Midwest, but in Chico, it's usually just exciting to watch because it looks like snow, and it "never" snows in Chico.

Last week's storm was certainly exciting to watch, even a little scary.  At our house the thunder and lightening happened simultaneously a couple times and the hail pounded on the roof for somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour.  It was all I could do to keep Gracie from running out (underneath the metal porch) to collect measuring cups full of the pea-size hail.

Further north, but still in town, a lot of cars were damaged by walnut-size hail.  In our insurance office we've reported close to twenty claims.  Most are dented vehicles, but a couple clients suffered storm damage to their mobile home, carport, porch or sky lights.  It was a quite a storm.

My little garden was understandably destroyed.  Though a noticed a couple cilantro seedlings rising up over their shredded counterparts this weekend, so I am not giving up all hope.  I can only wonder how it effected local farmers.  So far, what I've heard is that the worst of the hailstorm was in North Chico residential areas. Of course, there was rain all over, and that delays almond, walnut and rice harvests, but don't we get rain every October?

In any case, after days of dark, cold rain, I was thankful for beautiful weather this weekend.  It was nice to see the sun and be outside.  We went to the farmers market, the playground and a pumpkin patch.

And I found time to turn those ten or twelve pounds of tomatoes into sauce and tomato powder.  Unfortunately, in the mess that is my garage, I couldn't find my water bath canning kettle, so I ended up freezing the tomato sauce.  This method is easier than canning and it doesn't require a special recipe, but generally I prefer the shelf-stable method of canning. 

Tomato Sauce

I cut off the stem ends of the tomatoes, cut off any bruised parts, and oven roasted the tomatoes at 350 with a couple heads of garlic for an hour or so, until the tops of the skins were darkened.  (I did this step Thursday evening and chilled the roasted tomatoes until I was ready for the actual sauce making.)

Saturday I chopped two onions, two sweet peppers and a hot pepper and sauteed them in oil.  I peeled most of the skin off of the tomatoes, and added the tomatoes, garlic and their accumulated juices to the pot, along with a couple bay leaves, a handful of basil and a few sprigs of thyme.  I also added a couple shakes of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  (I almost wish I hadn't added the red pepper flakes, because I'm afraid what I intrepret as "solid zestiness," will certainly be called "too spicy" by our seven-year-old.)  I simmered the mix over medium-high heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, to meld the flavors and let some of the liquid evaporate.  Then I ran it all through the blender in batches, reheated it briefly and let it cool.

Finally I poured it into freezer bags.  I have three gallon-size freezer bags that each have about two pints of sauce in them.  I was careful to freeze them on a flat surface, so that the sauce is less than an inch thick.  That way should be able to break off a chunk just the right size for saucing a pizza or making a spaghetti sauce and avoid defrosting more than I need.  Now I just need to remember to label the bags, so I don't get them mixed up with all the other unlabelled bags in that freezer.

Tomato Powder
adapted from The Cheap Vegetable Gardener

I like The Cheap Vegetable Gardener.  He has a lot of fun ideas for preserving produce.  I made this as an afterthought when I saw the size of the pile of tomato skins that I would have otherwise just composted.  It's simple to make and now I have a spice jar full (about 1/3 cup) of Tomato Powder.  But what would you use it for, you ask?  Add it to any dish that needs some a little tomato flavor without liquid.  The Cheap Vegetable Gardener mentions omelettes.  I used it in this quick one-pot dinner.  IF you have a dehydrator, refer to the original post, if not, use your oven. 

Spread leftover tomato peels on a lightly greased rimmed sheet pan.  Set your oven to it's lowest temperature. Let the tomato peels dry in the oven overnight or all day. Remove from oven and let cool.  Touch them to be sure that they are thoroughly dried.  If not, return them to the oven for a few more hours.  Because of the low temperature, there is a long grace period between dry and burnt.  When the peels are dry and cooled, pack them into a coffee/spice grinder.  (If you leave them out too long, your kid might find them, taste them, and call them Spaghetti-O Chips.  That should give you a good idea of what the finished powder tastes like.)  Grind, while shaking, until the peels become a powder.  Pack into a storage vessel and store in a cool dark place up to six months. 

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