Messy

Of course, you can't keep them like this

Of course, you can’t keep them like this

I like bottling, but it sure is a messy occupation. Today I have been busy with all those tomatoes that we bought at the weekend. Over the past two days they have been roasted and passed through my tomato mill, so that by this morning I had two big posts of puree just waiting to be bottled. It was at this point that I realised that my smallest preserving jars are half a litre (0.87 of an imperial pint or 1 US pint) which is fine, but there are times when that’s going to be too much for me (especially being on my own over the winter). So, I took a trip to the fabulous hardware store in Lampeter, D.L. Williams.  They do seem to sell pretty much everything for the home, including preserving jars. I bought all the ones that they had which were less than a litre – six 200 ml and two 125 ml. I would have liked more, but at least I now had a range of sizes to use.

I just can't manage not to spill!

I just can’t manage not to spill!

This afternoon has involved lots of bubbling tomato, water baths, preserving jars, and mess! I’ve got a big pile of washing up and still a few jars simmering away in water, but mostly I’m done. Tomorrow morning, when all the jars are cool, I will be able to test them to see if they have sealed properly. It’s looking promising since the metal tops have gone ‘pop’ on the big jars (a good sign that the seals have formed as they cool).

So, that’s another way to avoid wasteful packaging – hopefully combined with the frozen passata, all this work will mean we don’t need to buy any tinned tomatoes over the winter and all the tomatoes we eat will have been produced locally.

Jars cooling

Jars cooling

Pass the passata

A trip to one of our local organic producers the other day yielded two bags of squishy tomatoes.  I occasionally manage to get some of these and am really happy when I do. Because they are too fragile to be taken to farmers’ market, they are only available direct from the farm and because they are not premium produce, they are always cheap. To me, however, they are perfect for making passata… especially since I don’t tend to have great success growing tomatoes myself.

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

I could bottle (can) them, but my preferred method of preservation is to make a concentrated passata and then to freeze it**. The approach is inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, namely that I roast the tomatoes first and then pulverise them. The roasting does two things – first it gives them a nice flavour; second, it reduces the water content, so I’m storing tomotoey goodness rather than liquid, which I can always restore later, but don’t need to keep in my freezer!

My tomato mill

My tomato mill

In fact what I do is much more simple than what Hugh suggests. I cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a roasting dish. Then I drizzle them with oil (olive or sunflower, but whatever you like is fine) and I roast them in the oven until they are cooked through – soft and possibly slightly browned. If I’m doing them on their own, I’d set the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and cook them for about 60 minutes, but I often roast them when I’m cooking other things, and the temperature is flexible and the time can be adjusted accordingly. I used to sprinkle them with seasoning and perhaps garlic or herbs, but these days I tend to leave them unadorned for a more versatile end product.

Cooked tomatoes in...

Cooked tomatoes in…

Once cooked, I leave them to cool in the tin (often overnight) and when they are cold I run them through my tomato mill – a magic machine that separates the the pulp from the seeds and skin. It’s hand cranked, so doesn’t take any electricity, but is a bit of a pain to wash afterwards. If you don’t have one of these wonderful items, you can simply sieve the cooked tomatoes, but this takes much more effort.

... passata (in the bowl) and skin + seeds (in the tray) out

… passata (in the bowl) and skin + seeds (in the tray) out

Finally I separate the passata (i.e. tomato pulp) into small containers for freezing. The little pots I use were sold as containers for baby food, but they are ideal for making small blocks of tomato. When required, you can defrost as many of the blocks as you require – one for a pizza or four for a bolognaise sauce – and enjoy the taste of summer through the winter.

Ready for freezing

Ready for freezing

-oOo-

  • Update November 2015: These days I also bottle it in 250ml Kilner jars, to avoid the need to buy another freezer!!
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