Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest

06
October
2013

Tomato Love Gone Bad

I love tomatoes. I wish I could eat them three times a day, 365 days a year.  Thankfully, I cannot – there ‘s usually a price to pay for such indulgence. And it’s more than that.

tomato-soup

As the northern hemisphere moves into dark tomato-less months, eating fresh tomatoes becomes a dilemma. This is a Mixed Greens repost from 2009 focusing on the true cost of winter tomatoes.

I read this article and was reminded of our expectation that we’ll have what we want to eat whenever we want it whatever the cost.  Seasonal? Say what? Yes I love tomatoes, but not more than people. Read this: Politics of the Plate:  The Price of Tomatoes.

My grandmother’s garden in eastern Washington was a haven for a tomato lover. I was small and everything in her garden was big.  Tomato plants loomed as I stood eye-to-eye with many a crimson fruit, my grandmother nearby with a saltshaker in her apron pocket and a paring knife.  Always the apron, the salt and a knife.  She’d pick a few, hand my brother and me each one – we’d lick a spot on the tomato, sprinkle with a dab of salt, take a bite and slurp into the warm deliciousness of a vine-ripened tomato. And then another. Experiences indelibly imbued with an understanding of her love for us and for gardening, her flowers, vegetables, fruit, trees – all things growing.

Late in the season she canned quart jars of tomatoes that carried all of us through winter. I must have been a teenager when I started helping her with that and continued nearly every summer until she died at the age of one hundred. In my twenties I had my doubts, but wanted to make her happy. What’s up, we can buy these at the store nowadays, I probably thought. Through her nineties she was still game; we preserved her tomatoes and peaches as always. Even then she remained in charge of the canning ritual. Seriously. Impassioned gardener and cook she was – and more.

So eventually I was on my own with this and faced a decision:  how serious was I about canning tomatoes?  Not many in my generation preserved anything at all.  But there was never a real debate – by then it was embedded in my genetic culinary code.

I now have my own versions of tomato preservation. I usually can a few jars, make roasted tomato sauce and freeze it, and dry cherry tomatoes. When in a hurry we cut tomatoes into large chunks, put into zip lock bags and into the freezer. Those tomatoes are at the base of this tomato soup.

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In western Washington now, we manage to grow an abundant crop of tomatoes each year in the backyard.  We eat plenty during the summer months, but there are always too many, and in late August and September the preserving begins. Green tomatoes in October end up on a windowsill, maybe they’ll ripen, or become the base for green tomato chutney.

All of this meandering to remind both myself, who is longing for a good fresh tomato, and readers that there are other possibilities for this fruit in winter that don’t require the tasteless off-season variety. And fresh, local, seasonal tomatoes will come around again next summer in all their delicious glory – I’m thinking about 250+ days from now, but who’s counting. Tomato soup using what’s been preserved fits for fall and winter.

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A Tomato Soup Recipe

Start with a quart of sauce – already reduced and intensified in flavor; or a couple of quarts,  28 oz. cans from the store; or whole uncooked frozen tomatoes tossed willy-nilly into the freezer in a September rush.

Finely chop half a medium onion and sauté slowly in butter and olive oil (with some bulb fennel finely chopped if you happen to have it); add a couple of minced cloves of garlic (and a finely minced jalapeno if you fancy); cook until onions and garlic are soft and translucent; add fresh thyme or rosemary (a tiny amount) which are in many gardens now, a pinch of dried oregano, basil or dill; curry or cumin would be fine. This wintry soup is open-minded about flavorings. However . . . I remind myself to be cautious. Personally, I want the tomato to prevail. If you feel that way too, go lightly with whatever herbs you choose.

Add the tomatoes, stir together with water or stock to create a desirable consistency, 2 – 4 cups of liquid, or more, depending on preference for thick or thin, an intense or less intense tomato flavor.  (Milk or cream may also be added later on.) Parmesan rind sitting in the fridge? Add it to the mix and remove before blending. Simmer together for fifteen minutes or so – longer to reduce liquid from canned tomatoes.  Allow the soup to cool slightly and using a blending apparatus of your choice blend to a desired consistency. I like some texture, therefore I blend just enough to break up the biggest chunks of tomato into small bits, but you could go all the way to smooth and silky. Return blended soup to the pan, reheat and add a little milk or cream (or not), a dab of sour cream if you choose, croutons or cheesy crackers.

In the meantime you’ve made a grilled cheese sandwich on the side. Right?


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5 Responses »

  1. I love tomato soup, especially with freshly made home bread for dunking. A few other people on the blogs have mentioned freezing tomatoes whole, something I’d never have thought would really work, but I guess you are yet another one to prove it does :-)

  2. What a lovely remembrance of Nanny–I can smell the tomato plants and taste that first warmish bite that is unmatched by any other tomato taste. I have a jar of oven roasted tomatoes that is my Sally staple. The last of my little cherry tomatoes go into the roasting pan with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt. The jar of these little beauties can last until the next crop of tomatoes or until I need to use up some little grape tomatoes that I bought with ever hopeful tastebuds. I’m already thinking about this year’s crop and where I might try to plant that can be out of deer nibbling reach.

    Thanks for a whiff of summer on this early March day of sun.

  3. I saw that article just last week, and it honestly made me sick. I have now decided never to buy tomatoes unless they are from a farmers market, where I know the people selling them.

  4. Mangochild, I’ve been skeptical about the throw-the-tomatoes-straight-into-the-freezer method too. For soups and sauces they’re great, a stupendous hit of summer.
    Jeanette my friend, yes, plant tomatoes!
    Matt, I too was appalled when I read the article. I know it’s not the story everywhere, but that ‘slavery’ in any form is part of our commercial food chain is ridiculous. I rant.

  5. that article in gourmet really affected me. i was in total disbelief that this has been going on for so long w/ most of us (including me) oblivious to it. it makes me sick to my stomach and i don’t think i’ll ever purchase tomatoes in the winter time without checking where they are from. but it makes me wonder how safe workers are anywhere. if this has been acceptable in our country, what about others? i think farmers markets are the only way to go (plus tomatoes kind of taste nasty in the winter…) gourmet is hit or miss w/ editorial these days, but that article was excellent. thanks for spreading this info around to others. i was thinking of doing a post on this exact subject.