Summer in the Garden: King Tomato

Keeping the rulers of summer year round

By Wes Henry/Gardening Columnist Published:

Romaine I consider Prince of the garden, but in August tomato is King. Recent “Arctic vortexes” let us open the windows to a counterfeit season, yet the month and its bounty are here.

It seems far-fetched the plants that now look me in the eye were once guarded sprouts when frost and snow covered the cold frames and required so much care. They have become like children that step into adulthood. We then gaze upon them in wonder and smile with satisfaction that to our surprise, we’ve done somethin’ right. 

Just past the bright and nodding sunflowers, every stage of fruit from bloom, green fruits, and those turning pale to ripe-red can be found among the teeming and unruly vines. The harvested consume half or more of the dining room table covered with newsprint. 

Their uses abound. Most often they are sliced as a side dish to every meal — breakfast, lunch, supper, and snack — and for sandwiches as simple as Penny’s one thick slice and mayo to the traditional BLT even dressed up a bit by using fresh basil leaves, gently washed and patted dry, in place of lettuce. 

“However you enjoy King Tomato from the garden, remember the American virtues of industry and thrift and save some for later use. It cannot be argued that great is the reward; for jars brimming with summer’s pent sunshine when snowflakes scatter on the panes, indeed warm souls.”

— Wes Henry

With such abundance we become generous neighbors again and rediscover our economic lessons hold water. Earlier in the year, being more than a dollar per pound, slicers are now a “dime a dozen” and folks are begged to take more before they ruin! Yet, before they do, if not all are shared, understand, they are the easiest to keep for later use when we dream of such a time as this. 

Keeping the abundance

Although you can freeze tomatoes, the acid they contain allows them to be one of the most likely of foods not to spoil when canned. It is this method of “puttin’ up” I prefer for the simple fact that if electricity is lost, they are safe on the shelf in the basement or cellar. 

Properly prepared (consult your canning guide such as the Ball Blue Book), tomatoes are safe in self-sealing jars well into the next growing season. As useful and as plentiful as they are, it’s a waste not to preserve the surplus.

Peeled, seeded, diced, and packed into pint jars, your very own garden fresh tomatoes are the best for freshly made salsa come winter. Adding basil and garlic cloves creates from-the-jar-ready for pasta recipes. Simply peeled and cored and left whole by the quart they can later be emptied into the pan and crushed as a base for zesty vegetable soups and chili.

However, juiced is how I choose to save the most for later. I do enjoy a glass on frosty mornings. It’s not only good for the soul but all the nourishment that comes from it does the body good. The juice is also used in soups made alongside other vegetables or alone thickened with cream for that warm classic companion to grilled cheese sandwiches.

Easy to ‘juice’

Juicing is easier in prep than canning whole, quartered, or diced because no peeling or seeding is required and more especially if you have one of those juicing contraptions. I don’t. 

If you don’t either, don’t despair; here’s the quick but doable version.

Just wash the lot in clean water and remove to drain. Then just core, remove any bad spots, and cut into quarters. Bring the quarters to a boil and cut back the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes and remove from the stove.

Again, no peeling or seeding or otherwise is required. My hand cranked food mill/sieve, which you can still find and buy, does all that for me. With the pulp and juice remaining I then heat it to almost a boil and ladle into quart jars adding a teaspoon of salt and hot sauce if you prefer a little spiciness, and process at five pounds of pressure for 20 minutes in the pressure canner. 

A word from experience though, don’t add any water to the quarters as a friend recently did and stir frequently as not to allow the quarters to scorch as I have done. Neither was thrown out as the friend cooked the juice down by a third and all was very well and I still juiced and canned the burnt batch. I was careful not to scrape the bottom when stirring and filling the jars. With those marked to know which were from those scorched, I was pleasantly surprised it contained a “smokey” flavor.

However you enjoy King Tomato from the garden, remember the American virtues of industry and thrift and save some for later use. It cannot be argued that great is the reward; for jars brimming with summer’s pent sunshine when snowflakes scatter on the panes, indeed warm souls. 

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