The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
And well we might have food preservation creeping into the back corners of our minds. This time of year is astounding, sort of overwhelming, from a culinary standpoint. Everything is overflowing with produce, the market stands, the refrigerator, the garden (er, well actually my garden is kind of overflowing with weeds more than anything else, but I swear that’s only because we’ve been traveling so much this summer). But, the days are distinctly shorter. I find myself looking up at the sky on my bike ride home and thinking, “What do you think you’re doing? Why are you so dark? I swear you used to be light at this time!” And so we’re reminded that the tangled profusion of fruits and vegetables we’re trying to make our way through right now will, in not too long, give way to cold and frost, decomposing. But also renewing the earth.
But a fat lot of good the renewal of the earth does a person if they don’t have any food to survive the winter. Not that that is actually a problem for most of us these days, but I think that preserving food is a skill that should not be lost. It feeds a primal urge to prepare and save for harder days. It allows you to bottle up a little bit of summer sunshine – in the form of peaches, or tomatoes, or corn – to open up in mid-January when you most need to be licked by those rays. It’s also a wonderfully fun way to spend time with friends, if you do a group canning afternoon, and keep your hands busy so your mind can frolic. Between all of this and the growing acknowledgement of the importance of supporting local food systems, food preservation is resurging by leaps and bounds.
Now, I have to admit, I’ve done some canning of tomatoes and beans and peaches and jams, but I still don’t feel like I’m very adept at it. I still seek out the help of someone who’s more experienced than me. And, I still always get a teensy tinsy twinge of worry each time I eat one of my jars of food. Our mantra while we can is: “watch the botch!” And really, as long as you’re canning acidic foods (fruits), or add an adequate amount of vinegar or lemon juice to those that aren’t quite acidic enough (like tomatoes) it’s pretty unlikely you’ll wind up with botulism in your food. But, it’s always good to be very careful.
This year, I haven’t been able to get together with any of my canning compatriots. Nor do I have any of my own equipment. So, I’ve been freezing foods to preserve them instead. Most things just require a quick blanching. Then seal them in freezer bags and pop them into the freezer. We pretty much have absolutely no space in there anymore. And we’re not even done with September yet! But, anyway, suffice it to say that for this challenge, I decided to make something to freeze.
The original suggested challenge was to make apple butter to preserve your apples. But, preservation is all about doing something with your overstock, and I do not have anything close to an overstock of apples yet! (Actually, no matter how many I pick or buy, I very rarely wind up with an overstock. I’m kind of an insane overeater of apples. Like really. I think it verges on unhealthy. I keep every doctor in the entire greater Boston area away – and we know how many hospitals there are here. (a lot)) But, I did have a few more tomatoes than I could manage to make into salsas, sauces, salads, or sandwich fillings (or other things that start with s!). So, I did one of the most wonderfully easy and delicious things you can do with a tomato surplus. Roast them, and freeze them. I didn’t even feel bad about not canning because roasted tomatoes actually lend themselves better to freezing than canning anyway. I can’t wait to open up each of those containers over the course of the winter and have my base for spaghetti sauce or soup or curry ready to go.
Oven roasted tomatoes for freezing
- all the extra tomatoes you have around
- a bunch of olive oil
- salt and pepper
- chopped basil, if desired
- Wash your tomatoes, and cut them in half. Oil a baking pan lightly with olive oil, then place all the tomatoes into it, cut sides up. Drizzle and rub all the cut sides with olive oil, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper and chopped basil. Roast them in the oven at 350F, for about an hour, until they are all soft and and juicy getting wrinkly. Let them cool for a bit, until they aren’t at a temperature that will melt a plastic bag.
- Then, just spoon the tomatoes and their juices into bags (or into freezer proof Tupperware type containers), press any air from the top, seal the bag, and put it in the freezer. I’d recommend dividing the tomatoes up into the portions you would use for cooking a single meal, and putting each portion into a separate bag, that way the defrosting and using process is easier. Also, label your bags with the date and what it is, so there’s no confusion if you’re cleaning out the freezer at some point several decades from now. Lastly, don’t forget to wash and reuse the bags after you use the tomatoes. Freezer bags are pretty sturdy and can usually be reused several times! Waste not want not.