Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes + black cherry tomato sauce

This summer’s growing season has been emotionally harrowing — exuberant highs and furrowed-brow lows. When July’s heat wave arrived … and made itself right at home … I thought my tomatoes, my beloved tomatoes, were done for.

Tomato plants love heat — they love it a lot — but need it in moderation. A few days of spiked 88° temps followed by some cool nights, plus deep but infrequent watering will cause them to flower their little heads right off. Lather, rinse, repeat (heat + cool + water) = hundreds of tomatoes by summer’s end.

But July’s heat and drought were relentless. 19 days over 90°. In a row. My tomatoes went into a fruiting holding pattern, still pushing out green growth, but very few flowers. Coupled with several thorough deer raids, snatching early June fruit from their vines, I dreaded a summer of no tomatoes.

Then August arrived, and she brought with her rain, wonderful rain, and cool (sometimes downright chilly) nights. And the tomatoes took off. I mean, took off. As in ….

Bam! Dozens and dozens of tomatoes — beautiful tomatoes — all at once. (I think I might have cried a little bit as I stood over this spread.)

And the pace has yet to let up. Especially with my all-time favorite tomato, the Black Cherry. Heirloom Black Cherry tomato plants are crazy rogues that reach for the sky and don’t stop until first frost. In the photo above, left, you can see that the Black Cherry has already topped an 8′ fence, bent over from the weight of tomato clusters at its tip, and stretched nearly back down to the ground on the other side. 15 feet of Black Cherry love (and that’s just one branch from one plant, in early August).

In the photo to the right, I share my family’s tomato-growing secret: The Cooling Tower. My master gardener brother introduced these to the family garden of my youth. Caged composting towers set smack dab in the middle of a tomato stand, filled with nature’s best composting materials: freshly mulched grass clippings and dried leaves saved from last fall’s rakings. They feed into the ground near (but not directly over) the root systems of the tomato plants.

We nicknamed them Cooling Towers because of the incredible heat given off during the composting cycle, like a nuclear power plant. When the pile goes cool, you turn it over with a pitch fork, give it a good dose of water, and the cycle renews, adding new green and brown material all the while. At the end of the season, any remaining materials are raked across the garden and turned under.

Last weekend, I picked over 2 pounds of Black Cherries. And that meant just one thing: homemade tomato sauce.

Yes, that’s me, above, peeling cherry tomatoes. Not as insane as it sounds. I learned a peeling technique last year that has saved me hours of time (and, to be quite blunt about it, returned my love of preserving tomato sauce — I hate peeling tomatoes).

Place the tomatoes, whole, in the freezer and allow to freeze solid. Let thaw in a strainer. The skins will peel right off. Seriously: right. off.

It’s even better with romas: make a slit in the non-stem end (you can do this before freezing), give a gentle squeeze to the thawed tomato, and it will shoot right of its skin.

Peeling the cherry tomatoes was like peeling a lot of miniature bananas — the skins came clean off leaving behind beautifully intact tomato meat.

Peeps, look at those juicy cherry tomatoes! I love tomato seeds and the gel sacks they sit in. When I make tomato sauce for freezing, I never, ever remove the seeds. (Canning is different — I follow the directions of whatever professionally-tested recipe I’m using, so as not to upset the pH balance in the tomato mixture.)

A quick buzz with an immersion blender at the end of cooking makes quick work of breaking down the seeds.

When freezing sauce, I use exclusively the brilliant recipe by Marcella Hazan: tomatoes, a few pats of butter, a roughly chopped onion. Simmer for a long stretch, until the butter forms pools on the surface, about 45 minutes. (I don’t discard the onion as she instructs, but rather blend it in, along with the seeds, with the immersion blender at the end.)

That’s it: no garlic, no basil, no parsley. If I need those flavors, I’ll add them during reheating.

The other night I picked 3 more pounds of Black Cherries, 3 pounds of Pink Brandywines (another amazing tomato that makes wonderful sauces), some Purple Russians, Violet Jaspers, Blondkopfchen, and a few golf-ball-sized orange Jaune Flammé.

I {heart} tomatoes.

Karen xo

Speak Your Mind