In the days when we all lived closer to the land , it was common practice to pull up the last of the tomato plants—those still heavy with green fruit—by their roots and hang them, upside down, on the walls of the root cellar, pantry, or, in the proper climate, a protected back porch, where the tomatoes would ripen slowly, stretching the season a few precious weeks. This can be done today, though few us have root cellars or large pantries. Should you be blessed with both land and space, give it a try, being sure to sort through the branches every few days and pluck off not just the ripe fruit but any that may have spoiled.
There are alternatives to this most romantic of tomato preservation techniques. Forced-air dehydrators let you make your own dried tomatoes easily. Tomatoes also take well to freezing, packed in tightly sealed, airtight packages and used within about three months. Simply peel them, remove the stem end, and freeze them whole or chop them coarsely. of course, they cannot replace fresh tomatoes but are fine for soups and sauces. Most tomato sauces can be frozen, too.
Finally, canning tomatoes, a somewhat more laborious task than drying or freezing, is a great way to spend a couple of days in the dead of summer. (On Persephone's Island, by Mary Taylor Simetti, includes a wonderfully evocative account of the long tradition of making tomato sauce in Sicily.)
Copyright 1996 by Michele Anna Jordan, author of The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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