A Good Problem

What to do with all those tomatoes

When tomatoes rain, they pour. One day you’re wondering if any of yours will ever ripen, and the next day you’re wondering what to do with them all.

And then before you know it, the garden gets frosted on, and that’s that. You’re stuck with the memories of tomatoes that you were able to enjoy, a crimson froth on the wave of summer, and whatever tomatoes you managed to stash away.

But now the tomatoes languish, growing soft on countertop platters, where they’re easily taken for granted, as if there will always be tomatoes. One can also feel crushed by the weight of all the responsibility those tomatoes embody.

Whether they come from a flush garden, friendly neighbors, the farmers market or the food bank, if you don’t have tomatoes to deal with yet, you will soon. So here are a couple of ways of handling the red monsoon of fall.

Simple Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

This sauce is the ultimate way of putting away tomatoes quickly and efficiently while leaving the widest array of options on the table. I leave the sauce uncommitted, and add whatever spices or veggies I care to at the time of cooking.

Remove stem scab and any imperfections. Lay tomatoes flat on a cookie sheet, and roast them at 400 degrees until they collapse into round, wrinkled piles. Remove the tray from the oven. When the tomatoes are cool, lift off the skins, squeezing their pale juice back onto the tray.

Dump the remaining juicy pulp into a thick-bottomed pot and simmer on low heat for an hour or two, until it reaches your desired thickness. Season with salt.

Assemble your sterilized jars. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to each quart, and half a tablespoon to each pint. Then ladle the sauce into the jars and process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath. This sauce can also be frozen in freezer bags, after letting it cool.

Ma Ma’s Chunky Spicy Ketchup

This sauce, courtesy of my friend Allen Broach’s grandmother, comes from Southern plantation country. The original recipe uses canned, drained tomatoes, but I’ve made it with fresh tomatoes, and it works great. The juicier specimens, however, might take longer to cook down sufficiently. I like to use a combination of Roma and slicing tomatoes.

4 quarts canned (drained) or fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 rounded tbsp. whole mixed pickling spices, tied in 5-by-5-inch square of cheesecloth, and crushed with a mallet

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black peppercorns (Broach admits to using a lot more)

1 c. sugar

3/4 c. dark vinegar (I used cider)

5 medium onions, chopped

1 or 2 pods hot pepper (optional, but recommended)

Add everything to a thick-bottomed pot and cook on low/medium for two to three hours, stirring often. Occasionally mash the bag of spices to release flavors.

Pour into sterilized jars, process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Keep them away from my Ma Ma-in-law, as she would happily eat them all.

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