Sandy Alley: Nothing says summer like tomatoes

2014-07-30T00:00:00Z 2014-09-09T14:49:06Z Sandy Alley: Nothing says summer like tomatoesBy SANDY ALLEY The Billings Gazette
July 30, 2014 12:00 am  • 

There is nothing better than a homegrown tomato.

Even John Denver wrote a song called “Home Grown Tomatoes.”

Growing up we always planted tomatoes and canned tomatoes, whether they were sauce, diced, stewed, whole, and juiced. One year Mom attempted ketchup. One is the number of times she made ketchup and attempted is how it tasted.

This year I planted only a few tomato plants, since I have so much canned from last year. My canning includes tomato sauce, juice, diced, salsa and pasta sauce. If I don’t get a lot of tomatoes at one time, I will wash, core, quarter and take out the seeds and toss into a gallon freezer bag. The tomatoes will stay into the freezer until I have enough to process. Usually midwinter, I put the freezer bags into plastic containers in the refrigerator to thaw. You will notice once thawed, there may be a lot of juice separated from the tomatoes.

You’ll want to use about ½ of the juice, reserving the rest if you need to thin your sauce.

This is my recipe for Tomato Sauce:

Take tomatoes, wash, core, cut into quarters and clean out the seeds. Put tomatoes (with skins on) into a large roaster (I use my electric roaster) and add salt, lemon juice and a tiny amount of sugar. Slowly cook tomatoes, stirring often so they won’t stick. When the cooked tomatoes become mushy, I put them into my food processor and pulse until they resemble sauce consistency. Pour into hot jars, clean lip of jar, top with lids and pressure cook 11 minutes at 15 lbs. of pressure for both quarts and pints.

To make Tomato Pasta Sauce:

I add sliced mushrooms, diced onions, garlic, oregano and basil to the processed sauce and process for 20 minutes at 13 lbs. Easy and delicious.

Most of my own recipes come without measurements, since I am a “dump-and-taste” cook. I dump small amounts of seasoning and spices, stir, then taste. The tasting tells me what I need to add. If whatever you are making is too salty, add sugar; and if it’s too sweet, add salt. But in small amounts. Always stirring and tasting.

Right before the first frost, I pick all the tomatoes from the garden, including the tiny green ones and single layer them into shallow cardboard boxes. The boxes are then stacked and checked every couple of days till they turn red (last year we ate tomatoes on Christmas day). I take the small red tomatoes, slice to about ¼” and put into my dehydrator to make sun-dried tomatoes. Dehydrated tomatoes are very sweet and can be added to a variety of dishes or eaten as a healthy snack.

Vote here for your favorite columnist in this week's cooking challenge.

Alley has cooked in several restaurants, catered, and was head salad chef at a college in Iowa. The oldest of six children, she grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa where she learned how to cook at an early age. And continues to cook for eight people, even though there are only her and her husband at home.

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