This is one experiment which is neither a failure or a success but somewhere in the middle. Yes, I turned tomatoes into powder but it doesn’t have as much tomato flavor as I expected it to have and I haven’t found a great use for it yet.
I was inspired by this recipe. I packed a bunch of very ripe tomatoes into a jar and left it to sit on my porch for a while. Actually I kind of forgot about it and left it out there for 8 days. I got lots of bubbling but because it was packed tightly and sealed I didn’t have anything nasty growing in it when I finally opened it up.
I decided that I didn’t want to mess around with making a bunch of little balls so I just spread the fermented tomato mush out on a pan and set my oven on its lowest temperature setting and let it dry.
Ideally I would have used a dehydrator with a temperature setting for this step so that I could make sure that I dehydrated it at a cool enough temperature so as to not harm the healthy probiotics that the fermenting created. Since I don’t have a dehydrator I used my oven on its lowest temp setting with the door propped open slightly to lower the temp even more.
Once the tomato mush was completely dry I used a mortar and pestle to grind it up. I ended up with some powder and some flakes. If I’d wanted a finer powder I could have used a spice grinder (or coffee grinder). You can see in this picture how a big quart sized jar full of tomatoes shrank down to less than half of a spice jar of tomato flakes. Because the flavor isn’t amazing and it produces so little, I’m not sure if I’ll repeat this experiment or not. It would most likely work better with paste tomatoes which have less liquid but this year we didn’t grow any. I’ll definitely be growing paste tomatoes next year so that I can make tomato paste and thicker sauce and may try dehydrating it again then!
Remember that I am not an expert at food preservation, so while you are welcome to be inspired by my experiments please do you research on safe food preservation techniques first!
Every year I put away extra tomatoes by blanching them, peeling off the skins and then canning them whole or in large chunks. This is convenient because then you can use them for nearly anything- cook them down to make stewed tomatoes, add them whole to stews or chop them up for sauces. We often find ourselves needing to add a bit of tomato paste to dishes though in order to give a richer tomato flavor without adding extra liquid. We’ve always used store bought but I feel kind of silly adding store bought tomato paste to a sauce that is otherwise entirely out of our garden. So when Chris brought in an armload of tomatoes from the garden this afternoon I decided to see if I could make a paste.
After washing the tomatoes and removing their stems I cut them into chunks and put them into a large saute pan so they they more or less covered the bottom in a single layer. It takes a LOT of cooking to remove all the liquid so you want as many of your tomatoes in direct contact with the pan as possible.
Next I let it simmer for several hours. I think my total cooking time was about 4 hours. Once the tomatoes had mostly all lost their shape I put the mush through a food mill to remove the seeds and skins and then put it back in the pan to cook some more. While you can remove the skins and seeds before you start cooking, leaving them on should give the finished paste more flavor and to get a nice smooth consistency you’d probably still have to run it through a food mill or blender.
After the food mill I let it keep cooking until, after several hours of simmering, it finally thickened up and turned into a deep rich red paste. It tastes very strongly of tomatoes and is definitely more paste than sauce– when you remove a spoonful it doesn’t fill back in.
Since I expect we will be using small amounts of this at a time and I don’t have any tiny canning jars (though wouldn’t that be cute if I did?) I am freezing the paste in an ice cube tray and tomorrow I’ll put the frozen cubes into a ziploc freezer bag.
- It tastes really good
- The process is very simple and easy and not as messy or actively time consuming as blanching and peeling tomatoes
- If I had LOTS of tomatoes and not much pantry space this would be a great way to condense my harvest into a very small space
- I’ll finally be able to make sauces 100% from the garden!
- It takes a long time. If I’m going to be near the kitchen anyway this is no big deal. You don’t have to keep an eye on it constantly or stir continually but you do need to check on it occasionally to make sure that it isn’t burning or sticking on the bottom and your stove is on so it would be unsafe to leave the house, just in case. This could be very inconvenient if I ever decided to leave the house. Thankfully I rarely do.
- I felt like I lost a lot of paste where it got dried up and stuck to the edges of the pan. If I do this again I’ll do a better job of using a spatula to scrape down the edges as it cooks down and thickens.
- I’m a little disappointed that my big bucket full of tomatoes and 4+ hours of cooking resulted in 6 little cubes of paste. I know that its super concentrated and still has all the flavor of that bucket of tomatoes but still, the results don’t LOOK very impressive.
Of course I won’t really know how to evaluate this experiment until I actually eat something made with it. I can’t wait to try our Pizza Goat Cheese Dip with our homemade tomato paste!
P.S. For a much more authentic take on homemade tomato paste, check out this lovely article.