Every May I emerge from winter ready to conquer the world and plant an enormous garden, which may have included 27 tomato plants. Every September I end up silently cursing my optimism.
I love canning and freezing tomatoes, but I find that tomato season in my zone 3 Saskatchewan garden always coincides with the busy back to school season in September–which means I’m short on time!
This year, I’ve come up with a better system to can and freeze tomatoes while still keeping my sanity. I’ve figured out how to make the tomato sauce and pasta sauce my family loves, all without marathon canning sessions. Here’s how.
Sort Tomatoes by Ripeness
For those of you who live in warmer climates where all your tomatoes are vine ripened, you can skip this tip. Those of us in Saskatchewan and other USDA zone 2 or 3 areas have to pick most of our tomatoes green and ripen them indoors.
Set out four (or more!) boxes and divide your tomatoes by colour and ripeness: green, yellow, orange, and red. This way you will be able to grab the ripest box and save precious time that you could be canning. You also won’t miss any rotten tomatoes, meaning less wasted resources!
Check your tomatoes every day or two and transfer any outliers to the correct box.Cut your tomato processing time in half. Find out how!Click To Tweet
Cut and Prep Tomatoes Faster
I cut my tomatoes in large chunks and squeeze out the seeds. You will not get every single seed out, so if you can’t stand any seeds in your tomato sauce, this is not the method for you. For roma tomatoes, I cut off the top, make a small slit, squeeze out the seeds, and put them into my slow cooker whole. Which brings me to my next point. . .
Related: Enjoy your tomatoes in Tomato Bacon Quiche or Red Relish.
Use a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot for Cooking Tomatoes Fast
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to sit around a stove for 3 hours ensuring my sauce doesn’t burn. I also don’t have time to blanch and peel them. I’m happy to deal with the odd bit of tomato skin in my sauce.
If I’m using the slow cooker, I cut up my tomatoes about 6 hours before I know I’ll have time to deal with them again. Throw in other vegetables you want in your sauce such as onions, garlic, zucchini, carrots or squash and walk away.
Somewhere around hour 4-5 I come back and puree the sauce with a stick blender. This ensures that my super picky small child will actually eat the sauce I make.Let your slow cooker or oven do the heavy lifting. Process your tomatoes with less effort. Click To Tweet
If you need everything done in an hour or two, then cooking your sauce in the Instant Pot is the way to go. Set your Instant Pot to the correct settings, blend when everything is cooked, and either freeze or can your sauce, whatever time allows.
Roast Tomatoes in the Oven
If a slow cooker isn’t your style, you can cut up all your veggies and roast them in the oven. Roasting adds an extra sweet caramelized flavour that I’m a huge fan of.
Put all veggies in a large roasting pan and cook at 400 degrees for at least an hour, or until some of the tops turn a bit black. Let cool, add spices, puree, and either can or freeze in containers.
Related: My Favourite Roasted Tomato Sauce
Can or Freeze and Done
We are short on freezer space here, so I try to can as many jars as I can. However, I don’t always have the time or energy, so I put my sauce in smaller containers in the freezer and call it a day. If you’re short on space, put your sauce in good quality freezer bags and freeze them flat for easier storage.
Grow the Best Tomatoes
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Zero Time? Chop and Freeze Your Tomatoes to Can Later
Tomato season unfortunately seems to co-incide with back-to-school season, which in our house is a recipe for beautiful tomatoes going to waste. If you find yourself with almost no time to deal, chop tomatoes in quarters or eights and freeze in plastic bags. It’s not ideal, but you can always thaw frozen tomatoes and deal with them later.
While I haven’t tried this personally, I’ve heard that if you freeze tomatoes whole, the skins easily peel off when you thaw them.
Has trying to harvest, process, and eat your garden produce got you down? Click here to download my free guide on what to do with the vegetables you harvest.
How do you process your tomatoes? Any tips or tricks to add? Let me know in the comments what your favourite method is.
Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.