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Things to do with all those end-of-season tomatoes

It was nearing the end of a hot, muggy summer day as we sat under our favorite maple tree for, as they say, a pause that refreshes. On this occasion my wife elected to serve some chilled (homemade, of course) tomato juice and, as usual, it took just one sip to realize that she had turned up trumps again.

I enjoy tomatoes served almost any way with one exception -- as juice. For reasons that I find hard to explain, tomato juice is not my idea of an enjoyable drink. What made the difference on this occasion was the addition of a little celery. If ever two flavors go together, these do, in my opinion.

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As summer nears its end, tomatoes start ripening in superabundant quantitis in most gardens. What to do with the surplus, besides giving them away to the gardenless and others less fortunate, is a perennial problem. The options include canning, freezing-drying, making puree and finally juicing.

On a regular basis we take all the very-ripe to overly ripe tomatoes that gather in our kitchen, cut them up, and throw them into a pot. It doesn't matter what size or breed, from cherry, through patio, to beef-steak, they all end up in the pot once they ripen beyond the firm stage.

These are boiled for 4 to 5 minutes along with three sticks of celery to 2 quarts of diced tomatoes. The boiled mixture is then passed through a food mill or strainer. The resulting juice along with a little salt to taste "some folks add sugar as well), is brought to a boil again. Refrigerate for immediate use or freeze for long-term storage.

Tomato puree is made in similar fashion by passing the juice and pulp through a mill or strainer and then boiling it down to a little less than half its original volume.

I grow the Italian plum tomatoes expressly for puree each year. They are a much drier type of fruit and need only to be boiled down to half the original volume to get a suitable consistency. Since investing in a high-powered blender we have also eliminated the straining. We simply blend the tomatoes skin, seeds , and so on to a creamlike consistency and then boil it down.

Generally, we do the blending in the evening and let the juice thicken slowly all night in a slow cooker. Remember to remove the lid, if you use a slow cooker. The idea is to allow the steam to escape.

To turn your puree into paste, continue this simmering process until the tomato is thick enough to stick to a spoon. At this stage you will need to stir consistently to prevent scorching.

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For convenience, my wife freezes the tomato puree in a refrigerator ice tray. This way the little frozen blocks of puree can be stored in a large plastic bag in the freezer. Then only as many blocks as are needed at any one moment, be it for stews, soups, or spaghetti sauce, are taken out.

Unprocessed tomtoes are stored by cutting them into thick slices and freezing them on a cookie sheet. This way the individual slices will not stick together when placed in a large plastic bag in the freezer.

Italian plum tomatoes need only be cut in half before freezing; cherry tomatoes can be frozen whole.

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