Tomato Preserving Tips from Canal House

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Tomato Preserving Tips from Canal House

We’re all about everything tomato this summer — including preserving tomatoes, so we can enjoy a taste of the season all year long. For tips and ideas, we turned to Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the duo behind the Canal House. Read on, and get inspired!


Do you grow tomatoes in your garden? What varieties?

Yes, we both grow a variety of tomatoes in our home gardens and on our narrow balcony at Canal House that are particularly best eaten fresh, straight off the plant, still warm from the sun. Some favorites are the beautiful Oxheart, Brandywine, Italian Sweet Beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, and Rutgers, and sweet little cherry tomatoes like Grape and Sun Gold. If we had more room, we’d grow rows of tomatoes for canning. Instead, we head over to our local organic farm toward the end of summer, and buy a big box of ripe, but slightly firm, tomatoes just perfect for preserving.


Do you preserve tomatoes every year? Why?

We do, in some form or another. When tomatoes are in season, we preserve them in any number of ways. We make small batches of sweet tomato preserves, quart jars of plum tomato sauce, or sheetpans’ worth of oven-dried tomatoes that we store in small packets in the freezer. We rarely eat tomatoes out of season, but we turn to our preserved tomatoes to get us through the long dark time between locally grown tomato seasons. Spooned like jam on warm crusty toast, or stirred into things like stews and sauces, preserved tomatoes give us a taste of summer in the dead of winter.


What’s your process? Any tips for people preserving tomatoes at home?

We’re believers in small-batch preserving. It’s a more manageable process than having to turn your kitchen over for a weekend canning project, with huge canning pots of boiling water, limited counter space, and so on. We’ll use just 5 pounds of tomatoes to make 4 or 6 half-pint jars of our sweet tomato preserves, or a couple of pounds for our oven-dried tomatoes. And by preserving in small batches, you can even do it while you’re in the kitchen baking cookies, or preparing dinner.


What are your favorite tomatoes to preserve? Are there some varieties that are best for specific uses?

We like to use in-season, ripe but firm, plum tomatoes for their meaty texture both for making our oven-dried tomatoes and our tomato sauce.


What do you like to do with your preserved tomatoes? Any serving suggestions? 

We love to pair the delicious Spanish ham, jamón Serrano, with our sweet plump Red Tomato Preserves on toast. The combination is so good, we eat the toasts for breakfast in the morning with cafe con leche. And then again at the end of the day with a glass of dry white wine or really cold fino sherry.


Red Tomato Preserves

Red Tomato Preserves


The tomato is, after all, a fruit. Actually, it is one of the most luscious fruits around. We will be preserving them every which way this summer while gardens and farmers’ markets are full up with the lovelies.


5 pounds ripe tomatoes

2 cups granulated cane sugar

Rind and juice of 2 lemons

A fat 3-inch finger fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 stick cinnamon


Plunge tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 20 seconds to loosen their skins. Remove the tomatoes from the pot and when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Halve tomatoes crosswise and squeeze out the seeds. Put tomatoes, sugar, lemon rind and juice, ginger, and cinnamon into a large, heavy pot. Cook over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon to keep the sugar from burning while it melts. Stir gently so the fruit doesn’t break up too much. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until tomatoes look slightly translucent and the liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, divide the tomatoes between 4–6 hot sterilized jars. Increase the heat to high and reduce the juices until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes more. Remove the cinnamon stick. Divide the syrup between the jars and seal. Allow the jars to cool undisturbed for several hours. These preserves will keep in the refrigerator for a few months.


To preserve the tomatoes for a longer shelf life, process them in a hot water bath. Pack the tomatoes into hot, sterilized half-pint jars. Ladle the hot syrup over the tomatoes, leaving 1⁄4-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars clean, then place sterilized lids on top and screw on the rings.


Use tongs to put the jars into a canning pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the lids by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 15 minutes. Use tongs to carefully remove the jars from the water; place on a kitchen towel. Allow the jars to cool completely, undisturbed, before you move them. If a jar doesn’t seal you can repeat the water bath process or simply refrigerate and use it. Makes 4–6 half-pints.


Recipe from Canal House Cooking, Volume N° 4, Farm Markets & Gardens (Canal House, 2010)


Jamon Serrano and Red Tomato Preserves on Toast


Brush small, thin slices of crusty bread with some really good olive oil and toast them in a preheated 400° oven until golden on each side. Let the toasts cool. Drape each toast with a slice (or half a slice if a whole one is too much) of serrano ham. Top the toasts with small spoonfuls of Red Tomato Preserves.


VARIATION: Serve thin slices of Manchego cheese on toasts topped with a small spoonful of Red Tomato Preserves.


Recipe from Canal House Cooking, Volume N° 4, Farm Markets & Gardens (Canal House, 2010)


Learn more about these summer gems in our Tomato Guide.

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