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Organic Gardening – Tumbling Over Tomatoes

By Sue Odland

Tomatoes! They’re everywhere this time of year. As temperatures drop and days grow shorter, these amazing gems of the garden continue to reveal their glorious tastes and shades. This time of year can be especially gratifying for gardeners, yet it can also be challenging when faced with an abundance of tomatoes or an early first frost.

For those stumbling over branches and bushels filled with tomatoes, experiment with these time-tested options for easily capturing these productive fruits:

Olleva Holt (known as Mamo to her many generations of family), created the following delicious tomato juice mixture in the 1920’s. This memorable recipe was passed on to me by her granddaughter many years ago. It continues to be a top request at every fall gathering.

Mamo’s Tomato Cocktail Juice

Fill a 6-8 quart stainless steel stock pot

with any size or variety of fresh tomatoes

2 large white onions, cubed

2 teaspoons mustard seed

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon tabasco sauce – option: add more for spicer flavor

½ cup sugar – option: reduce quantity, omit or use sweetener substitute

Bring the first 4 ingredients to boil in the pot, then reduce  to medium heat, cook until tomatoes are soft. Pour cooked juice mixture through a colander. Return juice to stock pot. Add tabasco and sugar. Boil 15 minutes. Serve or pour into jars. Makes 7 quarts.

The juice can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks or canned for longer shelf life. Refer to the Ball Blue Book of Preserving or Rodale’s Preserving Summer’s Bounty to learn traditional canning and preserving techniques. Both are informative, easy-to-follow resources for new and seasoned cooks alike.

For those who are not ready to bid farewell to fresh tomatoes, consider the following methods to ripen tomatoes indoors before a first freeze covers the garden. Remember that when ripening indoors, a temperature of 65-70 degrees is more important than light for tomatoes to ripen.

Paper Bag – Before the first freeze, place loose, green or ripening  tomatoes in a large paper bag. Make sure that tomatoes are dry before placing them into the bag. Close the bag and place in a location that is within the 65-70 degree range. Check the bag every few days; pick out ripened tomatoes.

Shelf – Place individual green or ripening tomatoes on a dark shelf in your home. Cover the tomatoes with a sheet of newspaper. Check every few days; remove ripened tomatoes.

Basement – Bring in the whole tomato plant to ripen in a cool basement. Dig up the tomato plant including the roots and shake off any excess soil. Hang the plant upside down in a basement, using twine or string. Check plant every few days to pluck off ripened tomatoes.

These later ripened tomatoes are not always as juicy as their traditionally ripened counterparts, but they are more flavorful and satisfying than the store-bought variety.

Finally, if football games or pumpkin patches squeeze out spare time for preserving garden produce, remember that you can donate your extra nutritious offerings to your local food pantry or church to help your neighbors in need.

The rich taste, color and texture of home-grown tomatoes are intrinsically woven into the tapestry of our memories. Let these treasures shine on your harvest table this year.

Recipe courtesy of Jana Parsons.

Sue Odland is a freelance writer and Midwestern gardener.

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