The 12 Best Ways to Use Up Your Summer Tomatoes

By Max Wong on 1 September 2015 0 comments

Every year it's the same thing: beguiled by seed catalogs, my neighbors plant too many tomatoes in the spring. Although thrilled with their bumper harvest in June, by August, they are so sick to death of eating tomatoes, they are only too happy to donate their surplus to me.

You say tomato, I say "I can eat that for you if you don't want it."

I hate to brag, but I am really good at eating tomatoes. As evidence, here are my favorite ways to never waste a summer tomato.

1. Throw a Tomato Party

If I didn't throw parties, I would never clean my house. So, I am constantly looking for excuses to put on my party pants, if only to please my tidy husband. I have to credit my friend Mere with this party concept. When she has too many tomatoes to eat on her own, so she invites a few friends over for a tomato-centric dinner party.

2. Fry Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomato sandwiches are one of my very favorite foods. In truth, my real motivation for growing my own tomatoes is to ensure access to unripe tomatoes for frying all summer long. (Green tomatoes are hard to find, even at farmers markets). Because I eat so many of my tomatoes green, I rarely end the summer with one gigantic tomato harvest that requires emergency consumption before they rot on the vine.

3. Pickle Them Green

While canning vine ripe tomatoes is a great way to preserve them for later enjoyment, tomatoes are a low acid food and require extremely careful preparation to avoid spoilage and botulism. If you are a novice canner, or just want to avoid the worry, why not pickle your tomatoes instead? Pickled cherry tomatoes make a great gift for your favorite mixologist. Use them in drinks instead of an olive or caper!

4. Use Them as Currency

Today I was paid in avocados. My local pop-up farm stand traded me avocados for two dozen canning jars I'd picked up for free off of Freecycle. I couldn't be more thrilled with this transaction. I downsized the contents of my garage by two boxes, and I'm making guacamole to go with my pico de gallo made from neighbor-salvaged tomatoes.

Since nothing beats the flavor of homegrown produce, tomatoes especially are high-value bartering commodities. Trade them for other varieties of local produce or for services with your neighbors. Last week I needed a dessert for a potluck dinner, so my neighbor agreed to make me her legendary flan in exchange for a jar of pickled tomatoes.

Or, sell your tomatoes to a local restaurant for cold hard cash.

5. Make Artisanal Ketchup

A few years ago, I made homemade mustard and ketchup as holiday gifts. People are begging me to repeat that gift this year. I used this ketchup recipe from Saveur and a dozen different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. I have to say that the flavor of this ketchup was spectacular. However, fair warning: unless you want to stand over your stove for four hours like I did in order to cook the liquid down, do not multiply the recipe, and only use paste tomato varieties.

6. Una Palabra: Gazpacho

Just like Americans use squishy bananas to make banana bread, Spaniards use almost gone tomatoes to make gazpacho, a delicious cold soup. Gazpacho can also be used as a homemade Bloody Mary mix.

7. Cook Winter Soup in Advance

Hate chilled soups? Then skip the gazpacho and just make an enormous batch of your favorite tomato soup, and freeze it in individual serving containers for future lunches. This is a great way to get that taste of summer in the dead of winter.

8. Bake Them Into Bread

Speaking of banana bread, squishy tomatoes can be used to make tomato bread. So yummy.

9. Create Frozen Treats

Gazpacho popsicles are a favorite starter for my backyard BBQ parties. Or, if you own an ice cream maker, make this tomato sorbet that is based on Thomas Keller's recipe from the famous French Laundry.

10. Remember the '90s With Sun Dried Tomatoes

Sun dried tomatoes were the kale of the 1990s. Remember how they were on everything? Although sun dried tomatoes are no longer trendy, they are still delicious, and so easy to make at home.

Since I live in a hot and dry climate, I can actually dehydrate my tomatoes in the sun, using a drying frame I built from two salvaged window screens. However, if you live in a climate where the weather never reaches 90 degrees with less than 60% humidity, you should prepare them dried in the oven, in the microwave, or in a food dehydrator. Don't have a food dehydrator? Me neither. I just use my hot car instead.

11. Bake Christmas Cookies and Cakes

Tomato thumbprint cookies are a twist on the usual jam-filled treat, and can be used as either an appetizer or a dessert. No time to fuss with cookies? Green tomatoes are the secret ingredient in this Bundt cake recipe.

12. Donate Your Tomatoes to Charity

Apologies in advance if this is an overshare: I have overactive kiwi vines. In addition to consuming the front of my house Little Shop of Horrors-style, the kiwi plants produce around 200 pounds of kiwi fruit each year. Once a year I donate my surplus fruit to my local food bank. Food banks are always short on fresh produce, so donating home grown tomatoes is a great way to give a little bit of happiness to people in need. You won't enjoy the tomato flavor personally, but you will enjoy the good tomato karma and a tomato tax write-off instead.

Do you have too many tomatoes? What is your solution to this "problem?"

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Kim Owens's picture

Perfect timing as all of my tomatoes are ripening now.