Peaking Now: Tomatoes. Here's What to Do with a Kitchen Full of Them

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Sean Timberlake
Tomatero Farm stall at last week's Mission Community Market.
​Farmers' market devotees and other locavores sometimes come under fire for being elites who can afford the privilege of $6 peaches. That's unfair. If you're tuned to market trends, you can often nab local, organic produce at prices that are at least competitive with conventional grocery-store fare. The key, of course, is to focus on what's at the peak of season.

If you buy what's most bountiful in bulk and preserve it, you spare yourself the agony of hard, flavorless fruits and vegetables of dubious provenance later on. Buying in quantity can bring a better price, and by preserving what you buy and using it over a longer period of time, you cost-average your purchases even more. Ironically, in the retail produce world, the worst fruit nets the best price. Pale, tart strawberries in the dead of winter cost much more than fresh, ripe fruit in summer.

Tomatoes are approaching their peak right now (the season is running a few weeks late due to our abnormally cool summer). Farmers at markets all over the city are selling both heirloom and mainstream varieties for about $3 per pound ― we've seen San Marzanos drop as low as $2.50. And if you buy by the box (usually around 20 pounds), you can get that down closer to $2 per pound. Last week we netted several boxes for $1.60. It pays to ask.

Tomatoes are among the most versatile foods to preserve. They're relatively easy to can whole, crushed, or puréed, and can be converted into a wide array of preserved permutations such as ketchup, salsa, and jams. Here are a few of our favorite resources:

Canning.
The boys at The Bitten Word regale us with a comprehensive how-to on canning whole tomatoes in water, including a helpful video. Master preserver Theresa Loe breaks down how to can crushed tomatoes as well, as does Mrs. Wheelbarrow for NPR. Both of these acidify the tomatoes to allow for water-bath canning.

If you've got a pressure canner, there's no need to acidify, and you can maintain a fresher tomato flavor. Here's how, via Cooking Channel.

Ketchup.
If you've never made your own ketchup, you're in for a revelation. It's easy, and you can tailor the recipe to your tastes. Julia goes for the straight-up version in the slow cooker, whereas Shae from Hitchhiking to Heaven makes a version with red pepper, and the Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking whips up a spicy orange version (with a tip of the hat to Eddie Izzard).

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Chow.com
Chow's Ersatz Papalote Salsa.
Salsas.
Can you ever have enough salsa in the house? Paige at Canning with Kids figures she needs about 20 quarts of fiesta salsa to get through the year. If you like it roasty, toasty, smoky, and spicy, then Prospect: The Pantry has an ancho chile salsa, while Local Kitchen mixes in roasted tomatoes and chipotles. Local self-proclaimed "food dorks" Married ... with Dinner made the best of a bad situation by fire-roasting underripe tomatoes, a technique also used in Chow's facsimile of Papalote's famously addictive salsa.

Jams.
Tinker with the proportions of chiles and ginger to set the heat level in Alanna's tomato ginger jam. And Homesick Texan's sweet-savory tomato jam is a surprising alternative to the normal morning jam routine.

Other resources.
Canning blog carnival Tigress' Can Jam focused on tomatoes for the month of August, yielding dozens of recipes. And there are plenty of options posted on this blogger's DIY foodie site Punk Domestics.

Sean Timberlake is a professional writer, amateur foodie, avid traveler, and all-around bon vivant. He is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts, and has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, DPaul Brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese.

Follow us at @sfoodie.

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