Source editor Peggy Grodinsky and I find ourselves on opposite sides of the garden fence now that spring has finally sprung. I am, very sadly, down to the very last bag of plum tomatoes I put up in my basement freezer at the height of the 2017 season. And Peggy’s not exactly sure what she’s waiting for to use up the bags of rhubarb she put in the freezer last June to keep her sweet-and-sour tooth sated until this year’s stalks make their appearance.

She’s in an enviable position, especially if she’s hankering for a rhubarb crumble sometime this week, for sure. But I can counter her anticipated pleasure with my lovely memories of tomatoes long simmered into Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Butter Sauce served over pasta on blizzardy nights last winter.

As I listened to frozen tomatoes knocking around the bag like billiard balls as I ran up the basement stairs, I vowed to plan better this year. Mark my words, in 2019 I will eat local plum tomatoes until the very day fresh ones make it to market in July.

Seasoned food preservationist Cathy Barrow, author of “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry,” tells me she has a simple formula for putting up enough tomatoes. It goes like this: Take the number of non-tomato producing months you must endure (nine in Maine’s case) and multiply that by how many tomatoes you use on average during those months (4 quarts for sauces, 2 quart for soups in my case). So I need put up 54 quarts of tomatoes or freeze 162 pounds of whole ones to maintain a year-round supply.

Not all at once, warns Cathy, as that will drive me crazier than running out of tomatoes in April! She advises waiting a few weeks into the season to allow early tomato prices to level off before canning 4-6 quarts or freezing 15-20 pounds per week. It’s best to can tomatoes in both quart and pint jars so that you break open only the amount you need at any given time, Barrow says.

A canning journal – one that tallies the jars you’ve put up and the ones you’ve used – helps a cook manage inventory and expectations when stores run low. Scores of journal templates are available online, but a plain old Excel spreadsheet on your home computer will suffice.

Knowing how much rhubarb, strawberry jam, creamed corn, pickled beets, or candied jalapeños to put up is not as formulaic as the tomato equation, mainly because they are not items one eats on a regular basis. Eugenia Bone, in her book “The Kitchen Ecosystem,” outlines her system for making sure the fruits and vegetables she enjoys in season, she can enjoy out of season in equal measure.

She shuns big-batch canning, opting to put up smaller amounts of a large variety of fruits, vegetables, fish and stews to reduce food waste should she screw up a batch and to keep her inventory in check with her family’s ability to consume canned goods. Typically when certain produce – artichokes, berries, or plums, for example – come into season Bone will buy some to eat fresh and buy an equal amount to can, cure, dehydrate, freeze, preserve in alcohol or oil or smoke. Then she takes something normally considered to be waste product of the canning process, say mushroom stems, and turn them into a useful ingredient, like mushroom powder. Bone creates (and represents in her book) cladograms, diagrams that look like family trees, to help her visualize all of the recipes she could make out of a couple of pounds of something that’s been preserved many different ways.

I have a lot to learn from both Barrow and Bone. Making a concerted effort to know how many canned (or frozen)goods I’ll need in a given year and developing a plan to use them in a wide variety of ways as fall gives way to winter and spring finally comes, will not only keep me in tomatoes in 2019, but in delicious tomato dishes as well.


CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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