At long last, it’s tomato season! A juicy, red ripe tomato is a sure sign of summer, and none taste better than those plucked from the vine, still warm from the sun. While it may seem to take forever for that first green orb to ripen, before long the plant may be producing more fruit than a family can manage. Store this delicious excess for good eating all year round. Thirty-eight years ago, I canned my first tomatoes right after Labor Day, and I haven’t stopped since.

Of the three methods of preservation, freezing can be the quickest. Freezing is super easy, although frozen tomatoes lose flavor more quickly. Freeze fruits straight from the garden, skin intact for later use in sauces and soups. A quick dip in cold water will allow the skin to slip right off the frozen fruit. Freeze homemade tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, soups or spaghetti sauce. For more depth of flavor, slice and roast tomato slices for an hour or two before freezing. If frozen tomatoes take up too much space in your freezer, consider canning.

Canning offers more options, and canned food is truly convenience food. Grab a jar from the pantry and you’re ready to eat. Can whole small tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, pickled green tomatoes, salsa, ketchup, relishes and even tomato jam. Home canning does require some specialized equipment: proper canning jars, jar lids, jar rings, a wide-mouth funnel and a jar lifter. Canning kettles are readily available and reasonably priced. With the exception of jar lids, all this equipment can be used repeatedly. Pressure canners are available and are a must if you want to preserve meaty spaghetti sauce or tomatoes mixed with a lot of low-acid vegetables.

With the popularity of lower-acid tomatoes, canning methods and recipes have changed significantly in the past 20 years. Your grandmother’s canning procedures may no longer be considered safe; in fact, some of the methods I learned in 1981 are verboten today. Spend some time learning today’s recommended procedures and canning times for your own safety. Excellent help is provided by the folks at Ball Canning, maker of canning jars and lids, at www.freshpreserving.com. Here you’ll find canning instructions, recipes and a helpful forum. The Ball Company also produces its own book, long considered the classic source of reliable recipes. The “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving” is widely available and packed with vital information. For more details on how the canning process works check out the books “Putting Food By” or “Stocking Up.” Contact your local extension office for free or low-cost information. Home canning is economical, fun and safe, if you follow the rules.

Canning and freezing are the more common methods of preservation, but drying tomatoes is becoming rather popular as well. Drying tomatoes is very easy and can be done in your home oven. For dehydrating, the more solid, pear-shaped fruits work best as there is more meat than juice. If small, slice tomatoes in half. If larger, slice into 3/4 inch slices and spread on a tray or drying rack. Set your oven for the lowest temperature, leaving the oven door propped oven for a bit of circulation. Drying in the oven takes 9-24 hours, depending on tomato size and quantity. Check periodically to gauge progress and remove any fruits that dried quickly. An electric dehydrator allows you to dry foods without monopolizing the home oven and is easy to use and operate. For instructions on drying and suggestions on the use and storage of dehydrated tomatoes, see https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/how-dry-tomatoes-home.

Beverly Carney can be reached at cultivatingcountry@gmail.com.