My paste tomatoes (Saucy cultivar) suffered blossom-end rot this year. It’s strange, given I imported my dirt and fertilized as usual, but this season has been so odd I don’t really have a reliable theory. I’ve heard of similar stories from other, better gardeners suffering this year. Anyway, they ripened way before the slicers, even my early-ish season Willamettes, and ripened all at once as determinate plants do. I was keen on making sauce with them.
Someone called in last week on the MFP hotline with exactly my problem, and I had the bad fortune of delivering the news: you can’t reliably can blossom-end-rot tomatoes, even if you discard the bad ones. Here’s why: the plant is stressed, and when it’s stressed, it messes up the acid and sugar levels of the fruit. Tomatoes are a borderline-acid fruit, so this could cause problems with susceptibility to microorganisms that live in low-acid environments. Ripening early is a sign of a problem. My absolutely lovely German Striped (left), an heirloom that yields fat yellow and red slicers, gave me one tomato very early, too, before succumbing. The tomatoes are fine to eat and cook with, but canning is dicey, so you’ll want to preserve them in other ways.
Next year, I’ll be sure to use a trick gleaned from that fateful day. Luckily, I was sitting next to a Master Gardener at the hotline. Calcium is the problem if you’re watering properly. He told me to sprinkle organic powdered milk around the plants, because they uptake the calcium more easily than with broken eggshells.
So. When life gives you blossom-end rot, make roasted tomato sauce. The recipe is incredibly easy, and I don’t have any brilliant methods, so I’ll just make this a narrative.
Roast all your plum tomatoes on skewers on a hot grill until the skin blackens. Let the tomatoes cool in a bowl overnight.
Remove the skin and stem end of each tomato, placing the skins/stem bits in a small bowl. Drain off all the tomato juice you can into a storage container. This juice makes a great substitute for water or chicken stock in pasta. I use mine to soak bread for panzanella and gazpacho. It can also be frozen.
Next, and this is important, squeeze all the tomato goo out of the skins. You will get A LOT of goo, and it helps to thicken the sauce. You might choose to remove the seeds in the tomatoes, but I don’t, since they add flavor and the Saucy cultivar really doesn’t have many.
Place tomatoes and goo in non-reactive saucepot, and bring to a simmer. Cook until saucy about 30 minutes, mashing tomatoes down with a wooden masher, letting the juice reduce to thicken the sauce. When it looks like the picture at the top of this post, remove from heat and either use or freeze in one or two-cup portions for ease of use. You’ll be very, very happy this winter, and no one will know you lost your shirt at the tomato game.
Note: this is a basic, unsalted, unflavored sauce. I recommend this type for freezing for flexibility’s-sake. To make a good basic pasta sauce, just sautee some onion and garlic, then add your thawed tomato sauce, salt and pepper, and a bit of oregano. Throw into some julienned fresh basil at the end of cooking.