NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Those Bright Red Berries

Those Bright Red Berries


          If raspberries or strawberries came to mind when reading the title of this column, guess again.   Tomatoes are the berry we are focusing on this week.

          The common garden tomato is botanically classified as a fruit. Actually it is a berry but most people think of the tomato as a vegetable.  The USDA has even defined ketchup, a tomato product, as a vegetable.

          The modern tomato originated in the southern regions of the Andes Mountains and the coastal deserts of Peru.  By the time Europeans arrived in the New World, tomatoes were already widely cultivated by the Aztecs as far north as Mexico.  The Aztec word “tomatl” roughly translates as “plump fruit”.   Tomato seeds made their way to Europe where Europeans had a love-hate relationship with the tomato for a time – it was viewed as both a poison and as an aphrodisiac.  Italians though took this bright red berry to heart and created the sauces which secured the popularity of tomatoes.

          On occasion, tomatoes have been linked to foodborne illness caused by Salmonella bacteria. Like any other fresh fruit or vegetable, tomatoes can be contaminated by bacteria from soil, water and animal sources. Contamination from human sources may occur before, during or after harvest, right up to the point of consumption. Bacteria on the tomato’s skin can be transferred to its internal flesh during cutting or slicing. Food poisoning outbreaks have occurred when poorly washed utensils or cutting boards have been used to prepare fruits or vegetables.  For this reason, it is very important to wash hands, utensils and cutting surfaces with soap and water before and after preparing tomatoes.

          Tomatoes are one of the most popular foods to preserve at home as they have relatively few preparation steps. Two cautions though when home canning tomatoes products.  First measure accurately and follow recipes carefully. For example, if a spaghetti sauce recipe calls for thirty (30) pounds of tomatoes and one (1) cup of celery or green pepper, the proportions of tomatoes – the acidic food – must not be decreased. Peppers and celery are low-acid foods and their proportions cannot be increased if the finished product is to be a food-safe product.

          Second, to ensure safe acidity in whole, crushed or juiced tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes.  For pints, use 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon of citric acid. The acid can be added directly to the jars before filling with the tomato product. 

          Combine the flavor of tomatoes originating country – Mexico – with your garden tomatoes for the following tomato sauce.


Mexican Tomato Sauce


          2 ½ to 3 pounds chili peppers

          18 pounds tomatoes

          3 cups chopped onions

          1 tablespoon salt

          1 tablespoon oregano

          ½ cup vinegar


Wash tomatoes.  Dip in boiling water for 30-60seconds or until the skins split; then dip in cold water.  Slip off the skins and remove the cores. Wearing plastic gloves, wash and dry peppers.  If you choose to peel the peppers, slit each pepper on its side to allow steam to escape.  Place chilies in 400 F oven for six to eight minutes until skins blister. Coarsely chop tomatoes and peeled or unpeeled chilies.  Combine tomatoes and peppers along with remaining ingredients in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover. Simmer for 10mintues. Fill prepared jars, leaving 1 inch of head space. Adjust lids and rings and process in pints for 20 minutes at 11 pounds in a pressure canner.  Process quarts for 25 minutes at 11 pounds pressure.  Yield 7 quarts.


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