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Preserving tomatoes

Make the most of your tomato harvest

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With a tomato harvest, you'll find you have one of the easiest and most flavoursome crops that you can eat fresh, or preserve for later, writes Helen McKerral.

Tomatoes are one of the best vegetables to preserve at home because they retain their flavour and, unlike tinned ones, have zero food miles. Tomato preserves are shelf stable: no electricity required. And you can re-use glass bottles and preserving jars indefinitely – mine are mostly preloved and older than me. A sustainability win-win! 

Preserving manages gluts and extends harvests for years, not months. And because tomatoes are so productive, you can harvest a lot from small spaces. From 10–12 plants, plus a cherry and an eating variety such as ‘Black Russian’, in an area less than 14sqm with a less-than-ideal microclimate, I harvest 75–120kg of tomatoes annually, plenty for eating fresh plus a year’s supply of preserves for two.  Even with just six plants, you’ll have excess to preserve. 

Finally, preserving is easy. For passata and sauce, you only need common kitchen items plus bottles/jars and lids. Food mills or hand-cranked passata machines save time when removing seeds and skins, but a sieve will do. Preserving units aren’t essential for small batches but are much more energy efficient and convenient if you catch the preserving bug! 

Cherry tomatoes are finicky with tiny seeds – I prefer roasting them with garlic, chilli, anchovies and olive oil to freeze for instant pasta sauce.


Traditionally, determinate varieties (that grow to a certain size and supposedly fruit all at once) are preferred over indeterminate varieties that keep fruiting through the season. However, home gardens aren’t glasshouses, so harvests of determinate and semi-determinate varieties often spread over weeks – which is fine if processing in small batches. Also, you can pick semi-ripe tomatoes and ripen them indoors if needed.

More important is to choose varieties that suit your microclimate. ‘Amish Paste’ is outstanding for sauce but matures too late in my cool, southerly aspect garden.

Here’s my tomato sauce recipe for you to try:

Tasty Tomato Sauce


6kg washed, chopped, ripe tomatoes (deseeding optional)

1kg finely chopped onions

1kg cored chopped apples

75g chopped garlic

2 thumbs grated ginger

2 teaspoons cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons allspice

2 teaspoons ground black peppercorns

4 chopped chillies (optional)

2 cups red wine vinegar

2 cups white vinegar 

6 teaspoons salt 

1kg sugar

1. Place all ingredients except sugar into a large, heavy-based pot. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 1.5–2 hours until soft, stirring regularly. 

2. Pass through a sieve (or blend) and return to pan. Add sugar and simmer until thick, stirring constantly.

3. Pour into warm sterilised bottles while still hot and seal immediately.

4. Store in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening. 

You will find more preserving and growing tips in our September/October 2021 issue (OG 128).

There’s plenty of planting and growing ideas in the latest issue of OG, which you can purchase here.

OG 143 cover