Home grown or bought in bulk at farmers markets, canned tomatoes in their beautiful skins retain their nutritional benefits. 🍅
During this gorgeous tomato rain season—the time of year when the season changes sharply from summer to fall, and the first significant rains fall along with the processing of tomato pods—the remarkable link between healthy, living soil and nutrient-rich food falls especially on.
The considerable time it takes to sort, wash, peel, season, dry, dehydrate, process and preserve tomatoes invites awe, gratitude and attachment to every possible molecule of goodness that these offer the greatest and most sensual of all fruits.
I know our own tomatoes, lovingly grown from seed in living soil fortified with trace minerals, compost teas, worm droppings and beneficial fungi, are as nutrient dense as they look. I’m also confident that our bulk tomatoes, purchased from an organic, regenerative farm, are just as nutrient dense — or nearly so.
Tomatoes, while not native to Canada, are one of our favorite crops. Statistics Canada reports that tomatoes accounted for 22 percent of all field crops and 37 percent of greenhouse crops grown by Canadian farmers in 2019.
These percentages track more or less here in my family’s food gardens as well. Pruning, preparing, feeding and harvesting different varieties of designated (bush) and indeterminate (bush) tomatoes to take away to eat immediately and dry in the oven is an early morning ritual that I have come to love. One that nourishes body and soul alike.
We entrust the care and feeding of the 300-plus pounds of San Marzano tomatoes we plant each year to Okanagan and Similkameen Valley farmers like Klipper’s Organic Acres and Stoney Paradise, whose terroir and patience best match the budget temperament of this purebred fruit .
Extreme and unpredictable weather events that have plagued North Shore gardens in recent years are simply not conducive to field cultivation of specialty tomatoes. Regardless, I am happy to support farmers who live and work hard in the province’s lush rain shadows, and pay a small bounty for their extraordinary, often heroic, efforts.
After discovering that many or most of a tomato’s nutritional and antioxidant benefits reside in or on the skin and seeds, I abandoned the Nonna-inspired traditions of blanching and peeling tomatoes before canning and removing the flesh from the tomatoes to separate the skins and seeds before making passata (puree).
Most recently after Dr. Zach Bush, the food economy advocate, had read the delightful suggestion of harvesting snack-size cherry tomatoes from the vine with your teeth in order to consume 100 percent of the “microbiome intelligence” of the microscopic peach-fluffy hairs on the fruit — they apparently fall shortly after harvest – I’ve made a commitment to growing nearly all of our San Marzanos and all of our cherries in their beautiful, nutrient-rich skins.
The dozen or so kilos that are peeled and canned delegate hides to the dehydrators or smokers that become them very elegant Tomato chips to garnish or eat fresh, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt or powdered to use as a nutritious and delicious coloring or flavoring.
Dive deep into the nutritional benefits of consuming tomato skins and you may never blanch again. I’m confident that by cleaning, slicing (or halving) and skinning them before processing, or pureeing whole fruits, we’re getting all the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and chronic disease-preventing benefits of our canned tomatoes.
However, we have not given up caution. The tomatoes were washed well and then hard boiled before bottling. Out of respect for the generations of nonnas who whisper in the wind and worry about pathogens on the skin’s surface, we’ve added an additional 10 minutes to the recommended processing time.
Admittedly, before committing, I cooked mini-test batches of recipes using chopped and pureed tomatoes skin-on, testing them for sweetness, bitterness, and mouthfeel. Ripe tomatoes naturally contain optimal sugars, so the results were spectacular. Had the tomatoes been less ripe, we would have removed the skin to increase the sweetness. These nonnas knew a thing or two.
Be sure to follow Health Canada’s safety recommendations for preserving low-acid fruits like tomatoes, and buy from trusted growers. Farmers markets and farm stalls are brimming with organic tomatoes. For bulk orders, please call ahead to be picked up.
Laura Marie Neubert is an urban permaculture designer based in West Vancouver. Follow her on Instagram @upfrontandbeautiful, learn more about permaculture by visiting her Upfront & Beautiful website, or email her with your questions here.
For a taste of permaculture, click the YouTube link below:
(Video – courtesy of West Vancouver Memorial Library)