Your summer bounty of tomatoes, aubergines and peppers brings joy and there are many ways to preserve your nightshade harvest for use in winter.
People often prefer to work with skinned tomatoes. Cut a small slot in the bottom of each tomato and drop them into a pan of boiling water. You will notice that the skins begin to split once the water starts to boil. When this happens, just remove them from the boiling water and drop them in cold water to stop them from cooking any further. The skins will simply slide off.
Tomatoes freeze very well. Skin and remove seeds if you want to, cut them in half or quarters or slice and then simply put them into freezer bags. If you are freezing cherry tomatoes, life is too short to peel them, but it is worth taking the time to squeeze out the fluid, otherwise when you defrost them they are too watery. You can cook the tomatoes first and this is a good idea if you are using large heritage tomatoes, which produce a great deal of fluid. This you can drain off and set aside to be drunk as tomato juice. If you are cooking them add fresh or dried herbs to taste. Cool the pulp thoroughly before adding to your freezer bags.
A popular way to preserve peppers is to roast them whole and then freeze in strips. Roast or grill whole peppers until they begin to blacken on all sides, turning them frequently with tongs. When the skin is well blistered with some black spots, quickly move the hot peppers to an empty pot with a tight-fitting lid, and let them steam there for fifteen minutes. Most of the skins will slip off after the peppers cool. When cut into strips and frozen, you have succulent roasted peppers for winter dishes.
Aubergines can also be frozen. Cut into cubes quarters or halves. Blanch them for about four minutes and then plunge them into iced water. When they pieces are cool, dry them with a tea towel or paper towel. Put into freezer bags and freeze immediately.
Potatoes can also be frozen. Slice into chips or wedges. Lay them on a tray that will fit into your freezer. Make sure that they are not touching each other. Put the tray into the freezer until the pieces are frozen. Put them into a freezer bag, squeeze out all the air, seal and put back into the freezer. If you want to roast the potatoes, parboil them before you freeze them.
Drying tomatoes can be done very simply in an oven or it can be done in a dehydrator. For oven-dried tomatoes, try to get similar sized tomatoes, so that they will take the same amount of time to dry. Cut them in half or in quarters if they are large and use a paper towel to wipe-dry the cut surface. You may remove the seeds if you wish. Brush the cut surface with olive oil and sprinkle the top with some salt. Place the tomatoes on a wire rack over a tray, with the cut side facing up. Do not allow the tomatoes to touch each other, make sure there is space all around each half for the hot air to circulate. Place the tray in an oven with a low temperature of 1000C, and leave them for 6-10 hours. Pack tightly in freezer bags, vacuum sealed bags, plastic containers or jars.
You can also dry potatoes, peppers and aubergines.
You can take one step further with dehydrated tomatoes ~ you can powder them. Store the dried tomatoes in a freezer bag in the freezer for about a week. Set up the blender. Remove the tomatoes from the freezer and transfer immediately to the blender. If you have more than one blender full, do this in batches.
You can bottle tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in the same way that you would fruit or other vegetables.
You can also pickle your nightshade fruits, on their own or with other vegetables.
Peppers pickle well, either sliced or whole. You can use different coloured peppers to make an attractive product. Wide-mouthed Consol jars will be best, otherwise use whatever jars you have been collecting, as long as the pepper will fit into it. Sterilize the jars by pouring a small amount of water into each and then heating them in the microwave for five minutes. Leave them to drain upside down in a warm oven.
Wash the peppers and slice them if you are not going to keep them whole and remove the seeds and pith. Place them in the jars and in each jar put 2-3 peeled garlic cloves, 2-3 whole black peppercorns and 3 – 4 olives. Put some vinegar in a non-reactive pot and bring it to a boil. You may use apple-cider or white vinegar. Cover the peppers with the boiling vinegar, leaving a couple cms headspace. Use a chopstick to poke around and remove the air bubbles. Wipe rims clean and put on the lids. The lids seal if you put them on while the vinegar is still piping hot. Pickles are usually left to steep for a couple of weeks before you open a jar.
A mixture of tomatoes, aubergines and peppers would make a delicious chutney.
Preserving in oil
Aubergines lend themselves well to this form of bottling. Cut two large aubergines in half lengthwise and then across into 7 mm thick slices. Place them in a bowl with three tbsp salt. Toss them thoroughly, cover and set aside to steep for a few hours at room temperature.
Drain the aubergines and squeeze them thoroughly to extract as much liquid as you can. Put them in a clean bowl with 1 tbsp chopped garlic, 1 tbsp chopped oregano or mint or basil, and 1 tbsp of the vinegar. Toss thoroughly and at length to distribute the flavourings.
Layer the slices as neatly as you can into a wide-necked jar, putting chopped chillies in between the layers of aubergine. Press them down a little with the back of a spoon, put on top any of the garlic and herbs that are still in the bowl and pour over a second tablespoon of vinegar.
Finally pour over about 250ml olive oil, until it is about 5mm above the aubergine. Slip a wooden skewer down the sides of the jar and releasing any air bubbles before you refrigerate it. Make sure that the oil is still covering the aubergine after a few hours and top it up if necessary. Cover tightly and put in the jars the fridge.
This preserve is ready to eat as soon as you have made it, but becomes richer in flavour with time. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 months, but always return to room temperature before serving it.