I always get a little garden envy during the summer months.
While I have the best memories of hand-picking sweet, fresh tomatoes and jarring them with my parents and brothers when I was growing up, the past few years have been… well, different.
More recently, I have lived in a variety of city apartments throughout Pittsburgh, Boston, and Philly, always with a severe lack of outdoor space to start my own personal garden.
I live vicariously through my parents’ garden back in Western Pennsylvania. And I call home often to receive the latest updates about the rapidly ripening plants.
My mom and dad have completely torn out our old childhood swing set to create their own backyard oasis of garden goodies, including a vine-laden jungle of tomato plants.
Needless to say, they always have plenty of Romas, grapes, and cherries ripe for picking.
I’m sure many of you have a similar situation at home, with a bountiful harvest! When you’re not making your next batch of red sauce or giving away extras to friends and family, how do you store that continually growing supply of all the other ones you want to keep?
And if you’re like me, living in the city and relying on local farmers markets or CSAs for your fresh tomato needs, what are you supposed to do with them after you get home with your tote bags full of fresh finds?
No matter if you’re a city slicker or a devoted garden steward, keep reading below for our go-to guide to storing your next crop of delicious tomatoes!
How to Choose the Best One
If you need more guidance for picking the right tomato, Foodal already has plenty of information on how to select the best tomatoes – ripe, plump, and juicy!
Washing & Cleaning
To extend the freshness of these fruit/vegetables (depending on who you ask), we recommend that you wait to wash and clean them until you are ready to eat.
They should not be washed before storage, since extra moisture will accelerate the growth of mold. And mold is not what you want to find when you’re cutting into them for your next bruschetta recipe!
When you are ready to prepare them, just rinse under the sink and rub with a towel to remove excess dirt.
Room Temperature Storage
Plain and simple, we recommend storing tomatoes at room temperature in a single layer, uncovered, and away from direct sunlight.
Storing them in a single layer is essential to help them last longer. Try to avoid stacking on top of one another.
I have been guilty of plopping all of my fresh produce in just one bowl after rushing home from the market, and end up forgetting altogether to store them properly afterwards.
The consequences of this kind of forgetfulness aren’t pretty.
If they are packed together, airflow is severely limited. Tomatoes are incredibly delicate, especially when ripe.
This not only crushes your precious produce, but will also accelerate ripening and the onset of mold. And it will attract fruit flies. Yuck.
Your countertop is the perfect place for storing them at room temperature. The openness gives these round beauties the right amount of air exposure. And all those heirloom varieties will look gorgeous on display!
A platter of colorful tomatoes versus a bouquet of fresh flowers? It’s close competition.
When Refrigeration Is Necessary
While room temperature tomatoes are the best to develop the most vibrant flavors, you can refrigerate them.
We recommend refrigeration for the following reasons:
If they are very ripe, but you are not ready to use them immediately, it is best to refrigerate to preserve and extend their life expectancy.
If you decide to cut them ahead of time, it is imperative that you store them in the refrigerator until ready to serve and eat.
According to ServSafe Coursebook, the textbook created by the National Restaurant Association for food safety and sanitation, certain food items like a freshly cut tomato are identified as TCS foods.
TCS means “time/temperature control for safety.” The time and temperature at which these foods are held need to be carefully monitored. They are particularly susceptible to unsafe contamination, and attract potentially harmful pathogens more rapidly than other food items.
TCS foods also include items like sliced melons, fresh proteins (such as poultry, meat, fish, and tofu), eggs, dairy products, sprouts, and heat-treated plant foods like rice, beans, and other vegetables.
Here is the basic rule: you should not leave TCS foods out for more than 4 hours at room temperature. Refrigerate them properly (below 41°F) to maintain safe storage.
Store freshly cut tomatoes in an airtight plastic container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator. It is best to use them as soon as possible, within 2-3 days.
Just remember, refrigeration is necessary whenever you cut into a fresh tomato!
Freezing Your Haul
If you are a freezer fanatic, this is a very easy and low-maintenance vegetable to freeze.
While you can simply freeze whole tomatoes to be used later on, you can also add a few extra steps of preparation before freezing.
The culinary prep method called concassée, from the French concasser or “to crush or grind” is basically a rough chop that can be applied to a variety of vegetables, most often seeded and skinned toms.
It’s ideal for preparing larger, juicier varieties like plums and beefsteaks for freezer storage. They will be ready at a moment’s notice to add to your recipes once thawed.
Concassée tomato preparation follows three main steps: peel, seed, and dice.
This method isn’t just limited to freezer storage – it’s a simple technique that can also be applied to any recipes where you do not want the texture of the skins or the extra juice from the seeds.
Store the tomatoes in zip-top freezer storage bags, being sure to push out all that extra air to create the best seal and long-lasting storage.
To save as much room as possible in your freezer, spread the tomatoes out in the bag to form one thin layer. Once frozen, you have a thin sheet that can easily be stacked with other frozen items.
And don’t forget to date the bag!
Labeling with the item’s name and the date it was made will keep your freezer well organized, and your busy mind relieved! Use the FIFO (first in, first out) method as well, storing older items on top and in the front of your freezer, so these will be used up first.
This product can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
To safely thaw the tomato concassée, the best method is to slowly thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Because the fruit is already cut into smaller chunks, this shouldn’t take more than 8-12 hours.
The night before you plan to make your recipe, simply place the frozen bag in a large bowl (to collect condensation) and place it immediately in your refrigerator.
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Boil & Cut
Before you start, put a large pot of water on to boil. The size of course depends on how large your batch is, but you want the water to be about twice the volume of your produce.
Not only do you want all of the tomatoes to be completely submerged, you want to boil enough water that adding them doesn’t reduce the temperature significantly.
Prepare a large bowl of ice water as well. Again, you want the volume of ice water to be about double that of your tomatoes.
Now you are ready to prep those tomaters: cut a shallow x-shaped slit in the bottom of each one.
Step 2 – Blanch
Gently place the tomatoes into your pot of boiling water. Using a slotted spoon for this task will make it easy to transfer them in and out of the boiling water without running the risk of splashing on yourself.
Make sure all of the fruit is completely submerged, and let it sit for about 30 seconds.
Step 3 – Chill
Using that same slotted spoon, take the tomatoes out of the boiling water and drop them straight into your bowl of ice water. Again, be careful so as not to burn yourself! That water is hot!
Chilling the tomatoes will stop the cooking abruptly, which helps them to maintain their vibrant red hue, and keeps them from dissolving into a mushy mess.
Let those toms rest in the ice bath for 5-10 minutes, to bring the quick cooking that they received to a complete stop.
Step 4 – Core
Using a paring knife, cut out the cores. This is usually pretty shallow, so be careful not to take too much of the flesh with it!
Step 5 – Peel
Now use your paring knife to peel the skin from the fruit. It will come off really easily, thanks to your x technique!
Start with the edges where you initially sliced and pull downwards. The skin should slide right off.
Step 6 – Halve & Squeeze
Slice each fruit in half and squeeze the seeds into a separate bowl.
Don’t let the tasty insides go to waste – there are countless ways you can harness their flavor. Toss the juice and seeds into a batch of homemade sauce, a fresh juice base for spicy bloody marys, a bowl of vegetable stock, or even a healthy V8-style tomato juice!
If all else fails, this also makes an excellent addition to your compost!
Step 7 – Chop
Now just chop, slice, or dice the flesh into whatever shape suits your cooking needs, and it is ready to store!
You just mastered the concassée technique!
Now what? Go ahead and prep your tomatoes for the freezer, or use them now in Foodal’s recipe for pico de gallo!
No matter where you get your plums or beefsteaks, from your own backyard or from the market, and no matter how you’re preparing them, whether for pico de gallo or a Nicoise salad, proper storage is necessary to maintain the perfectly ripe essence of each tomato!
Do you have any tricks of the trade for successful tomato storage? We would love to know! Share your comments below!
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Additional writing and editing by Kendall Vanderslice and Allison Sidhu.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.