Tomatoes are picky bitches. Too much sun, not enough sun, too much rain, not enough water, the unending number of diseases a tomato plant can succumb to, and just when you’ve figured everything else out: blossom end rot.
But cherry tomatoes seem impervious to all of that. They just grow. And grow. And grow. And if you stick with them, they will provide 800% of their weight in tomatoes well into Autumn. Which is delightful, until it’s not. Because, like so many gardeners, I find myself drowning in cherry tomatoes right into the last weeks of October.
Sure, I can stand over my tomato plants and eat them until my heart dissolves in acid, but I’d still have a literal fuckton of adorable, tiny, evil nightshades to deal with. And, at least in my neck of the woods, everyone has them — growing on patios, on balconies, in tiny spots that won’t host anything else, or hanging from the ugly thing they call a Topsy Turvy. You can’t give them away.
What is a gardener to do?
Narrator: “Stop growing cherry tomatoes”.
No, but really, what am I to do?
Pretend they’re not cherry tomatoes
Do what you’d do with big tomatoes: Make pureed tomatoes for sauce or soup. Usually you would peel tomatoes before doing so, but if you have the right accessory, you don’t need to. The right accessory here is a really good blender. I’m talking Vitamix-level blitzing: You’re going to blitz the skins and seeds into oblivion. I give the cherry boys a good whir and then run them through a food mill, but the last step is almost unnecessary; either way, all you need to do after all that blitzing is simmer the puree down to a consistency you enjoy. I use a slow cooker for this so I can set it and ignore it; the Instant Pot is another option.
Make tomato paste (and freeze it)
Buying commercial tomato paste annoys me because, in order to keep costs down, it comes in a can, but you can’t really use it all at once, and you almost always end up tossing some. Luckily, making your own tomato paste is as easy as making as tomato puree, except you just keep going. Roast the puree at 100 degrees C or slow cooker it on low, uncovered, for 24–36 hours, stirring occasionally. It will darken and thicken and, with each hour, lose volume. When it hits paste consistency, put it in Tupperware, ice cube trays, or 1oo g Ball jars and freeze it. Scoop it, frozen, into whatever you usually use tomato paste in.
Make tomato candy
Look. I get it. Dehydrated fruit is…dry? Leathery? But dehydrated cherry tomatoes are candy. Actual candy. All that tomato umami and sugar gets concentrated down. As long as I’ve been doing this, I have never once been able to save enough to store them. (Try it! You’ll end up eating them standing over the dehydrator like the monster you are.)
Making cherry tomato candy could not be simpler: slice them in half, put them on a dehydrator tray, and dehydrate them until they are leathery, but not cracker dry. They should still be chewable, and look something like sundried tomatoes, but adorably tiny. You can also use your oven on its lowest setting if you don’t have a dehydrator — simply line a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper or, even better, a Silpat.
Stuff them for hors d’oeuvres
Stuffed tomatoes are an easy-to-transport food that looks great on a tray. They’re easy to grab and pop in you mouth without utensils or plates, making them a great pre-feast Thanksgiving appetizer. (They’re equally good if you’re just hanging out on the patio.)
Cut the top third of your tomato off, gently roll it on its side, and shake it upside down to get the seeds out. This will leave you with a hollow in the tomato that you can now fill (with cheese).
You can take one of two tacts: you can build a fromage fort (or use any cheesy spread situation), put it in a piping bag and pipe it into your tomatoes, or you can put a small cube of cheese in each. Enjoy either preparation at room temperature or, for extra points, give them a roasty roast until the cheese bubbles. (Pro-tip: Cut a tiny slice off the bottom to give the tomato a flat surface to stand on.)
Make tomato confit
If cuffing season hasn’t yielded you a catch of the human variety, I highly recommend stocking your kitchen with the kind of food that will give you a sense of satisfaction in the middle of winter. There are lots of worldly pleasures out there, and a crusty french bread and tomato confit ranks pretty high on the list. (The smell alone will cause you to cancel your Tinder membership.) To make it, grab a dish with a three-inch (or higher lip) and stuff that sucker with cherry tomatoes. Don’t do anything to them, Just pack them in, leaving at least an inch of headspace in the pan. Add a few basil leaves and a few cloves of garlic.
Now cover everything in olive oil. Do not drizzle the olive oil. Pour it on. Literally cover the tomatoes with it. DO IT NOW. Then put the pan in a 190-degree oven for four hours. (I like to put a rimmed baking sheet on the rack under the pan, in case of drips.) At the end of four hours, turn the oven off and let the tomatoes hang out in there until they’re cool enough to handle without risking pouring boiling olive oil all over yourself. Now ladle the tomatoes into a freezer bag, suck out the air (vacuum bags work best, obviously), and throw them in the freezer. The infused olive oil, meanwhile, will be tomato-y and garlicky and basily and just an utter delight, so sieve it and use it within a day to be as safe as possible (though I have kept mine in the fridge for up to a week.) To enjoy your warm and sensual tomato confit, all you have to do is defrost it, then warm it in the oven. Devour with warm, crusty, fresh french bread.