Tips on making your own tomato paste

January 29, 2014
The classic paste tomato is the Roma VF. It is crimson red, thick-skinned, and shaped like a plum.

The beauty of gardening is that it spreads over several months. The downside of gardening is that it spreads over several months. If you want a certain vegetable in your garden this summer, you may have to plant it indoors months ahead. And if the seeds are rare, you may have to order them now. Take tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) for paste and sauce. Traditionally, tomato paste is made in Sicily, southern Italy and the island of Malta. Tomatoes are diced and simmered over open fires; then the resulting puree is spread out on wooden boards to dry in the sun. Once dried to a thick paste, it is carefully scraped up and rolled into a vibrant mahogany- colored ball.

You can do the same at home by chopping tomatoes and simmering on the stovetop until thickened, then canning or freezing the paste.

Just as it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to boil down into one gallon of maple syrup, it takes a lot of juicy tomatoes to cook down into a thick, flavorful paste. So the less juice in a tomato, the less you have to cook. As a bonus, many cooks find that non-juicy tomatoes have more concentrated flavor even used fresh in salads or sandwiches.

The classic paste tomato is the Roma VF. This is a semi-determinate tomato, which means that it will produce all season long. It is crimson red, thick-skinned and shaped like a plum. Each Roma fruit is small, just two ounces. The VF in the name Roma VF means it is resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt. The plants are short and stocky, so you can fit quite a few in a row.

Another great paste tomato is Amish Paste. These are larger than Roma VF tomatoes, weighing in at eight to 12 ounces apiece. Many of the Amish Paste tomatoes will have an oxheart shape as well as the more traditional plum shape. These are juicier than many paste tomatoes, so they can be eaten fresh as well as made into sauce and tomato paste. Amish Paste plants will grow quite large, so they need support from stakes or tomato cages.

Martino’s Roma tomato is one of the highest-yielding tomatoes you can grow. The two-ounce pear-shaped tomatoes have a deep, rich flavor.

Each three-inch-long tomato is meaty with few seeds and very little juice. The small plants have dark, rough foliage. Martino’s Roma tomatoes often ripen and fall off the vine, so you may want to mulch with straw.

For a delicious change of pace, try the yellow Cream Sausage tomato with its long, creamy yellow sausage-shaped fruits with a distinct nipple on the blossom end.

Start your paste tomatoes indoors about six to eight weeks before you set the plants out in the garden. Use a sterile, commercial seed-starting mix such as a seed-starting mix often containing peat moss or coconut husk fibers.

Plant the seeds in trays or individual pots. Some gardeners sow seeds close together in a flat or tray then transplant the new plants into larger containers. Always water your seedlings from the bottom up by soaking them in pans of water. If you spray water on the soil surface you can cause fungus diseases. Fertilize the tomato seedlings with a weak diluted organic fertilizer. Make sure your tomato seedlings get plenty of light or they will become spindly and weak. Bring your paste tomato plants outdoors gradually. This is called hardening off. Start by putting them in a  draft-free place outdoors for just a few hours each day and slowly increase the amount of time they are outside, and bring them inside for the rest of the day. Within a week or two they will be hardened off enough to set out in the garden. Mulch with straw or plastic. Water deeply once a week and within a few months you will have paste tomatoes for sauce, salsa or if you plan ahead to make your own tomato paste.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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