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Storing tomatoes in ash for months  RSS feed

 
Jason Padvorac
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Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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I've just run into a few claims that you can take tomatoes that would go bad within a few days, and store them for months packed in wood ash. I saw it in an article about a farmer somewhere who had revolutionized his life by being able to extend the sales of his crop, but I can't find that now. I did find another page, though, that discusses it:

https://echocommunity.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/a_to_z/azch10st.htm#Wood


Ken Hargesheimer sent us a copy of the "From Garden to Kitchen" newsletter published by UNICEF. It provides a way for Pacific Island populations to share gardening and nutrition information suited to the local region. If you are in the Pacific Islands, you are eligible to receive this newsletter (no fee). Write South Pacific Commission Community Education Training Centre, c/o UNDP, Private Mail Bag, Suva, FIJI; phone 300439; fax (679) 301667. The following is from issue #10.

Farmers know all too well the problem of large quantities of tomatoes (and low prices) during season, followed by short supply and higher prices. The Bureau of Education in the Philippines says you can extend the season in which tomatoes are available. Fresh tomatoes can be preserved in wood ash for up to three months.

Preserve only newly picked tomatoes which are ripe but not soft and overripe. They must be free of bruises and blemishes. Select a wooden or cardboard box or woven basket and line it with paper. Gather cool ash from the cooking fire and sift to remove sharp particles. Spread the ash evenly on the bottom, 1.5 inches (4 cm) thick. Arrange the tomatoes upside down (stem end facing down) in one layer and pour another thin layer of ash on top. Continue layering tomatoes and ash until the container is full. Cover and seal the container and keep in a cool dry place. [The article does not say how to cover and seal. My best guess is to cover with ash then a loose-fitting cover to keep the ash from being disturbed.] The skin will wrinkle but the pulp inside will remain juicy.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I ate tomatoes yesterday that were picked in September. They have been stored in a closet in the house without any special treatment or care. Sure, they were somewhat dehydrated, but super tasty. Variety selection is important for storing tomatoes like this.  I haven't tried wood ashes. If I were serious about storing tomatoes for winter use, either in ashes, or on the counter-top, I could make the process much more effective by doing a couple of year's worth of selection for long-keeping traits.



 
Jason Padvorac
Posts: 105
Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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If I were serious about storing tomatoes for winter use, either in ashes, or on the counter-top, I could make the process much more effective by doing a couple of year's worth of selection for long-keeping traits.


That is certainly the best approach. Why fiddle around with other stuff if you can convince the plant to make the problem just go away? The ash treatment seems like potentially a good shortcut, though. And if you used it with a storage variety, I wonder just how long you could get a tomato to last...

I found the other article: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2016/11/burundi-farmer-finds-new-technique-for-preserving-tomatoes-15454

Then one day, he noticed that the tomatoes he had kept next to his banana trees were not rotten. Then he noticed the ash at the foot of the banana trees.

He decided to try keeping his tomatoes in ash and found that this was more effective than any of the other techniques he had tried.

He uses ash from a chimney, and sifts it three or four times to remove large residues, debris, and other foreign materials. Then, he dumps the ash into a paper carton and places the tomatoes in the carton. With this technique, Mr. Nduwimana manages to safely store his tomatoes for many months.

He explains: “I keep my tomatoes in the ash for a period of five to six months, so I can sell them in December, January, or February when the price has risen—since tomatoes are rare and become expensive during this period.“


I'm really curious to try this myself - I'll probably buy a few tomatoes, keep a couple out and pack a couple in ash and see how they do. And maybe some other produce, too. Depending on how the ash preserves the tomatoes, there may be other applications. I wonder if it somehow hardens the skin, or manages the humidity levels, or kills decay agents, or what...
 
David Livingston
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I am reminded of these
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century_egg

Also stored in ash
 
Dave de Basque
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-42N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
If I were serious about storing tomatoes for winter use, either in ashes, or on the counter-top, I could make the process much more effective by doing a couple of year's worth of selection for long-keeping traits.


Luckily, this has already been done for you! In Catalonia (Barcelona and surrounding areas) they have a much loved culinary tradition of rubbing half a fresh tomato (not to mention a clove of garlic) into their bread when making a sandwich or whatever, like Americans might spread their bread with mayonnaise. This they like to do all year round, not just in September, so over decades in times of yore they developed "tomate de colgar" ("hanging tomatoes") which are smallish tomatoes that grow in strips of many tomatoes along a single stem that are perfect for hanging in an unrefrigerated closet, attic or storage area where they will keep for many months, even improving in flavor. No ash needed.

This tomato is fairly dry and perhaps surprisingly has a nice, thin skin. It is best to store tomatoes in the height of the season of perfection and the early side of maturity, before weather might make them start to crack or heaven forbid be attacked by blight, so July in a hot and sunny, tomato-friendly region is ideal. Apparently it's best to avoid the very nitrogen-rich fertilizers that are common for tomatoes but high potassium is good. Also, they should be watered very sparingly, drought stress is important to these tomatoes. On local forums the old timers even in hot, dry climates say to water only twice a month once they start to fruit.

Storage should be in a dry place with little temperature variation. Under these conditions, they can keep until the next year's harvest starts.

Pix attached.

Here are a couple of places in Spain that sell them:

http://www.semillasmadretierra.com/tomate-enano
http://semillasbatlle.es/es/tomate-de-colgar-domingo

Some young pups down in greenhouseville (Almería, Spain) promoting this cultivar (website in English):

http://tomatedecolgar.com/en/

This variety in the US might be similar or at least meet similar needs:

http://www.southernexposure.com/long-keeper-winter-storage-tomato-016-g-p-1227.html

Another trick from nearby farmers at high altitudes is to pick the tomatoes green and stick them in a closet or other environment with little temperature variation and layer them between newspapers, where they'll ripen pretty well and you can enjoy their bounty for a number of months. I do this and am still enjoying ripe red salad tomatoes long after my plants turned to dry sticks. But I don't think they'll last until my next harvest!

I will try the ash thing next year though, why not give it a go? If it works for hundred year eggs, there must be something to it. I also am reminded of the multiple techniques that exist around the world for preserving wood from rot when exposed to the elements, that involved charring or ash: Norwegian churches, Swedish fences, Japanese siding and maybe even some advanced stuff at wheaton labs!





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Viola Schultz
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Jason Padvorac wrote:
Depending on how the ash preserves the tomatoes, there may be other applications. I wonder if it somehow hardens the skin, or manages the humidity levels, or kills decay agents, or what...


I suspect that potash (aka pot ashes) in the hardwood ash has a lot to do with it since "Potash is important for agriculture because it improves water retention, yield, nutrient value, taste, color, texture and disease resistance of food crops. It has wide application to fruit and vegetables, rice, wheat and other grains, sugar, corn, soybeans, palm oil and cotton, all of which benefit from the nutrient’s quality enhancing properties." [from Wikipedia, underlining mine] I am not looking forward to sifting my ashes but will give it a try!
 
pete king
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Potash and wood stove ash are 2 complete different things. Potash is a Potasium based mineral mined for use as an agricultral fertlizer.
wood stove ash has a completely different chemical make-up.
Excellent discussion - tomatoes in winter NOT from Mexico!! wow!
 
Angelika Maier
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Interesting. Are they rubbed in woodash or stored in a woodash bin? If you rub them only you don't need all that much woodash - my woodash is gone by the tomato harvest.
Tomato de colgar - what is the variety name? Unfortunately tomato seeds are not allowed entry to Australia, would be and interesting variety!
 
pete king
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pete king wrote:Potash and wood stove ash are 2 complete different things. Potash is a Potasium based mineral mined for use as an agricultral fertlizer.
Wood stove ash has a completely different chemical make-up.
Excellent discussion - tomatoes in winter NOT from Mexico!! wow!

Should have been clearer.
Wood ash does contain a small amount of potasium (potash) near 10% depending on the type of wood burned. But generally it is not considered the same thing.
There are many sources for potasium.
Cheers,

a
 
Dave de Basque
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-42N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Hi Angelika

Re "tomate de colgar" (the Spanish term), sorry, the cultivar names for traditional varieties here are not mostly not standardized or catalogued, and seeds can be hard to even come by. After the scientific name Lycopersicon esculentum generally just comes the traditional name of the cultivar, which in the case of these fairly rare tomatoes can vary from place to place.

In case it helps, a little more info for further research: Since they are mostly from the Catalán-speaking areas (autonomous regions of Catalunya, Valencia and the Balearic Islands in Spain and the Roussillon region of France), it may help to know what they're called in Catalán: "tomàquet de penjar." (Minor problem: Catalán has at least 8 words for tomato: tomàquet, tomata, tomàtec, tomaca, tomacó, tomàtiga, tomàtic, domàtiga -- just add "de penjar" onto any of them and google it, searching without accents is fine.)

The Catalán Wikipedia article on tomatoes lists 5 separate local varieties of "tomatas de penjar" from each Girona, Castelló (2 provinces), Majorca and Menorca (2 islands) --just called for instance "tomàquet de penjar de Girona," etc.-- and a final variety that has been standardized and catalogued by the Catalunya Dept. of Agriculture, called "tomàquet de penjar plana d'Albesa."

Domingo, mallorquín, and Herrera seem to be common variety names, and look, I just found another seed catalog with 9 varieties.

If your tomatoes don't naturally grow in this convenient storage format like a proper tomate de colgar, other people do string up long strings of small tomatoes as a preservation method to keep them through the winter. (Needle and hemp string through a bit of stem left on each tomato, not obviously through the tomato itself!    Or just lop them on the string, Vesuvius-style
.) The Italians call one of these long strings a "piennolo di pomodorini" and in Spain "ristra de tomates." Tried and tested method of storing the right types of tomatoes: usually a variety that is small and not watery inside, and of course in perfect condition. Harvest when just breaking color, after a dry few days, and preferably during a waning moon. Cool storage inside away from temperature swings. This used to be the standard way of keeping tomatoes through the winter in our nearby tomato-centric Mediterranean cultures.
 
Viola Schultz
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pete king wrote:Potash and wood stove ash are 2 complete different things. Potash is a Potasium based mineral mined for use as an agricultral fertlizer.
Wood stove ash has a completely different chemical make-up.

Never said they are the same thing. All I said was that hardwood ashes contain potash and btw, 10% is a lot of potassium (as you know Potassium Sulfate, also referred to as potash, is the most powerful fertilizer delivering up to 44% of water soluble potash).
Interesting fact: the word potassium comes from pot ash, the old technique of obtaining the potassium carbonate. The Wiki says,
The term potash comes from the Middle Dutch word potaschen (pot ashes, 1477). 
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