20 May2008


Finding really good, vine ripened, sweet tomatoes with a lower acidity level in the Philippines is not a easy task. Growing them in your own vegetable plant from seeds, particularly those purchased abroad, is even more of a challenge, it seems. Finding plum or roma tomatoes instead of round ones is even rarer, though I did find them at Fresh Fields on a couple of occasions. Why good tomatoes of the sort great with pasta sauces are so difficult in our tropical weather would seem inexplicable. Maybe it’s the soil, or the humidity, the bugs, or the lack of cool nights followed by wickedly warm and dry periods for the fruit to ripen. At any rate, I tend to use a lot of canned Italian tomatoes for pasta sauces and stews as they are economical, consistent and flavorful…


However, every once in a while, I run across some pretty good locally grown tomatoes that are ripe and less acidic, often from my suki Toscana farm stand on the Sta. Rosa road leading up to Tagaytay, and when I hit that once or twice in a year bounty, I buy as much as I can. A few weeks ago, I bought some 5-6 kilos of tomatoes at PHP50 a kilo and I let them sit on the kitchen counter for another day or two to ensure they were at their ripest.


To preserve them, boil water in large pot. Take the ripe tomatoes and make a cross mark on the base of the fruit. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for say 30 seconds just to blanche them, then transfer them into an ice bath. Peel away the skins and place them in a bottle or storage container. When you have finished blanching and peeling all your tomatoes, you may choose to smush or crush a few and add that on top of the whole tomatoes. They naturally let off a lot of “tomato water” and eventually they should be submerged in liquid. Store in the fridge for up to several days, or pack for freezing and they will last several weeks. If you want to really preserve them, you will need to seal the bottles and boil them until sterilized… like the process typically described for jams/jellies.


Frankly, these were NOT as good as the canned Italian plum tomatoes I get at the grocery, but at least they were local and fresh. I particularly like to add them chopped up to a simple pasta that we like to make at home… just heat up a pan, add a generous amount of olive oil, throw in some grape or cherry tomatoes and saute for a couple of minutes, add the chopped tomatoes that you have in the fridge, add cooked pasta with some of the pasta water, turn off the heat, add lots of cubed mozzarella, chopped basil, sal and pepper and serve hot. So simple, so delicious and less than 15 minutes to prepare total (except making your own tomatoes, of course). Other ideas for a bounty of tomatoes? Make semi-dried tomatoes in your oven… they are super yummy!




  1. Osay says:

    Funny, thats how i make my tomato pasta sauce too but never thought about canning/storing tomatoes as the market never seems to have the right ripe kind. If you could toss out how to sterilize them, id be much grateful. Also what was the Plum tomato brand you buy off the grocery? Thanks for this post.

    May 20, 2008 | 6:24 am


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  3. fried-neurons says:

    It’s probably much-improved now, but all I remember about tomatoes when I still lived in Manila is that they weren’t very good at all, compared to the fresh tomatoes you find in the US.

    I grow tomatoes every year, from my teeny-tiny balcony. I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems to me they like LOTS of sunshine and _dry_ heat. Their growth spurt seems to slow down during those very rare times that it turns humid here in the Bay Area.

    May 20, 2008 | 6:39 am

  4. betty q. says:

    You’re right ,MM, it shouldn’t be that difficult to grow tomatoes back home considering the weather should be right or conducive to growing tomatoes. Soil plays a great deal in producing the best tasting tomatoes. It will not grow in soil that is already depleted of the nutrients. I would suggest amending or preparing the soil bed months in advance prior to planting and enriching it every year. Lots of compost and STEER MANURE. Adding lime in the planting hole works well. It also helps to MULCH the base of the plant to protect it from dry, hot weather. Water deeply as they say. But once the fruit sets and you want it to ripen, hold off on the water a little bit. If you saved some of the seeds and would like to plant them in Cebu..you could even plant them in REALLy big buckets. I have mine growing in the backyard in buckets a friend of mine made…he installed those roller wheels so if it rains I can store them in the patio. I am sure you know how to start seeds indoors. Anytime, you guys want seeds,,heck let me know. I have cherry tomatoes in 6 different colors: Chocolate brown, yellow, orange, lime green (when ripe!), WHITE, and of course red. My paste tomato seeds are reeeallly the long ones. An Italian gardener of mine gave me the seeds. …you guys wouldn’t believe how long they are! …Italians know their paste tomatoes!!!! HAPPY GARDENING!!!!!!

    May 20, 2008 | 6:43 am

  5. betty q. says:

    Oh, I forgot….I don’t know if you guys are into TOMATO SANDWICHES…if you have vine-ripened, beefsteak tomatoes…have them sliced thickly, then thick slices of calabrese or french bread…NO WONDER BREAD, PLEASE!..not on this sandwich…spread with good quality mayo, few basil leaves….saaarap!!! Even more sarap would be…thick slices of calabrese again, mayo or garlic butter, creamy HAVARTI CHEESE, thick slices of tomato and few basil leaves and GRILLED in a panini press!!! Plain and simple but sooooo GOOD!!!

    May 20, 2008 | 7:08 am

  6. topster says:

    Hello MM! A question, what brand of canned tomatoes do you use? I usually get this particular Italian brand but it usually stocks out quickly. What are your comments for the Hunt’s or del Monte canned tomatoes?

    Also, since you are on the topic, my mom bottles her own tomatoes too. However, her purpose is not for pasta sauce but more of “pang sawsawan sa ulam”! She gets either ripe or semi ripe tomatoes (depending on what’s available)and boils them with little water and salt and simmer at low fire for half an hour. After that, she bottles them and stores in the ref. When ever our food would be fried fish or pork we would take out the bottle and get some tomatoes, “ibabaw sa sinasaing na kanin”(no microwave yet) to heat it up and you get a mean saw-sawan!
    Boy, it was really good to have that during the rainy months when the food would either be daing, tuyo or tinapa!!! I still recall the hot steamed rice, fried fish and the tomatoes we would squish by hand! Love pouring the sauce to my rice! Makes the “pritong ulam” more delectable! =)

    May 20, 2008 | 8:47 am

  7. Mila says:

    I had a bounty of fresh tomatoes recently and since they were ripening faster than a sneeze, I confit’d (sic) them in the slow cooker with the bits of olive oils in several bottles I had lying around, and several cloves of garlic. Over the last few weeks, I’ve pulled a few pieces out, sauteed it with pepperoncini and anchovies and capers, then tossed it with cooked pasta. Also topped it on some broiled fish.

    May 20, 2008 | 8:49 am

  8. perkycinderella says:

    I bottled tomatoes in olive oil and some fresh basil leaves. Good for any pasta. Once sealed this last for 3 months.

    May 20, 2008 | 9:27 am

  9. nikita says:

    I am here in the Philippines on vacation (about to leave)from the US and we have a vacation house in Camarines Sur. My mom has repeatedly tried to grow roma tomatoes from the seeds of the tomatoes in our garden back in the US. Each time, the seeds fail to blossom. She thinks that it’s the soil. It’s definitely not the weather because it does have to be hot and humid and it’s definitely that all the time here. We don’t get cool nights in Memphis during the hottest months of the summer so it’s definitely not about that.

    I was surprised to find that the only tomatoes to be had in the markets are just those small round ones. Even more surprising is that they don’t taste good. I’m a tomato freak and always have to have tomatoes of any kind with my food.

    May 20, 2008 | 10:06 am

  10. Ben says:

    betty g’s post reminded of the 3 slice summer sandwich. An easy sandwich that fresh tomato freaks will especially love. First cut a very thick slice of a purple onion that is the diameter of the bread you are using. Soak the whole onion slice (don’t let it break apart) in salted water for 10 minutes, remove and damp dry with a paper towel. This removes the burn of the onion and brings out the sweetness. Cut one very very thick slice of ripe tomato that is the same diameter as the onion, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and crushed black pepper. Then cut a thick slice of creamy cheddar cheese (you’ll need to cut from a large block, maybe 3×3 inches square). All 3 slices should be really thick. Then take your bread and rub it with the meat of the a tomato-end and a good amount of olive oil. Stack cheese, then onion, then tomato. Take a look at the colors and then enjoy the cream of the cheese, the crunch of the onion and the freshness of the tomato. I can’t wait until my fire-escape grown tomatoes here in New York are ready for this sandwich.

    May 20, 2008 | 10:13 am

  11. betty q. says:

    Hi Nikita: I think what happened to your mom’s tomatoes is called “blossom drop”. Sometimes, it also depends on the varieties. Certain varieties are heat tolerant such as Heat Wave, Sunchaser. Tomatoes grown in the US do well when daytime temp. is between 21 to 29 C. That’s why tomatoes grown in greenhouses have those FANS circulating to lower the temp. if it’s gets too hot and also to aid in pollination. The seeds fail to blosssom as well when the soil has TOO MUCH NITROGEN!…causing the plants to produce more foliage…I don’t know if she has access to a balanced fertilizer like 15-30-15 or 6-8-6 …For next year. tell her to try this…grow some plants in POTS…start with good enriched soil…plenty of organic matter and add lime. …grow some directly into the garden plot. ..advantage of the one grown in pots….she can move them around if the weather gets waaayyyy toooo hot!!! Also MULCH

    May 20, 2008 | 10:49 am

  12. Blaise says:

    At Php 50 a kilo, that’s a deal…

    May 20, 2008 | 12:05 pm

  13. Apicio says:

    Putting up tomatoes in summertime is a tertiary gender trait of Italians in the Greater Metropolitan Toronto area where I worked for close to twenty years, the female counterpart of wine-making among the men.

    May 20, 2008 | 7:56 pm

  14. Marketman says:

    Hi everyone, I am not home, so I can’t put the exact brand name, but we buy both Italian and Spanish canned tomatoes. In a bind, even some American canned tomatoes do just fine…

    May 20, 2008 | 9:25 pm

  15. edamame says:

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    May 20, 2008 | 10:46 pm

  16. Honey says:

    i just watched this same topic last night at Martha Stewart’s show! it was her mom who did the “demo”… they took out the seeds… didnt hear the reason why.

    May 21, 2008 | 1:49 am

  17. skunkeye says:

    I’ve always puzzled why tomatos are not more abundant of flavorful in the Phils.
    I don’t understand how soil should be an issue. Can’t you buy seeds in the States or Europe, start seedlings in peat, and then transfer to commericial, fortified potting soil (MiracleGrow or organic) in containers? I grow tomatoes in containers every summer here in the US – of course you need to stake them of put in a cage. Its actually more efficient to grow in containers because you can move them around according to heat and light and also tomato vines are kind of unsightly – and they are not perrenials.
    There are some amazing heirloom variety seeds availiable widely these days. Heirlooms not only look and taste more interesting but also keep the species alive.
    Check out Seed Savers


    May 21, 2008 | 2:48 am

  18. gemma says:

    “Why good tomatoes of the sort great with pasta sauces are so difficult in our tropical weather would seem inexplicable.”

    mm, it must be the french conept of “terroir.” great pasta sauces are made with san marzano tomatoes from san marzano, italy. there is a distinct difference when you use san marzano over ordinary plum tomatoes when making the red sauce (marinara, etc). it is certainly worth paying a premium for those whole peeled san marzano tomatoes ( a 28 oz. can retails in new york city for $3 whereas ordinary plum sells for $1.70) as your pasta sauce will likely have a sense of place (italian).

    May 21, 2008 | 5:44 am

  19. Apicio says:

    I was abruptly weaned from Filipino style spaghetti sauce in the seventies by a young Filipina who did a stint in the Vatican where she learned to cook a la Italiana (she used normal fresh ripe Canadian tomatoes). Then I later reinforced that initial acquaintance by landing a job in the predominantly Italian section of Greater Metropolitan Toronto where I ate perfect pasta almost everyday for less than $4 including a tin of San Peregrino pop (they used generic institutional canned tomatoes) that’s why I revolt at the thought of paying more than $5 for a plate of pasta even now. I simply cannot justify it to myself. If one is aiming for an “authentic” marinara, perhaps using tomatoes from a certain region of Italy might be meaningful but given that one is obviously not Italian and not located in Italy at that, how authentic can your marinara be even if you were using authentic Italian tomatoes?

    May 21, 2008 | 9:35 am

  20. A McLean says:

    Tomatoes are on page 78.

    I LOVE tomatoes. I grow them almost every year here in Texas. It gets really hot and humid here, too. Maybe they would grow better during the cooler months in the Philippines?

    On really bad years, I grow cherry tomatoes. They grow when all the rest die.

    We have a long growing season for tomatoes. Just before the first heavy frost in the fall, I’m harvest everything left on the vines. I try to leave bits of stem attached to the green tomatoes because they keep better. Buckets of green tomatoes keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

    Tomatoes suffer a permanent flavor change once they have been exposed to temperatures below 40 F (4 C), but let them warm back to room temperature and they will contine to ripen over the next few days. The most immature green tomatoes may not ripen before they rot, but the rest will taste better than most “store” tomatoes.

    I grow indeterminate tomato varieties for a few tomatoes at a time, all season long. I grow determinate paste tomatoes for a big all-at-once harvest. Many heirloom varieties are indeterminate.

    I like to spray my tomato plants with a liquid seaweed product every two weeks.

    If your tomatoes don’t flower AT ALL, but they are growing lots of vegetation, they may have too much nitrogen. Working a little crushed charcoal into the surface of the soil might help since carbon helps moderate nutrient extremes. Next time use a fertilizer with more phosphorus than nitrogen.

    If the tomatoes flower, but the flowers fall off without setting fruit, the vines may be stressed. Too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too dry.

    Too hot means above 90 F (32 C).

    Too cold means below 40 F (4.5 C). Probably not a problem in the Philippines.

    How windy is too windy? I don’t know. If the plants are being whipped around a lot, try providing a wind break and see if it helps. The soil dries out more on windy days unless the soil is mulched. Row cover material helps with wind, too. When I plant my tomato seedlings, I put a coffee can with both ends cut out around each plant. I push the can into the soil slightly. The can protects the tender plants against strong winds and blazing sun.

    Too wet is more of a problem in heavy clay or poorly drained soils. If the tomato vines have lots of little rootlets along the vines, that’s a good indication they’re too wet.

    If the tomatoes flower but fail to set fruit, are they being pollinated? They need a few friendly bugs. I’ve heard you can go down the rows, gently dusting all the flowers with a feather or small paintbrush to pollinate them. I garden organically so I’ve never had a deficiency of beneficial garden insects.

    If the tomatoes flower and they’re being pollinated, but they still fall off in a few days and never set fruit, their roots may be getting too hot. Excessive heat means the fruit ripens more slowly too. Try planting them where they will get direct sun until midday and shade in the afternoon.

    My soil is deficient in alkaline minerals so I save my eggshells for the tomatoes. I scatter clean, crushed eggshells around the plants (or work into the top layer of soil) as a source of slow release calcium with traces of phosphorus and magnesium. Calcium prevents blossom end rot. Sometimes I add a little bone meal for phosphorus. Phosphorus encourages tomatoes to blossom. If I needed extra magnesium I would add a little sprinkle of Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate) from the drug store. A tiny bit of ash from the fireplace or charcoal grill adds potassium. Coarsely crushed charcoal mixed into the top few inches of soil helps too. Especially if you accidentally overfertilized with nitrogen.

    Tomatoes don’t like hot feet. I always mulch heavily to suppress weeds and keep the roots cooler. The mulch helps retain moisture too. Mulch suppresses weeds, keeps the roots cooler, and helps retain moisture. Some materials mat down and form an air and water-tight barrier (BAD!) The year I used “composted” rice hulls lives on as a bad memory.

    When I was a little girl, we grew cherry tomatoes year round in a heated greenhouse. When the indeterminate tomato vines got too long, they stopped producing as much fruit. My mother shoveled dirt over the vine here and there. After a week or so, the buried parts had grown roots so she cut them loose from the parent plant. Voila! Soon we were harvesting lots of tomatoes again.

    If you’re really desperate for tomatoes and don’t mind spending the money, try an Earthbox type self-watering container. (There are plenty of do-it-yourself versions on the internet.) Tomatoes only need 6 hours of direct sunlight. After that you could drag them into the air-conditioning for the rest of the day.

    I bought a white Earthbox with wheels this year. Here’s my plan for midsummer. The tomatoes in the garden will just have tough it out, but every day at lunchtime, I will carefully wheel my two pampered tomatoe plants into the house. I have a little board ramp to help me get over the doorsill. I did this with green peas last winter (took them in when it froze at night.) I figured out that if I tipped the Earthbox slightly to drain part of the water out it wasn’t as heavy. The soil stayed moist overnight. When I took the box back out the next day I refilled the water reservoir.

    May 21, 2008 | 10:45 am

  21. gemma says:

    …don’t forget to top the pasta sauce with grated parmeggiano reggiano from where else but the region of parma in italy. kraft cheddar cheese, not :)

    May 21, 2008 | 8:24 pm

  22. Glecy says:

    This is for Honey. The seeds are remove for esthetic reason.I do it ,so my pasta sauce looks clean ( for presentation).For salads I use Roma and I remove the seeds too for same reason.

    May 24, 2008 | 8:47 am

  23. Lex says:

    My aunt used to bottle tomatoes and taught me how. She told me to remove the seeds because this would prolong the life of the bottled tomatoes. They used to keep for months so there must be some truth to it.

    May 24, 2008 | 10:40 am

  24. jellybean says:

    topster, my grandmother does the same and i just love the way the juices of the tomatoes flood my plate. lots of flavor still tastes fresh, and the flesh are soft and juicy. i’m missing my grandma now. :(

    May 28, 2008 | 8:58 pm

  25. leticia says:

    this is a very nice page! i enjoy all the comments about tomatoes. as i love tomatoes like the rest of you. when i go to the supermarket i would stay longer at the tomatoe section. i would be home with at least 4 varieties of tomatoes. i don’t have a space for a garden but i am excited to plant a tomato soon!

    Jun 9, 2008 | 11:08 pm

  26. thelma says:


    Jun 26, 2008 | 6:02 am

  27. susaan says:

    I live in Valencia Spain & this is our first year growing our own tomatoes. We have so many of them that we have tried bottling them but not very good results -once the jar is packed with the tomatoes the jar fills with water. Is it better to blanche the tomatoes then freeze them? Any advice available from you experts out there as to successfull bottling. I have not de-seeded the tomatoes.

    Aug 3, 2008 | 3:29 am


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