Clear Juice from Cherry Tomatoes

Clear tomato juice, after the small amount of solids has settled to the bottom of the jar

What do you do with a glut of cherry tomatoes? Small, sweet, tart, juicy tomatoes—whether shaped like cherries, grapes, or plums—are the best varieties for snacking. You can halve them and add them to salads, pile them into kids’ lunch boxes, and sauté or roast them for a sauce or relish.

But . . . what then? If you have more than one cherry tomato plant in your garden, you probably have more tangy little fruits than your household can eat right away. You need to give them away or let them rot.

Or you can preserve them. Here’s what I do: I get out my steam juicer, run water into the bottom section, fill the top section with stemmed tomatoes, put on the lid, and turn on the gas.

In less than an hour, the mid-section of the juicer has filled with clear, golden tomato juice. It’s what chefs call tomato water—an inadequate name, in my opinion, for such rich-flavored, velvet-textured juice. It’s nothing like what’s usually called tomato juice. That misnamed stuff is in fact unreduced tomato purée.

The stainless steel steam juicer, dismantled

There are other ways to make clear tomato juice, but using the steam juicer is by far the easiest. The juicer works like a stovetop espresso pot. The water in the bottom section boils, producing steam, which rises into the conical center of the midsection. Through holes in the flattened top of the cone, the steam rises into the perforated basket above. The fruit in the basket bursts in the steam and releases its juice, which drip through the holes into the midsection of the steam juicer. From there, I draw off the juice through a flexible tube.

I start drawing off juice about twenty minute into the steaming, straight into quart mason jars. The basket of fruit you see here rendered five quarts of juice.

The basket of tomatoes (with two small stalks of celery added for flavoring) as steam begins to rise
The spent tomatoes, after steaming

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has no recommendations for processing clear tomato juice, but because this juice is both thinner and more acidic than unreduced purée, you can feel perfectly safe using the processing time for what the USDA calls tomato juice: 15 minutes for pints or quarts in a pressure canner, 35 minutes for pints in a boiling-water bath, and 40 minutes for quarts in a boiling-water bath (times increase at altitudes of more than 1,000 feet).

You could press what’s left in the basket through a food mill or strainer to make tomato paste or leather. I usually prefer to toss the spent tomatoes to the chickens.

What do you do with the jars of clear tomato juice in your pantry? The juice can often stand in for meat stock in soups and stews. Even if you hate the texture of tomato purée, you may love to drink this juice cold—maybe even mixed with beer, as we tried one day, at a student’s suggestion, at the Culinary Center in Lincoln City. I especially recommend clear tomato juice for hot or cold consommé, as in my recipe that follows.

When you open a jar of tomato juice that you intend to use for consommé, pour carefully to leave behind the small amount of solids that will have settled at the bottom, or else strain the juice through muslin.

Tomato Consommé with Shrimp and Cucumber
From Cold Soups, by Linda Ziedrich

Besides calling for a quart of clear tomato juice, this recipe provides a use for a few more fresh cherry tomatoes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart clear tomato juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1 tablespoon water
½ pound cooked small shrimp
1 salad cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
8 to 10 cherry tomatoes, halved

In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté them about 5 minutes. Add the wine and tomato juice, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer the mixture about 20 minutes, and then strain the liquid into a saucepan. Add salt and pepper.

In a small bowl or cup, stir together the arrowroot and water. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir in the arrowroot paste. Simmer the consommé, stirring, for 2 minutes, until it is glossy and thickened. Let the consommé cool. Skim off any scum that forms.

Put the shrimp and cucumbers into a wide serving bowl. Pour the consommé over them. Chill the soup thoroughly.

Serve the soup garnished with cherry tomatoes and celery leaves.