I don’t use a fridge here in Nigeria and I have had to learn lots of fascinating ways to keep food, particularly vegetables, so that I don’t have to go shopping too often. I manage with most things, but keeping tomatoes fresh has always been the biggest challenge. So I was fascinated to read an article online about a farmer in Burundi who had the same problem, but solved it! After trying without success to store tomatoes in many substances, he found that using cold ash really worked for him.
So I decided to give it a go. On the same day, I put 2 tomatoes on a dish in the pantry, and 6 tomatoes in a pot of ash. When the tomatoes inside were gross, oozing, attracting flies and ready to be dumped, I checked the tomatoes in the ash – and they were fine! After a quick wash they were ready to use as fresh as the day I bought them.
I was really pleased with this and now when I bring tomatoes home from the market, I keep some out for use in a day or two, I ferment some (https://nortonsnews.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/fermented-tomato-salsa/) and I put the rest in my pot of ash outside.
Since ash is a bit dirty, I like to work with it outside. On the left in this photo is the clay pot I use to put the tomatoes in. On the right is a milk tin with ash. They are just outside my kitchen door. I find it helpful to have 2 containers so that when I take out ash from the tomato pot, I can dump it in the milk tin. So as the tomato pot empties, the other tin fills. Then when all the tomatoes are out of the pot, there is only a small bit of ash left in the bottom. So the next week after I’ve been to the market, I add a layer of tomatoes onto the ash at the bottom of the tomato pot, and I gradually add ash from the tin to cover and layer in the tomato pot. It’s working great! It means I can have fresh tomatoes for stews and things for days and days after I’ve been to the market, rather than just a day or two like before. I’m sure the tomatoes would keep well a lot longer in the ash – the farmer in Burundi was keeping them for 5 to 6 months – but this pattern that I’ve worked out fits with my shopping routine.
One negative I have had suggested to me is that it takes a lot of trees to make a lot of ash to store a lot of tomatoes, and that’s true. However, the ash is re-usable so it only needs to be gathered once. I got mine from our campfire where we burn wood and also from the back of the garden where there was a bushfire that burnt the grass. If someone is using wood anyway for cooking, they could gather the ash over time to build up a big amount if they grow lots of tomatoes.
All in all, I was very pleased to read this tip and it has been really successful for me. You can read the original article about the farmer in Burundi here: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2016/11/burundi-farmer-finds-new-technique-for-preserving-tomatoes-15454