Visit a farmers’ market or roadside stand anytime this month and you might just see a stunning array of tomatoes in reds, yellows, oranges, greens, purple and even black! If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon such a display, be sure to pick up several and give them a try! You’ll be shocked at the different textures and flavors of varieties like Cherokee Purple, Black Zebra, Brandywine and Hillbilly Heirloom.
But beware, these tomatoes aren’t perfect, at least not in the way we think about supermarket tomatoes. They are often oddly shaped, are trickier to grow, and don’t have a long shelf-life. Buy a heirloom tomato and plan to eat it PDQ!
Of course, you’ll want to eat it right away because heirloom tomatoes are abundantly flavored, unlike the plump cardboard-like tomatoes offered at the supermarket.
Make the most of your tomatoes — purchased or homegrown:
• You should be able to smell a tomato even before you see it. It’s the best indicator of ripeness.
• Tomatoes should be soft, heavy and firm.
• Watch for bruises and blemishes. If you don’t mind ugly produce, many farmers will sell these at a discount. Just be sure to use them right away. And expect some waste.
• Store your tomatoes in a cool, dry place… but not the fridge. Don’t put them in plastic bags. Don’t stack them, as the weight can cause the ones on the bottom layer to become mushy.
• Tomatoes that aren’t completely ripe can be ripened by putting them in a paper bag with a banana or an apple for a day or two. The ethylene gas emitted by these fruits will hasten ripening.
• Once you slice a tomato, refrigerate it. Use it up in four days.
Cooking with tomatoes
Tomatoes are versatile in the kitchen, so don’t settle for a slice on a sandwich. Try:
• Grilling: Rinse and cut tomatoes in half, brush with olive oil, and place directly on a preheated (medium-high) grill. Cook 6 to 8 minutes until soft, turning once.
• Top slices of whole grain bread with slices of tomato, sprinkle with cheese and broil on high 3 to 5 minutes, or until cheese melts.
• Cut tomatoes into quarters (or smaller if your tomato is large). Drizzle with olive and sea salt. Add slices of fresh mozzarella, top with fresh basil and pine nuts.
• Stir fry with zucchini cubes and sweet onion quarters in olive oil.
• Try them in salsa and omelets. Make a cool summer salad of tomatoes and watermelon. Experiment!
Tomatoes are rich in fiber and phytochemicals, with trace amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are naturally gluten free and high in Vitamins A and C. They are a good source of potassium with just 16 calories per half-cup serving.
Quirky, fun, flavorful tomatoes
• Tomatoes are the #1 homegrown crop in the U.S.
• Tomatoes aren’t vegetables (but you knew that). What you might not know is that tomatoes are classified as berries.
• Tomatoes originated in western South America and Central America.
• Tomatoes are related botanically to nightshade.
• 200 years or so ago, Europeans thought tomatoes were poisonous. In fact, they nicknamed the fruit the “poison apple” because so many aristocrats died after eating them. The tomatoes were only indirectly at fault. The acidity of the tomatoes leached lead out of the pewter plates used by the wealthy.
• Tomatoes played the starring role in the 1978 sci-fi movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
• The largest tomato ever grown weighed in at 7 pounds, 12 ounces.