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The Produce Place

F eature Story

Mater Madness

By Sally Yancey
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T omatoes are the quintessential fruit: Their versatility, vigor and flavor have made them a favorite of many gardeners. I started growing them in 1975—before I became a fan. Soon, I learned to enjoy the subtleness of the flavors, as well as the diversity of the plant itself. Its form and characteristics convinced me to grow many varieties of tomatoes and, as a result, I learned that the real task is figuring out ways to preserve them.

quote I learned to enjoy the subtleness of the flavors, as well as the diversity of the plant itself...

I like to grow tomatoes from early to late season so they ripen throughout the summer and fall, which means successive plantings and multiple varieties from May to September. Tomatoes are tender plants. They love sun and heat and despise cold, wet soil. Making multiple plantings helps to combat weather-related problems, as well as allow a gardener to have an extended harvest. Also, if you trellis a tomato plant, you are more likely to harvest the majority without rot and poorly shaped tomatoes.

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There are so many varieties to choose from: heirlooms, hybrids, pastes, cherries, grapes and beefsteaks, to name a few. Some of my favorites include the heart-shaped Oxheart, Bradley and Brandywine. All are pink heirlooms and good for juicing. Mortgage Lifter, Parks Whopper, Celebrity and Fletcher are my primary go-to tomatoes. They are big, juicy and delectable. Cherokee Purple and Carolina Gold are also on my list of tasty tomatoes for their color and flavor. I could mention so many cherry tomatoes, but Tomcat and Sungold really hit the spot. Some, like the Amish Paste and San Marzano, are especially choice paste and plum varieties. They are better for canning sauces because they have a mealy, bright-scarlet, non-juicy quality. I prefer a Brandywine over a Better Boy, but for processing they are both winners. For drying, I prefer a Celebrity or Bradley tomato. Nevertheless, the cherry tomatoes work well, too. As far as making tomato juice, the bigger tomato the better, in my estimation. I try to can at least 80 quarts of juice every year, using many different varieties.

Tomatoes are a valuable crop for the subsistence garden. They can be used fresh, dried or canned, or as a sauce or a staple in a salad. Finally, they can be eaten fresh on a tomato sandwich. No matter the method, tomatoes are a truly wonderful way to experience the bounty from the garden.

Here are some recipes, tried and true, that I like to use during tomato season. Most are simple to do and fun to try.

Recipes

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FRESH SALSA or PICO DE GALLO

I do not use a food processor for this recipe. Simply cut up six to eight ripe tomatoes into small chunks and place in a bowl. Add one small red onion, peeled and finely diced, one chopped jalapeno, a squeeze of ½ fresh lime, ¼ cup of fresh cilantro, ½ teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cover and let flavors blend a while at room temperature and then enjoy as a dip with tortilla chips.

SLOW ROASTED WHOLE TOMATOES

This is another easy use for your larger tomatoes such as Brandywine, Better Boy or Parks Whopper. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Cut six to nine tomatoes in half. Put minced garlic on top of each. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 275 degrees for two hours. When done, put in a big dish and chop the tomatoes with two knives. Then, add freshly chopped basil and add a little salt. Put on top of pasta or eat them by themselves.

GAZPACHO or COLD TOMATO SOUP

4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 quart tomato juice
1 large cucumber, chopped
1 can of consommé
2 teaspoons fresh parsley
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix ingredients together in a ceramic or enamel container, and chill in refrigerator. Serve with a lime slice or a dollop of sour cream.

BASIC TOMATO SAUCE

4 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste Heat the oil over medium-low heat, add the onion and garlic and cook for five minutes. Add two of the basil leaves and stir for a minute. Add the tomatoes, and the rest of the basil. Turn heat to high. Bring the sauce to a boil, and then turn down the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper. Let it bubble away on low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool and refrigerate. Serve hot over spaghetti, penne or spaghetti squash.

DRYING TOMATOES

Gwyneth Paltrow has an easy recipe in her cookbook, My Father’s Daughter. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take two cups cherry tomatoes and place in a baking pan. Drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until they’re split, blistered and super sweet. Then toss in a salad or use on pizzas or blend with pasta.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE

Combine 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 cup currant, grape or cherry tomatoes, and ½ cup chopped green onions in a medium bowl. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese.

ROASTED TOMATO AND RED BELL PEPPER SOUP

2 ¼ pounds tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 large red bell peppers, quartered and seeded
1 onion, cut into thin wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
About 2 cups of water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, bell peppers, onion and garlic cloves on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until brown and tender, turning peppers and onion occasionally, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Transfer vegetables and juices to food processor. Add thyme, and puree soup. Gradually add enough water to thin soup to the desired consistency. The soup can be served chilled, hot or at room temperature.

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