Ten Tomato Tips

Courtesy of Tomato411.com

UrbanFarmJunkie checking in from the road, here.

My husband's precious tomatoes have been a disappointment this cloudy, cool summer, and for the first time since he began "farming" in our front yard, I had to resort to buying tomatoes in August. Fortunately our farmers have beauties, far cries from the flavorless pink baseballs at the store.

In honor of the Symbol of Summer, I offer Ten Tomato Tips:

  1. Dirt and sun provide flavor. Ask your farmer how they grew their tomatoes.
  2. Sniff the suckers. If they smell rich and tomato-y, that's a good bet. We just visited my niece, who has the disconcerting habit of smelling any food you offer her, as if you were holding out something you pulled from the trash can. This habit would be handy for tomato-choosing.
  3. Don't put them in the fridge! It makes them mealy. But you knew that already, right?
  4. Store tomatoes stem-side down. This tip courtesy Cook's Illustrated and my neighbor. Doing so "blocks air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar." Meaning, mold prevention.
  5. A tomato salad a day keeps the doctor away. While I love a good Caprese Salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt), here in Washington there are some tasty variations. My mother-in-law serves up a Walla-Wallese Salad: sliced tomatoes alternated with sliced Walla Walla Sweet onions and drizzles with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When I don't have any fresh mozzarella, I just go for the sliced tomatoes with balsamic and olive oil. Who needs lettuce?
  6. Don't can? Don't panic. Frequent UFJ blog readers will know I'm just an armchair pioneer woman. I do NOT can, make my own cheese, raise my own chickens, slaughter my own cattle. One year I tried to take my husband's tomato bumper crop and make sauce of it all. After slaving over a hot stove for hours I found it so not worth it. Bring on the BPA from storebought canned tomato sauce because I just...can't...deal with it. Well, a dear friend alerted me to the fact that I can just pick all those tomatoes, wash them, pull the stem out, and throw them in a freezer bag. Yes, they turn to mush when you thaw them in the winter, but they're recipe-ready! You can thaw, drain, and puree them if you like.
  7. Not a fan of fried green tomatoes? I've tried. We used to have a gardener who would beg for some of our green tomatoes at the end of the season so he could go fry them up. Surely they must be good, right? Well--not my version, is all I can say. If you've got tons of green tomatoes on the vine come October, just pick them and spread them out on newspapers or cardboard in the garage. They'll continue to ripen, and while they won't be as good as vine-ripened, you won't have to feel rotten-tomato-guilt when that first frost hits.
  8. Sugar helps everything. Add some when cooking with tomatoes. My homemade spaghetti sauce calls for a whole teaspoon.
  9. Tomato water is useful. It's acidic, which is the reason it leaches BPA from cans. Think lemon juice. You can use the tomato juice/water/dribbles to do lemon-juicy things, like marinate raw fish. One website suggests using all the run-off in soups. Hmmm...not likely for me, but some of you thrifty, industrial types might try it.
  10. Get out of the beefsteak rut! Even your commongarden grocery store offers an array of tomato varieties. Ask your farmers about the different colors and flavors. Tell them how you plan to use them, and ask for recommendations. Picking several colors of tomatoes makes for both flavor and interest in your salads, especially.

Enjoy the tomato-y riches of late August at the Market this week. You'll notice some of the trees are already beginning to turn (grrrr...) so plan ahead and put some by.