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Celebrating Tomatoes

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Nothing satisfies the gardening cook like the pleasure and satisfaction of harvesting big baskets of richly ripe, juicy tomatoes. Their tangy-sweet full flavor and jewel toned colors are one of the main reasons lots of us got started gardening. It is really true that freshly picked, home grown tomatoes beat anything you can buy by a long country mile, and these natives of South America are vigorous plants available in varieties that grow well for gardeners all over the US.

Tomatoes were carried to Europe as early as the 1500s with the Spanish conquistadors. Southern Europeans began enjoying their fruits early on, but in England they were viewed with suspicion because of their membership in the nightshade family, and mostly grown as ornamentals until the first part of the 19th century. While a few adventurous American colonial gardeners grew tomatoes to eat –Thomas Jefferson is certainly the most well known – most Americans didn't start cultivating tomatoes for the kitchen until the end of the Civil War. By the first part of the present century, wonderful regional varieties were developed, yielding up a rich heritage of delicious diversity that is being rediscovered as the century draws to a close. Recent decades have produced many new hybrids with superior adaptability and needed disease resistance, enabling gardeners even in marginal climates to enjoy fresh harvests from their own kitchen gardens.

 

Until just a few years ago, most of us grew up thinking of tomatoes as round and red. Now, with the expansion of local farmers markets, interested young chefs with new focus on fresh produce, and the revival of regional favorites, gardeners are blessed with a much expanded range of tomatoes to choose from. Whether you love tomatoes with real punch and a big flavor that includes a high acid to sugar balance, or a more subtle custardy, creamy smooth taste and texture or the superbly sweet taste of garden candy-like cherry tomatoes, there are varieties that will fulfill all your cravings and then some.

A complete range of fabulous flavors awaits the kitchen gardener, and a glorious cornucopia of colors, including red, pink, orange, gold, yellow-cream, striped, emerald green, chocolate, purple, striped and bicolored. Tomato sizes range from grape-like clusters of tiny currant tomatoes as big as the tip of your finger to giant beefsteak varieties the size of plump grapefruits. Shapes include the classic smooth, perfect globe, to elegant egg shaped beauties, craggy flattened scallops, fat, long sausage-shaped sauce tomatoes or petite pear shaped cherry tomatoes.

 

Harvesting Tomatoes

Tomatoes are ready to pick when their color is even and glossy and texture is soft but resilient. They ripen from the bottom or "blossom end" to their tops or "shoulders" where they are attached to the stem. Many older heirloom types ripen unevenly, so keep an eye on them and pick even if their shoulders are still a little green if they are heavy with full, smooth flesh.

Don't worry if your long awaited first ripe fruits don't meet your expectations, as flavor improves after the earliest fruit ripen. Once the harvest really gets going, you can make it more manageable by picking some fruit a day or two before fully ripe to mature easily in the kitchen. Don't store ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator as cold temperatures mute and dampen their flavor and sweetness. (If you must do so, be sure to bring them to room temperature before eating). In midsummer, you'll find ripe tomatoes will keep just as well at room temperature and their beauty and abundance piled in a basket will give you as much satisfaction as any colorful flower bouquet. Besides big slicing and sauce tomatoes, plan to grow 2 or 3 colors of cherry tomatoes and keep a little bowl of mixed colors at hand like a bowl of candy for delectable and healthy sweet snacks.

 

All Renee's Garden Tomatoes

To purchase other Renee's Garden Seeds, click here


Try these great recipes from
Renee's cookbooks:

Baked Stuffed Fresh Tomatoes

Green Tomato and Apple Spice Pie

Green and Red Tomato Sauce

Green Tomato Mincemeat

Tomato-Lemon Chutney

As the summer fades, extend the harvest into cooler nights by covering plants with ripening fruits with row cover or old sheets, but be sure to keep the covers off the fruits themselves and remove the covers during the day. When temperatures get below 60, harvest fruits with a good blush of color on their bottoms to ripen up in the kitchen and enjoy the remaining green ones in green tomato pie, pickled green tomatoes and green tomato and apple relish, or try a recipe for tomato sauce that uses the complimentary flavors of both red and green tomatoes.

 

Using Ripe Tomatoes

Having an abundance of ripe tomatoes need not be an embarrassment of riches. Don't forget your garden-less friends and work mates. Unlike the case of endless zucchinis, most people truly relish a constant supply of ripe tomatoes and will be unendingly grateful for your extras.

Dry some of your cherry tomatoes because they're the easiest to prepare. Slice them in halves then put on racks in 140 to 160 oven or food dehydrator for 6 to 7 hours or until they are leathery. Store them in jars or zip lock bags, in the refrigerator for longest storage. They make deliciously low calorie sweet snacks all year. To use them in cooking, rehydrate in warm water, wine, or broth to cover for about 10 minutes until they plump up. Drain well, then toss into green salads, or add generously to pasta or rice with olives and capers or blend with olive oil, garlic and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of your favorite herbs for a wonderful spread.

 

Until just a few years ago, most of us grew up thinking of tomatoes as round and red. Now, with the expansion of local farmers markets, interested young chefs with new focus on fresh produce, and the revival of regional favorites, gardeners are blessed with a much expanded range of tomatoes to choose from. Whether you love tomatoes with real punch and a big flavor that includes a high acid to sugar balance, or a more subtle custardy, creamy smooth taste and texture or the superbly sweet taste of garden candy-like cherry tomatoes, there are varieties that will fulfill all your cravings and then some.

A complete range of fabulous flavors awaits the kitchen gardener, and a glorious cornucopia of colors, including red, pink, orange, gold, yellow-cream, striped, emerald green, chocolate, purple, striped and bicolored. Tomato sizes range from grape-like clusters of tiny currant tomatoes as big as the tip of your finger to giant beefsteak varieties the size of plump grapefruits. Shapes include the classic smooth, perfect globe, to elegant egg shaped beauties, craggy flattened scallops, fat, long sausage-shaped sauce tomatoes or petite pear shaped cherry tomatoes.

 

Harvesting Tomatoes

Tomatoes are ready to pick when their color is even and glossy and texture is soft but resilient. They ripen from the bottom or "blossom end" to their tops or "shoulders" where they are attached to the stem. Many older heirloom types ripen unevenly, so keep an eye on them and pick even if their shoulders are still a little green if they are heavy with full, smooth flesh.

Don't worry if your long awaited first ripe fruits don't meet your expectations, as flavor improves after the earliest fruit ripen. Once the harvest really gets going, you can make it more manageable by picking some fruit a day or two before fully ripe to mature easily in the kitchen. Don't store ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator as cold temperatures mute and dampen their flavor and sweetness. (If you must do so, be sure to bring them to room temperature before eating). In midsummer, you'll find ripe tomatoes will keep just as well at room temperature and their beauty and abundance piled in a basket will give you as much satisfaction as any colorful flower bouquet. Besides big slicing and sauce tomatoes, plan to grow 2 or 3 colors of cherry tomatoes and keep a little bowl of mixed colors at hand like a bowl of candy for delectable and healthy sweet snacks.

 

All Renee's Garden Tomatoes

To purchase other Renee's Garden Seeds, click here


Try these great recipes from
Renee's cookbooks:

Baked Stuffed Fresh Tomatoes

Green Tomato and Apple Spice Pie

Green and Red Tomato Sauce

Green Tomato Mincemeat

Tomato-Lemon Chutney

As the summer fades, extend the harvest into cooler nights by covering plants with ripening fruits with row cover or old sheets, but be sure to keep the covers off the fruits themselves and remove the covers during the day. When temperatures get below 60, harvest fruits with a good blush of color on their bottoms to ripen up in the kitchen and enjoy the remaining green ones in green tomato pie, pickled green tomatoes and green tomato and apple relish, or try a recipe for tomato sauce that uses the complimentary flavors of both red and green tomatoes.

 

Using Ripe Tomatoes

Having an abundance of ripe tomatoes need not be an embarrassment of riches. Don't forget your garden-less friends and work mates. Unlike the case of endless zucchinis, most people truly relish a constant supply of ripe tomatoes and will be unendingly grateful for your extras.

Dry some of your cherry tomatoes because they're the easiest to prepare. Slice them in halves then put on racks in 140 to 160 oven or food dehydrator for 6 to 7 hours or until they are leathery. Store them in jars or zip lock bags, in the refrigerator for longest storage. They make deliciously low calorie sweet snacks all year. To use them in cooking, rehydrate in warm water, wine, or broth to cover for about 10 minutes until they plump up. Drain well, then toss into green salads, or add generously to pasta or rice with olives and capers or blend with olive oil, garlic and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of your favorite herbs for a wonderful spread.