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GOSHEN, IN -- Warm weather sure makes a difference when it comes to growing tomatoes. I will be honest and share that in the rainy month of June I was thinking that we might not have our wonderful Indiana tomatoes, but once again Mother Nature came through. When I think of this incredible vegetable/fruit I think of it being plump, red, juicy and nutritious, and those words describe wonderful tomatoes to a "T". Now is the best time to eat and enjoy tomatoes when they are vine ripened and locally grown.

The ways tomatoes can be prepared is only limited by your imagination. They can be broiled, baked, roasted, fried, stuffed, added to soups, sauces, stews and gravies or used with other vegetables. The tomato's most popular use is as is, either eaten out of hand, sliced and seasoned, or cut in salads. Tomatoes are terrific any way and they are a true convenience food with little waste: just the core and green stem!

Local tomatoes abound during the summer months when many luscious varieties are in great demand. Summer tomatoes are picked close to ripeness and make relatively short trips to the market. When selecting tomatoes choose smooth, firm and plump tomatoes with good color. Weight's a factor, too. Make sure the tomato is a good weight for its size. Tomatoes love the kid-glove treatment, so handle them gently to prevent bruising.

If you have picked or purchased tomatoes that are not fully ripened place them in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Too much sunlight causes tomatoes to soften without proper ripening. Light pink tomatoes will ripen in three to five days if not refrigerated. Since most tomatoes are picked mature but not ripe, they will continue their ripening process in transit to your home. Keep in mind that tomatoes produce their own ethylene which stimulates changes in color.

Tomatoes are spheres of healthful eating! One medium size tomato, about 150 grams or 5 ounces, provides 3/4 of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C, more than 1/4 the vitamin A, plus iron and niacin. And tomatoes are a healthy eater's good friend as they have all that satisfying goodness and only 35 calories!

Versatile tomatoes lend themselves to a host of preparation styles. Raw tomatoes are delightful sliced in sandwiches, added to salads or simply cut up and seasoned as a quick and refreshing side dish. Because tomatoes are so delectable raw they are always at the ready point and that makes them a convenience food. Another plus is this time of the year they are very affordable so now is the time to enjoy the tomato, bacon, tomato, lettuce, tomato sandwich – in my opinion, the more tomato the better, and healthier. At least try to have more tomato on the sandwich than bacon, really!

Tomatoes are wonderful cooked too. They have a delicate taste and texture and make an impressive and colorful appearance. Adding fresh tomatoes in recipes is a snap. When the recipe calls for a peeled tomato, place it on a slotted spoon and dip it in simmering water for one minute and remove. The skin slides right off. This is a perfect time of year for making homemade salsa!

Think tomatoes when you want an interesting brunch or luncheon idea. Stuffed tomatoes are attractive and easy. Simply cut out the tomato stem end and slice into quarters about 3/4 of the way down. Gently fan out the sections and fill with chicken, tuna or seafood salad, cottage cheese, or coleslaw. Place the stuffed treat on a bed of lettuce and you're got a tasty, healthy meal!

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