Tomatoes are one of the best things of summer

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
Elkhart Co. Extension Director


I am not sure which is the best food of summer but the tomato has to be one of the top five, especially when it is vine ripened and eaten fresh. The tomato is delicious by itself and then it combines with so many other foods and makes them so much better. Today tomatoes are used throughout the world in countless ways - in appetizers, soups, salads, sauces, stews, and side dishes. They rarely appear in dessert, although New England cooks turn green tomatoes into a sweet green tomato pie. Tomatoes are best when you enjoy them fresh and locally grown!

Some of the more typical ways you use fresh tomatoes are cut up in salads, stuffed with chicken, tuna, egg, or seafood salad, and they also make the difference in a tasty sandwich. Just think about that burger right off the grill, or how about that great bacon, tomato, lettuce sandwich. In all these cases the tomato adds flavor and I want lots of tomato on mine. I have been pleasantly surprised how far two pieces of really good locally processed and smoked bacon go when it comes to flavor.

The tomato also lends itself to many other countries for a wide variety of recipes. Mexican cultures mince tomatoes with onions, cilantro, and chilies to make salsa, an everyday table condiment. Italian cooks are famous for their tomato recipes and turn tomatoes into aromatic sauces for pasta, toppings for pizza, and luscious salads with anchovies, herbs, and olive oil. They are fundamental to the cooking of the Mediterranean region where they figure in such famous dishes as French ratatouille, Moroccan tomato and green pepper salad, Spanish gazpacho, Greek shrimp with tomatoes and feta cheese.

Tomatoes are relatively little used throughout Asia. They are not part of the Japanese diet and were not introduced into China until the 1930’s. In India culture tomatoes are used raw in chopped salad and are added to a variety of stews and vegetable dishes. They appear on the Swedish smorgasbord and, in the form of tomato paste, flavor a Norwegian butter spread on grilled mackerel.

Even unripe tomatoes have culinary uses. In the American South, and in the upper Midwestern and plains states, green tomatoes are sliced, dipped in flour or cornmeal, and fried or simmered with onions and spices to make green tomato relish.

Choose fresh tomatoes by their color and aroma. Vine ripened tomatoes have a noticeable fragrance with most being a golden yellow or a deep red. They should be neither overly soft nor overly firm. Plan to avoid any with blemishes, spots, or splits, but if you are using them, make sure to trim deep into the tomato to remove the blemished area.

Firm, under ripe tomatoes can be stored in a warm, sunny spot for a few days and will soften and improve in flavor. Ripe tomatoes can be left at room temperature for a few days but should be refrigerated for longer storage; once ripe, use tomatoes within a few days. Any leftover tomato products or sauces should be stored in airtight nonmetal containers, this is because of the acid that will darken the container and the flavor may also be changed.

A slick way to peel tomatoes is to cut a skin-deep X in the blossom end of each tomato. Drop in boiling water and blanch for 15 seconds. Lift out with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. Skin will slip off easily. To seed tomatoes, halve them horizontally, then if you are going to use them fresh use your clean finger or a spoon and just scoop out the seeds. If you are going to cook the tomatoes hold each tomato half over a bowl with tomato’s cut side down, and squeeze to remove the seeds. If the tomatoes are large you might want to quarter them before squeezing.