Credit: Tha Dah
DESCRIPTION: NEVER refrigerate a tomato, the cold breaks down the cell walls and causes tomatoes to go mushy. The best way to store a tomato is on your counter, on top of a cooling rack, so it has air flow. If you want a tomato to ripen more quickly, put it in a brown paper bag. As they ripen, tomatoes naturally release ethylene gas into the bag which hurries the ripening process along. This also means that if you want your tomatoes to keep longer/ripen less quickly, taking them out of the bag will allow them to ripen more slowly.- Our farmers harvest their tomatoes at all levels of ripeness. That means some of the tomatoes you get will be perfectly ripe and ready to eat while others will need a few days to ripen.
Had a few too many BLTs or tomato sandwiches this summer? Make the most of tomato season and branch out. Roast some tomatoes (see recipe below) and serve them on toast with ricotta cheese or add them to a pasta or grain salad. Make a quick tomato galette or, if you have more time and want a classic North Carolina dish, Tomato Pie. Make panzanella (aka Italian bread salad) with raw or roasted tomatoes, basil, and other summer vegetables. Use a good crusty loaf of sourdough or a hearty cornbread. Recipes: Cornbread Panzanella or Classic Italian Panzanella. Make an easy pasta sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil. Serve it tonight for dinner or freeze it to enjoy mid-winter.
STORAGE: Store tomatoes on your counter for a couple days or until fragrant and just soft to the touch. Never store in the fridge.
- How do you know when a tomato is ripe? It can be tricky these days, with so many different colored tomatoes on the market. Not all ripe tomatoes are a deep rich red. Some are yellow, some are orange, some are striped, and some are even green when ripe! So I usually use my sense of smell and touch to detect ripeness. A ripe tomato of any color should have a fruity, tomatoey smell and should be tender to the touch. If it doesn't have a fragrance and is too firm, then let it sit out for a day or two or three until it smells good enough to eat.
- On canning tomatoes for the winter: I had a great uncle who made many batches of tomato juice from his garden and canned them to last all year. It was the secret to his good health and old age. I have a dear friend who throws tomato canning parties each year---she and friends go in on bulk tomatoes together and spend one, sweaty day canning them with a garlic clove and some basil in each jar. Everyone cooks and eats dinner together at the end of the day and carries home several precious jars of tomatoes. I know other people who make tomato sauce in huge batches and then can that. If you decide to can tomatoes, I suggest trying to use a classic, red tomato or a sauce/Roma tomato rather than an heirloom variety. Heirlooms are too delicious eaten raw to warrant cooking them.
-On freezing tomatoes for the winter: I think I'm heading in this direction. So long as you have a big enough freezer, it is a whole lot easier and less sweaty. You can freeze whole tomatoes, peeled or unpeeled, or sauce, in baggies. I don't peel mine. I just cut out the stem scar and place them on a baking sheet so the sides don't touch and put the whole thing in the freezer. This way the tomatoes won't stick together and you can use just one or two at a time, as needed. Once frozen, quickly transfer them to a baggie, label with the date and stash in freezer for the winter. When it's time to use some, take them out, run them under tepid water and voila, the peel should easily come off! Frozen tomatoes will be mushy but are perfect for cooking and will definitely have that real tomato flavor so often missing in store-bought sauces.
- Why are tomatoes, particularly organic and heirloom ones, so expensive? A good tomato is a labor of love. Truly. To get an early tomato, they must be planted in a hoophouse. New tomato transplants must be pruned by hand at least once if not several times. Cherry tomatoes must be individually staked and tied and slicing tomatoes must be staked and trellised on a regular basis as the plant grows and grows.The soil must be well amended as tomatoes are heavy feeders and all of this work comes before the first tomato. Then, the fruit starts to form, finally, and ripen, and then the tomatoes must be picked at least several times a week, by hand. And if the tomatoes are organic, like ours, you will find many of your tomatoes eaten by worms and at this time of year, the plants will begin to have diseases and die. This is particularly difficult in a humid climate like ours and during a rainy period like this. If it rains too much, fungus grows rapidly in addition to tomatoes splitting with the weight of water. If they're heirloom tomatoes, which have not been bred for disease, transport, and pest resistance, they will be the first to go. But the tomatoes that do make it will be so tasty as to make all that hard work worthwhile. We hope!