8.15.2013

Tomatoes 101


Tomatoes are the pure gold of the summer harvests.  They are sweet, juicy, flavorful, and abundant.  There's nothing like picking tomatoes straight off the vine on a July afternoon and tearing into it like an apple, juice running down your chin and arm.


I've learned a few things about tomatoes that I want to share.  There have been many times I wish I'd had a tomato guide.  And can I tell you how many times I've seen someone pull a tomato out of their (gasp!!) fridge?  Oh, and how I've longed to scold them like a tantrum-throwing toddler for flat out ruining that tomato!   Yeah, I can be a bitch like that.  In lieu of that, I've complied some of my favorite tips and tricks, as well as links to several bad-ass recipes with tomatoes as the starring ingredient.



Tomatoes ~ Everything You Wanted to Know 

Storage:  

  • Whatever you do, no matter what, NEVER store tomatoes in the refrigerator.  The cold temperature breaks down the cell walls, making the flesh mealy and gritty and tasteless.  Ahhhhhh, I can tell by your reaction you know exactly what I'm talking about.  That nasty, flavorless, sand-textured tomato came out of your fridge. 
  • Keep tomatoes on your counter, stem-side down until ready to use.  Sealing off the "opening" prevents oxygen from getting in and spoiling.

Buying:
  • A good tomato will be firm enough to resist pressure, but not so firm it's hard as a rock.  It will have no blemishes or bruises, and no soft spots.  A juicy tomato will feel heavy for it's size.
  • If you can't grow your own or purchase from a farmer's market, good luck finding a good tomato. The supermarket ones are generally total shit. They are usually picked green and unripe, transported in cooler cars, and sprayed with ethylene gas to ripen.  Holy nastiness.  The best bet for a grocery store tomato is the grape or cherry tomatoes.  

Flavor:
  • Believe it or not, the most flavor is held in the seeds and jelly of a tomato. Most of us get rid of that stuff because it waters down the other ingredients.  But if you can help it, try and save it.  You can even reduce it on the stove for a bit to make it less watery.

Prepping:
  • Peeling:  Because tomatoes are so delicate, they are very difficult to peel without blanching.  First core the tomato.  Then blanch in boiling water for 15 seconds or until you see the skin split.  Plunge in ice water, then peel with a paring knife.
  • Slicing:  Slicing tomatoes without a serrated knife can be impossible unless you use a razor sharp knife. Forget squashing the fruit and use a serrated or steak knife.
  • Salting:  If you must remove the liquid from tomatoes for your recipe, you can cut them into wedges, salt them, place on paper towels, and drain for 15 minutes.  

Ripening:
  • If you need your tomatoes to ripen faster than sitting on the counter, you can place them in a paper bag.  Tomatoes release ethylene gas as they ripen and the paper bag contains it.
  • Green tomatoes won't ripen to red.  Skip the bullshit and fry those suckers up (Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip).

Canned Tomatoes:
  • Delicious!  I usually steer clear of canned foods (except for beans) but canned tomatoes rock.  Use them in any application where they are cooked.

Health:
  • Tomatoes contain lots of healthy vitamins and minerals.
    • Lycopene (anti-cancer)
    • Folic acid
    • Vitamins A, C, & E
    • Beta-carotene (antioxidant)
    • Phytoene and phytofluene (anti-cancer)
  • Eating tomatoes cuts your risk of many diseases.
    • Ovarian cancer
    • Digestive issues
    • Prostate cancer
    • Asthma and chronic lung disease
    • Cardiovascular disease

Growing:
  • Plant in either the ground or in a large pot.
  • Bury two-thirds of the plant in the ground, branches included.  This will insure that the entire stem that is underground will grow roots, providing a strong root structure for your plant.  I wouldn't do it with other plants, though, as they suffocate.
  • Make sure the spot gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
  • At the time of planting, put a stake or tomato cage in as well.  Doing it while the plant is small prevents damaging the roots of a bigger plant.
  • Water when the soil is dry.  During the hot-as-hell summer, this may be daily.  
  • Feed with organic fertilizer not nasty chemicals, please.

Recipes:












2 comments:

Kat said...

I came across your blog today on Finding Vegan and all I can say is "Thank GAWD!" Until this afternoon, I didn't know not to put tomatoes in the fridge... :/ I have this dream of growing and eating my food but am new and without the skillz to do it off the top of my head. Blogs like yours that provide such good advice in a friendly accessible way are SO helpful for cultivating (pun intended) knowledge for this grand growing/eating adventure!

Shannon Marie said...

How sweet are you?!? I would say that 99.9999% of people put their 'maters in the fridge too. Now you'll have the best-tasting tomatoes around! Let me know how your garden aspirations go!