Food & Nutrition Column
Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
Extension Educator-Health & Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County
By the time you read this the heat wave will be over, but I am sure there will still be plenty of vine-ripened tomatoes. Last night when I was in my small garden picking tomatoes, I was thinking about how good they taste when you pick and eat them right in the garden. I was hungry so several plum, Amish paste, and Italian tomatoes were enjoyed there. Remember from an earlier column that you can place a lot of tomatoes on a BLT sandwich! When most of you think of having too much garden produce, you may think of yellow squash or zucchini. From the calls and emails I have received, there is also an excess of tomatoes right now.
The tomato has unlimited possibilities and more people love tomatoes than not. There was a time when tomatoes were considered poisonous when in fact only the leaves and stems were toxic. Until the mid-nineteenth century, Americans refused to eat tomatoes. Even then, most cookbooks instructed that tomatoes be cooked for three hours. This doesn’t make too much sense to me as it would be puree.
Tomatoes are used throughout the world in many ways: appetizers, soups, salads, sauces, stews, and side dishes. They rarely appear at dessert although green tomatoes are turned into sweet green tomato pie. Tomatoes can be cut for salads, sliced for sandwiches, or cooked with sugar and spices to make ketchup and sauces.
In the American south, upper Midwest, and Great Plains region, green tomatoes are sliced, dipped into flour or cornmeal, and fried or simmered with onions and spices to make relish. Mexican cooks mince tomatoes with onions, cilantro, and chilies to make salsa. Italian cooks are famous for their tomato recipes and turn them into sauces for pasta, toppings for pizza, and ingredients for salads.
As you know, there is nothing like the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato. They are extremely fragile and should not be piled on top of each other when picked. Their green stems should also be removed. When choosing fresh tomatoes, choose them by their color and aroma. Vine-ripened tomatoes have good color and a noticeable fragrance. They should not be overly soft or overly firm. Avoid any with blemishes or splits.
Firm, under-ripened tomatoes can be stored in a warm, sunny spot for a few days to let them soften and improve in flavor. Ripe tomatoes can be left at room temperature for a few days, but should be refrigerated for longer storage.
To freeze tomatoes, select firm, ripe tomatoes that are deep red or yellow in color. Rinse and dip in boiling water for 30 seconds or so then put them in cold water to remove the skins. Core and peel them. The tomatoes can be frozen whole, chopped, or crushed. Pack in containers leaving 1 inch of head space or use freezer bags. Frozen tomatoes are best for making chili, soups, and similar dishes. Even if frozen whole or sliced, the tomatoes will be soft and mushy. If you take the time to cook or stew the tomatoes before freezing you might like the flavor and texture better. For a publication on how to preserve tomatoes visit extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/HHS/HHS-803-W.pdf. The publication also has information on canning as well as several recipes. For now, I am ready for a tomato sandwich! ###
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