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Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The tomato is the state vegetable of New Jersey, the state vegetable and the state fruit of Arkansas, and the official fruit of Ohio.  This member of the "nightshade family" originated in Mexico and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.  Today tomatoes are grown and eaten around the world.

The tomato is botanically a fruit, actually a berry, but is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes due to its savory flavor.   There are around 7500 tomato varieties grown for various purposes.   Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler climates.  They are also grown hydroponically using nutrient solutions in water without soil.  Tomatoes are often  picked unripe (green) and ripened in storage with the hydrocarbon gas ethylene which acts as a molecular cue to start the ripening process.  "Tomatoes on the vine": are a variety that are ripened still connected to a piece of vine.  They tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes.

Here are the major categories of tomatoes we see today:

* "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce.
* Beefsteak tomatoes are large and often used for sandwiches and other applications.
* Oxheart tomatoes range in size up to Beefsteak, but are shaped like strawberries.
*  Plum tomatoes are bred with a higher solids content and are used for sauces and paste.
* Pear tomatoes are obviously pear shaped and used for a richer gourmet paste.
* Cherry tomatoes are small and round often sweet and generally eaten whole in salads
* Grape tomatoes are  a small oblong variation on plum tomatoes used in salads.
* Campari tomatoes are sweet and juicy with low acidity, and lack of mealiness.  They're bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a plum tomato.

When I was growing up, my grandfather would send home over-ripe tomatoes to my grandmother to make tomato sauce for pasta.  She would cook the tomatoes and then put them through this cone shaped strainer using a wooden pestle.  That way she got the meat of the tomatoes without the skins.  She would also use the strainer to make cranberry sauce around the holidays. 

Tomatoes are believed to benefit the heart among other organs.  They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants.  Some studies found lycopene can prevent prostate cancer, however, other studies refute this claim.  Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C, A, K, and beta-carotene. 

Tomatoes are used raw in salads and processed in ketchup or tomato soup.  Unripe green tomatoes can be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled.  Tomato juice is sold as a drink.  Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cooking most commonly in pasta sauces.

Choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size with rich color that are well shaped with smooth skin and no wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots.  Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeable sweet fragrance.   Keep unwashed tomatoes at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.  It is not recommended to refrigerate tomatoes as this can harm the flavor.   Unripe tomatoes can be kept in a paper bag until ripening.

So........ Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good: 

Tomato Salad:

2 medium size tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
sliced crusty bread

Wash and pat dry tomatoes. Cut into wedges and mix with other ingredients.  Stir to coat tomatoes.   Enjoy tomatoes with pieces of bread dipped into the juice.