Nothing says summer like a breezy windowsill lined with fresh homegrown tomatoes. Luscious, juicy, tomatoes you practically need a bib to eat, is probably the reason more people plant tomatoes in their garden than any other vegetable (yes, they are really a fruit, but more on this later).
One medium tomato has about 35 calories and is rich in vitamins C and A. Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant which is associated with reducing our risk of certain cancers and other diseases.
Europeans romanticize the tomato by their given names. The French once considered the heart-shaped fruit an aphrodisiac referring to them as pommes d’amours, or love apples. In Hungary, tomatoes are called paradicsom, meaning paradise. In Spain and Italy, they were called pomi d’oro, or apples of gold, indicating the early introductions were yellow.
Tomatoes first made their way to Europe from South America. However, there was a time when only a few brave souls dared to eat them. Tomatoes were once thought to be poisonous due to their resemblance to belladonna – a highly toxic nightshade plant with fruits that look like little green tomatoes.
Unfortunately, the fresh tomato season is very short – from spring in the South to mid-fall in the North. When fresh tomatoes are out of season, choose plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes as they have a better texture and more flavor. Select tomatoes that are firm, smooth, and plump and have a fresh tomato aroma. Avoid those that are soft or bruised.
Store them in a cool dark place; stem side down and use within a few days. Don’t refrigerate tomatoes as it ruins their flavor. If you must refrigerate them, let them stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes to regain some of its flavor.
While New Jersey recognizes the tomato as its state vegetable, Tennessee and Ohio designate the tomato as their state fruit. Arkansas recognizes the tomato as both its state fruit and state vegetable.
So which is it? Fruit or vegetable? Botanically, the tomato is a fruit, as true fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower. Since the tomato contains much less sugar than other fruits, it is less sweet. Technically, what determines the difference between a fruit and a vegetable is if it has seeds.
Beauty or Beast? Heirloom tomatoes are a variety with more than 50 years in cultivation. These odd-shaped funky looking retros became popular over 25 years ago when seeds from areas in Eastern Europe were brought west. Heirlooms come in a cornucopia of colors – from bright orange and striped green, to creamy yellow and brownish-purple. Tomato sizes range from giant beefsteak to grape-like clusters. Heirloom tomatoes have superb flavor, and are truly a feast for the palate.
From the South’s fried green tomatoes to a big bowl of Texas red, in the test kitchen, we have our own ‘crush’ on tomatoes. One of our all-time favorites is Paula’s Fried Green Tomatoes with Vidalia Onion Relish. Beat the heat with our tangy Corn, Avocado, and Tomato Salad, an appealing warm-weather salad. Paula’s Tomato Pie, oozing with melted Cheddar and mozzarella makes a satisfying meatless meal – or step up your side dish with our Southern classic, Okra and Tomatoes with crispy bacon and sweet bell peppers.
So, when was the last time you had a really fabulous tasting tomato?