Homegrown Tomato Time

Heirloom TomatoesThere’s something different in the air, something that precludes the end of summer and the coming of cooler days and chillier nights. Your area may have reached that point already, a time when frost is anticipated maybe even tomorrow. But for most of us, there’s still an abundance to be had in our gardens and that means homegrown heirloom tomatoes.

The history of tomatoes, their trip from the Andes and the gardens of the Aztecs to Europe and back to America is fascinating. In his entertaining book The Heirloom Life Gardener, Jere Gettle recounts the origins of the belief that tomatoes were poisonous (they’re members of the nightshade family, as are belladonna and henbane) and how they were first grown in the Old World as an ornamental. He recounts that famous moment in tomato history where a crowd of two-thousand gathered in Salem County, New Jersey to watch Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson commit suicide by eating a basket of tomatoes. They were disappointed. Today they’re consumed by the tons.

Nothing you can grow proves the superiority of garden vegetables over store-bought than the homegrown tomato. Flavor? No contest, in fact no flavor is to be had in many commercially grown tomatoes. Nutrition? No matter what an infamous study says, tomatoes, already a nutrient powerhouse, are most likely even more nutrition-packed when grown in your own rich, organic soil. Beauty? Even a store bought tomato is a beautiful thing. The distinct colors and patterns of heirloom tomatoes are like a Miss Universe Pageant of loveliness.

Heirloom TomatoesHere’s hoping you have a bounty of tomatoes in various shapes, colors and sizes, right now in your garden. With fall approaching, it won’t be long before we’ll be canning sauce or even drying tomato rounds for the kids’ lunches or for gourmet-style pastas and pizzas. But the best way to eat tomatoes this time of year is fresh, whether popping cherry or yellow pear tomatoes directly into your mouth (speaking of kids) or forking into fat, luxurious slices drizzled with a little oil and decorated with a contrasting basil leaf or three. Layered on a slice of good bufala mozzarella (if you can afford it), it becomes one of the world’s most treasured dishes, caprese salad, an indulgence that mixes the fruity acid of the tomato slice, the creamy pureness of the cheese and the herbal bite of the fresh basil into something that tastes like a bite of heaven itself.

There are dozens of recipes to be found for using chopped tomatoes in a fresh salad, some of them very exotic. We even like to take a hint from the kids and their cherry tomatoes… except in adult size… by taking a bite into a full-sized tomato’s explosive juiciness as if it were an apple. Warning: don’t do this over a carpet, in fact, don’t do it inside at all but out in your garden. Be sure to lean well-forward when you take that bite to keep the juices, as best you can, from staining your clothing. And be warned: you just might experience a bliss that will make you lose all control. Bon appetit!

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