The avid gardener and foodie always looks forward to the end of August, also known as the beginning of the bountiful fall harvest. Summer tomatoes are one of the first and most popular of the summer/fall produce season.
Tomatoes are one of the easiest summer vegetables to grow. They do well in large, sunny vegetable gardens of the experienced and serious gardener, as well as in a pot on your patio, for the gardening novice.
There are three basic sized tomatoes: standard (large), plum (medium), and cherry (small, bite size). There are also three variety types.
Most varieties are Indeterminate. This variety has vines and continues to produce new shoots and flowers after fruit production has begun. Because this plant continues to grow for an extended period of time, they need to be staked or grown on a trellis.
Heirloom is the name of old fashioned varieties that have been around for decades. All seeds are open pollinated and grow true to their type of seed.
Hybrid varieties are seeds that have been developed through international crossing of varieties. Seeds from these fruits will not produce the same fruit as the mother plant.
Both Heirloom and Hybrid varieties come in an array of colors and flavors, assuring you can find the tomato that is just right for you.
Popular Heirloom varieties are:
Aussie - this huge, red fruit has a blend of acid and sugar flavor, giving it that old fashioned, traditional taste.
Green Zebra - which is green and yellow striped, has a sweet, tangy flavor.
Brandywine - this large, deep pink tomato has rich, classic heirloom taste.
Mr. Stripy - red and yellow stripes give this bi-colored tomato a unique look and sweet, fruity flavor.
Italian Heirloom - a full flavored classic, red tomato with a unique heart shape.
Chery Roma - the most popular plum tomato, has a sweet and spicy flavor.
Black Cherry - small and dark with a sweet, complex flavor.
Some of the most well known Hybrid varieties are:
Big Beef - this all American, large, red favorite gives an impressive yield and classic tomato flavor.
Super Sweet 100 - a cherry sized hybrid that is bright red in color, full of sweet flavor, and offers production of 100 tomatoes per stem.
Sun Gold - intense fruit flavor in a small, yellow package.
San Marzano - low in juice and high in flavor makes this classic Italian, plum tomato the standard for making paste.
To answer the age old question “Is a tomato a fruit or vegetable?” the answer is both!
Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, as it has a ripened flower ovary and contains seeds. The same can be said for other produce, such as zucchinis, pumpkins and green beans, but somehow controversy only circles around the title of the tomato.
Nutritionally, the term fruit is used to describe sweet, fleshy botanical fruits that are high in fructose, and generally served as snacks or desserts.
Vegetable refers to a wide variety of plant life that is not high in fructose and is generally served as part of a main dish or side dish.
One could argue that a tomato has more in common with other vegetables that are part of the fruit/vegetable family, like eggplant and green peppers than fruits like cantaloupe and watermelon. So, nutritionally speaking, it is safe to refer to a tomato as a vegetable.
Although tomatoes are almost 95 percent water, they are still packed with nutrients. One tomato offers 1 gram of protein. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C and A, which are essential components for healthy vision and immune function, as well as vitamin K and potassium, which assists in blood clotting and can help reduce blood pressure.
It is easy to add this delicious and versatile fruit/vegetable to your everyday diet.
For breakfast, tomatoes pair beautifully with eggs and omelets. For lunch, you can easily add a slice of fresh tomato to your favorite sandwich, as well as many types of salads. Tomatoes also make a great base for many soup recipes.
For dinner, the possibilities are endless, as tomatoes pair well with virtually every type of meat, fish, and other vegetables.
If you enjoy a little spice in your life (and your diet), there are many easy recipes for making salsa. Salsa is an easy tomato addition to breakfast toast or burritos. It makes a great condiment for sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, and of course, chips. Cover chicken or fish with salsa before baking for extra zing of flavor. Sprinkle with shredded mexican cheese one minute before removing from the oven for an easy, mexican tomato and cheese flavor.
I have two personal favorite dishes for the summer tomato.
The first is Fried Green Tomatoes. This traditional, southern treat is easy to make, and is a great summer party food or fun side dish. You can use red tomatoes instead of green (not yet ripe tomatoes), but you must make sure they are not over ripe, or they will turn out soggy instead of crisp.
My other favorite dish for fresh tomatoes is my mother’s old recipe that our family calls Sonja’s Summer Salad. Simply dice fresh tomatoes (using more than one variety is best), cucumber, green pepper, and celery. Mix in a few crushed cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar and oil (¼ cup vinegar to 1 or 2 tbsp oil). Mix and chill. This salad is easy, lasts in the refrigerator for days, and takes me back to my childhood summers of picking vegetables for dinner from my mother’s impressive garden.
Fortunately, my children were able to enjoy this same experience with their grandmother in her beloved vegetable garden, and this recipe is now a summer family favorite.
If you haven’t planted your own tomato plants for harvesting, fresh picked tomatoes are readily available in abundance at your local grocery store, and at many local farm stands and farmer’s markets.
Tomato or tomahto, it doesn’t matter how you say it, as long as you don’t miss out on locally grown, fresh tomatoes! For easy tomato recipes including Fried Green Tomato and Tomato Salsa, visit www.allrecipes.com and search tomato.