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A Primer on Tomatoes

Ahhh, tomatoes!  So wonderful when they come into season.  I refuse to purchase tomatoes during the winter as they’re flavorless and expensive.  But when they’re fresh and ripe, they’re a real treat.  Don’t pass up the heirloom tomatoes coming into today’s marketplaces.  They can be yellow, green, purple, oddly shaped and a little scary, but don’t be put off by appearances.  They’ve been brought back to market because the flavor is exceptional.  You may need to pare them a bit but trust me, it’s usually well worth it.

Candice Masters of Gourmet Country offers some great tips on choosing tomatoes and enjoying them throughout their long season.

Select tomatoes with bright shiny skins with no evidence of mold. In general avoid broken skins and overly soft tomatoes unless you are making a sauce. Don’t avoid odd-shaped tomatoes or ones with growth lines. These are the old-garden types and extremely delicious.

  • Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator. (An exception is if they have broken skins.) It will destroy their flavor. Don’t buy ones that have been chilled or refrigerated. Place unripe tomatoes, not touching, on a windowsill or in a warm spot. If you grow your own, this technique will give you fresh tomatoes long after you pull the plants out of the ground. Before the first frost, hang the whole plant, unripe and ripe tomatoes on the vine, upside down in a cool, dark place. They will ripen slowly over weeks.
  • Freeze as many tomatoes as you can with the freezer space you have. They should be thoroughly ripe. Freeze them uncooked, whole or cut into pieces. Or cook them into a simple sauce and freeze it. Fresh frozen tomatoes must be drained of water before adding them to soups or sauces. Cooked ones will give off less water. Unripe green ones will freeze but have a mushy texture.
  • Dry them, sliced, in a 170 degree oven on a cookie sheet covered with silipat or parchment for 6-8 hours. Or put them in the sun under screens in a very hot spot. Freeze all sundried tomatoes for at least 48 hours to kill any insect larvae you can’t see.
  • Peel tomatoes by coring the top of the tomato and cutting an X in the bottom. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and immerse the tomato in the water for 15 to 30 seconds. The riper the tomato the less time it needs. Transfer immediately to an ice bath. Drain and skins will peel off easily.
  • There is no standard-size tomato, but 1 pound of tomatoes equals approximately 3 large, 3 medium or 4 small ones: 20 to 24 cherry tomatoes; or 1 cup chopped tomato pulp.

Learn more about tomatoes and their history by visiting our section on tropical fruits.

Patricia Rain
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Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.

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