Red and juicy, from vine to table
Tomato season arrives
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Even though the FDA has lifted the ban on certain tomatoes, there is still a big problem with the ones found in the local grocery store — they don’t taste all that good. Often store-bought tomatoes, which are picked while still green and are ripened in warming rooms or with ethylene gas, are mushy, mealy, and lacking in actual tomato flavor.
Lucky for us, tomato season has just started in New Hampshire. A recent visit to the Manchester farmers’ market found some vendors with a ready supply of both cherry and large varieties, while others said the crop would be ready soon.
“Make sure to buy them this year,” Diane Souther from Apple Hill farm advised. “They will be so good. The weather has been just right — hot with good moisture. So the tomatoes will be nice and juicy.”
Lewis Farm’s stand was loaded with tomatoes that were sold as soon as the supply was re-stocked from the truck. Farmer Wayne Hall said his family is able to offer them sooner than most because the plants are gown in a greenhouse in soil that is heated with hot water. The process is fueled by a pellet stove and similar to radiant floor heating in the home. “It makes them think it’s springtime,” he said. Lewis Farm grows tomatoes from March until December.
Hall said his uncle, Harry Lewis, insists that each tomato plant grow in the ground, and he isn’t afraid to nix a whole batch if they don’t taste just right. “I’ve seen him pull up dozens of plants just because one doesn’t taste good to him,” Hall said.
Tomatoes (which are technically a fruit, not a vegetable) are native to South America. The plant didn’t make it to Europe until brought there by the Spaniards, and even then many people didn’t eat tomatoes because they thought the fruit was poisonous. Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, thought to fight certain types of cancer.
To choose a ripe tomato, smell it. If it has a good tomato aroma, it is ripe. Also, pick a fruit that is un-blemished, has good color, and is heavy for its size. Hall, like most farmers, is happy to let customers taste his stand’s different varieties.
For most people, the best way to eat tomatoes is straight from the vine. The fruit also pairs well with cheese. Try the traditional sliced tomatoes layered with mozzarella and fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil. Or substitute goat cheese and thyme in the dish. (See additional recipes from New Hampshire author Helen Brody below.)
Souther said her customers don’t worry too much about how to store the tomatoes since they are eaten quickly. She recommended, “Keep them in a cool spot, but not in the fridge. And not in the sun. I keep them in a bowl, uncovered.”
“Eighty percent of our customers do not refrigerate their tomatoes,” Hall said. “They want them to keep their flavor.”
It’s no surprise that both Hall and Souther said the best place to buy tomatoes is at a farmers’ market, or at the farm itself. Souther said, “Buy fresh and buy local from someone you know. Go to the farm. You’ve got to remember that we eat the produce, too.”
As Hall put it, “You can talk to the people that grew them. The people that picked them are here, too. Peace of mind cannot be bought.”
Where to get them
Downtown Manchester Farmers’ Market Concord Street, next to Victory Park, every Thursday, from 3 to 6:30 p.m., until Oct. 23. www.manchesterfarmersmarket.com
Apple Hill Farm 580 Mountain Road (NH Route 132), Concord, 224-8862, www.applehillfarmnh.com
Lewis Farm 192 Silk Farm Road, Concord, 228-6230
Recipes from New Hampshire: From Farm to Kitchen by Helen Brody (Hippocrene Books, 2004)
Tomato and Green Pepper Salad
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tomatoes, cut vertically into eighths
1/2 green or yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 Spanish onion, sliced thinly
In a small skillet, lightly toast the cumin seeds in the olive oil for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let the seeds steep in the oil for at least 15 minutes to flavor the oil. Strain the oil and reserve the seeds. Whisk the oil into the vinegar. Season the dressing with salt and pepper. Put the tomatoes, peppers, and onions into a salad bowl. Gently toss the vegetables with the dressing.
Prepare 1 hour before serving, or make the night before and refrigerate. Serve sprinkled with the toasted cumin seeds.
Shrimp, Squash, and Tomato Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium zucchini, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 lb. shrimp, raw and unpeeled
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh basil leaves
Bring the olive and vegetable oils to the smoking point in a 9-inch skillet. Brown the zucchini slices on both sides. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook just until the shells turn pink. Add the chicken broth, salt, and pepper, and cook over high heat for about 10 more minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the basil leaves and serve over pasta.