Hippo Manchester
August 25, 2005

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You say tomato, writer says lunch

Fruit-vegetable a mainstay of sauce, salsa, salad and life as we know it

By John “jaQ” Andrews

Whether you mash them up into sauce or eat them raw, tomatoes are a vital part of the summer and fall cuisine.

They’re an essential staple in sauce, of course, but they’re used just as much in salads or eaten by hand, like an apple. Aficionados enjoy their sweet taste, and no one can deny their versatility. Local farms devote rows and rows to tomato vines, and it’s peak season for the fruits of their labor. In fact, it’s difficult to drive anywhere without seeing fresh tomatoes for sale.

Lavoie’s runs a number of farm stands in the area, selling whatever’s in season, be it tomatoes, berries or Christmas trees. Rebecca Gilmour has worked nine years “off and on” at their stand at Hayward’s ice cream at the southern tip of Nashua’s Main Street. Her eyes lit up when suggesting one of her favorite things to do with fresh tomatoes: toast a piece of bread very lightly, then put it on a cookie sheet with a slice of tomato and your choice of cheese on top. Broil until the cheese is not just melted, but burnt.

“I looove burnt cheese,” Gilmour said.

She also suggested mixing tomato chunks with roasted pine nuts, fresh basil, fresh parsley and cooked bow tie pasta in olive oil.

Like many farm stands, Lavoie’s offers “Our Own” tomatoes as well as field tomatoes from New Jersey. Local tomatoes are noticeably smaller, even though they’re otherwise the same.

“They pick ‘em in the field when they’re red, with no hormones to puff them up” Gilmour said of the New Jersey tomatoes. “They’re just from six and a half hours away.”

New England’s rainy spring turns out to have been a blessing in disguise. For weeks, farm stands have had to truck in New Jersey tomatoes to meet demand, because those crops have already peaked. Now, as New England tomato crops catch up, the peak tomato season will be a touch longer than normal.

A couple from the Pinardville area made their first journey to the Manchester farmers’ market on Concord Street last week and found a bevy of tomato choices. Prices range from $2 to $3 per pound, or about the same price per pint of cherry- and plum-sized varieties. The lady of the couple (who did not wish to be named) said that tomato sandwiches are a big hit in her house.

“I’ve got a grandson that can’t get enough of them,” she said.

Drema Cady has had her Country Dreams Farm Stand at the Milford farmers’ market for “five or six years now,” and offers a bewildering array of tomato varieties, including Brandywine, Cherokee and Old German. Her most unusual kind is the Sweet Orange tomato.

“You can eat those like candy,” she said. These plum-sized tomatoes are indeed sweet and a bright orange color. When she offers one to a customer, they almost always end up buying a pint or two.

It isn’t her most popular variety, though. That would be the heirloom tomato.

“Basically people just want those tomato sandwiches.” Cady herself usually brings bread and some Miracle Whip to the farmers’ market, and adds a slice of heirloom tomato. It’s a quick meal that never fails to satisfy.

Very fresh salsa

McLeod Farms in Milford offers this Salsa Fresca recipe, ready in just a few minutes:

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 small can green chiles, chopped

½ Spanish onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

salt to taste

Combine ingredients and serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

Fruit or vegetable?

Ah, the age-old debate.

As usual, answering this question just makes the world seem more complicated.

In purely scientific terms, a fruit is the part of a plant that bears the seeds and grows from the flower. That makes the tomato a fruit, and also forces us to accept cucumbers, eggplants and pea pods as fruit as well. A vegetable, on the other hand, is just some other part of a plant.

Since fruits are generally used for their sweet properties, and tomatoes for their “savoury” flavor, tomatoes are usually lumped in with vegetables for cooking purposes. Some prefer to classify tomatoes as “fruit-vegetables” to ensure that their outsider status is not forgotten.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable in 1893 in Nix v. Hedden. A New York port collector was sued for collecting a tax on imported vegetables. The importer tried to argue that the tomato was in fact a fruit, and therefore not taxable, but the Court found that “in common parlance” it was nearly always called a vegetable.

Nearly a century later, Ronald Reagan would try to have the tomato’s most common byproduct, ketchup, classified as a vegetable for school lunches, continuing the long, sad history of government impinging on this fruit’s identity.

Sources: AskOxford.com, solutions.uiuc.edu, FindLaw.com

Go tomato shopping

Sure, they sell tomatoes at the local supermarket.

But for authentic local flavor, the farm stand has it all over those refrigerated stores. Most of them are open every day, but the farmers’ markets are scheduled deals, and they’re mostly dependent on good weather.

• Amherst Farmers’ Market, Amherst Village Green, Amherst, Thursday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.

• Lavoie’s Farm Stands, Nartoff Rd., Hollis; Amherst St., Nashua (across from Building #19); Daniel Webster Highway, Nashua (at Hayward’s).

 • Manchester Farmers’ Market, Victory Park, Concord St., Manchester, Thursday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.

• McQuesten Farm, Rt. 3A, Litchfield

• Milford Farmers’ Market, TD Banknorth parking lot, South St., Milford, Saturday 9:00 a.m. to noon.

• Railway Farm Stand, Crescent Rd., Manchester

• Wilson’s Farm Stand, Rt. 3A, Litchfield