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Adventures in food for curious cooks.

Tomatoes Tomaahhtoes

Mostly Plants Series

How to use whatever produce you find at your farmers market or CSA. Roots to leaves and flowers, here's how to cook with what you've got.

Tomatoes Tomaahhtoes

Lynley Jones

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Tomatoes at the height of summer. Oh, let me count the ways.

If you're new to this series, you can catch up at the Mostly Plants homepage, and check out the post Why Mostly Plants? for the inspiration behind the Mostly Plants name.

Tomato Season!

Tomatoes from my CSA

Tomatoes from my CSA

They're here, they're here! Juicy, ripe, delicious. Everywhere you look, tomatoes are showing off their gloriously red - or yellow, or orange, or purple, or green, or striped, or just funky-looking - plump goodness to our flip-flop-clad summer selves.

There's nothing like a perfectly ripe, perfectly in-season tomato, a plump little package of summer sunshine. And when we find them at the farmers' market or CSA (more about CSAs here), or our own backyard gardens, they are likely to be deliciously ripe and juicy. But when you're shopping at the grocery store, how do you know whether that tomato you're eyeing is going to be magnificent or mealy?

Choosing Tomatoes

First of all, shopping in-season helps. In most places, we have a much better chance of picking a winner in August than we will in January. Proximity to the farm also helps. Even in August, any given tomato might have travelled a thousand miles or more to get to our local produce aisle. Some stores now label produce with country or state of origin, so we have a better idea how far it traveled to make it into our cart. 

But does it really matter how far it traveled? Well, yes, actually. To survive that long trip without spoiling, tomatoes are picked while still hard and green. Once picked, tomatoes don't continue to ripen. They may redden as they sit, but their flavor, water content (ie, juiciness), and nutrients won't develop any further. In In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan explains how absolute ripeness generally coincides with the greatest concentration of nutrients in a fruit (like a tomato), and whatever nutrients are present at the time of picking diminish as they age. So, the fresher your tomato, the juicier and tastier it will be - and also the more nutritious. 

Finally, once you have that tomato in hand, pay attention to how it feels. It should feel heavy for its size, and the skin should feel like it's been pulled tight across juicy, vibrant plumpness.

A perfectly funky-looking heirloom tomato from my CSA.

A perfectly funky-looking heirloom tomato from my CSA.

Celebrating Tomatoes

Once you've got your hands on some juicy, ripe tomatoes, do something special. You might celebrate their seasonal tomatoey goodness on a simple sandwich, with just a sprinkle of sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a schmear of fresh ricotta on a slice of baguette. Or, just eat one straight out of hand, juice dribbling down your arm. Or, make one of the recipes below, with fresh, in-season tomato goodness.

Whatever you do, relish the taste of summer in your tomatoes.


Best spices for fresh tomatoes

Sumac & Sage Seasoning
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Sumac & Sage Seasoning is our own ready-to-go seasoning blend for fresh veggies and anything on the grill. Sprinkle on your tomato sandwich or tomato salad - yum!

Aleppo Pepper
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Aleppo Pepper has lots of flavor and a little spice. Super versatile, great tossed into your tomato salad or sprinkled on grilled tomatoes for a little punch and lots of flavor.