Attack of the Homegrown Tomatoes
"Only two things that money can't buy and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes."
--Guy Clark, "Home Grown Tomatoes"
After last summer's squash fiasco, this year I decided to concentrate on growing tomatoes, which are more nutritious, manageable, versatile, and easier to give away.
According to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (available online from the Gale Virtual Reference Library to DPL cardholders), pre-Columbian Aztecs were the first to eat tomatoes, which they made into a sauce with chili peppers and ground squash seeds. After the Spanish Conquest, vinegar was added, resulting in an early salsa. Meanwhile in Europe, Italians were frying them in olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper, and within 100 years tomatoes were a staple in southern Italian cooking. The first known American tomato recipe, "To Keep Tomatoos for Winter Use," appeared in Harriott Pinckney Horry's cookery manuscript, dated 1770:
"Take ripe Tomatas, peel them, and cut them
in four and put them into a stew pan, strew
over them a great quantity of Pepper and
Salt; cover it up close and let it stand an Hour,
then put it on the fire and let it stew quick
till the liquor is intirely boild away; then
take them up and put into pint Potts, and
when cold pour melted butter over them
about an inch thick. They comonly take
a whole day to stew. Each pot will make
N.B. if you do them before the month
of October they will not keep."
Centuries later, fresh tomatoes are still hand-picked, mostly in California, which produces 80% of the U.S.'s production. This year it looks like there are enough green tomatoes in my neighborhood to supply the other 20%, assuming that there's enough time left for them to turn red.
Merrill Kingsbury, a Master Gardener Program Assistant with the CSU Extension, explains: "You are not alone! I have more green tomatoes than I can count and if they all turn red at once, I am going to be making salsa and tomato sauce for days! We have received many calls and emails here at our Extension office from gardeners wondering why their tomatoes are still green. We did have a late start to the spring season with snow on Mother’s Day, followed by cool, rainy weather. Plus, with the hail storms that we had in late May/early June, many people had to wait for their tomato plants to recover or plant new ones. We still have more weeks of good growing weather ahead of us before the first killing frost, so we are telling people to be patient, although it is hard!!"
What's the best use of a homegrown tomato? Given the co-dependent relationship between bacon, lettuce and tomato, many would say the BLT (see video below for how to make this classic).
Note to vegetarians: The best fake bacon is Lightlife Smart Bacon, IMHO.
The library also has some great books for your tomato harvest:
Sun-Dried Tomatoes by Andrea Chesman (1997)
The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook by Mimi Luebbermann (2006)
Salse di Pomodoro: Making the Great Tomato Sauces of Italy by Julia Della Croce (1996)
Cucina Amore: Shrimp in the Pot & Baked Tomatoes (DVD) by Nick Stellino (2005)
Cucina amore: Sicilian Tomato Sauce & Tuna Steaks (DVD) by Nick Stellino (2005)
Tomate (Jitomate) by Andrés Olivos Lombana (Spanish language, 1999)