According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat more than 22 pounds of tomatoes every year. More than half this amount is eaten in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce.   Technically a tomato is a fruit, since it is the ripened ovary of a plant. In 1893, the supreme court ruled in the case of “NIX vs. HEDDEN” that tomatoes were to be considered vegetables.  There are more than 4,000 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from the small, marble-size cherry tomato to the giant Ponderosa that can weigh more than 3 pounds.

Purchasing Tomatoes

Tomatoes don’t develop adequate flavor unless allowed to ripen on the vine. Seek out locally grown tomatoes whenever possible. They may not be as “pretty” as store bought, but beauty, of course, is only skin deep.

Note: Fragrance is a better indicator of a good tomato than color. Use your nose and smell the stem end. The stem should retain the garden aroma of the plant itself – if it doesn’t, your tomato will lack flavor and, as far as I’m concerned, will be good only for decoration!

Storing & Ripening Tomatoes

NEVER REFRIGERATE FRESH TOMATOES! Cold temperatures make the flesh of a tomato pulpy and destroys the flavor.

To ripen, place green or unripened tomatoes in a brown paper bag and place in a dark spot for three or four days, depending on the degree of greenness. Do not put tomatoes in the sun to ripen – this softens them.

Nutritional Information

Tomatoes and tomato products are so commonplace that we sometimes fail to acknowledge them as the nutritional powerhouses that they are. One medium tomato can provide the following Daily Values: 40% Vitamin C, 20% of Vitamin A (converted by the body from Beta Carotene) and 10% of Potassium.  Tomatoes also contain lycopene, a

carotenoid which gives tomatoes their glowing colors. In numerous studies, lycopene’s antioxidant properties have proven so powerful that researchers concur about its ability to protect against several types of cancer. Can you get lycopene from any other foods? It’s not easy. The only other sources are pink grapefruit and watermelon, but they have only a fraction of the lycopene content of tomatoes.

Basic Tomato Techniques:

Drying: Think you like dried tomatoes? Just wait until you dry your own. Flavorful plum or Roma tomatoes work most successfully with this technique. Cut the tomatoes in halves lengthwise. Arrange cut side up on a baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 to 3 hours, or until they look somewhat collapsed and with edges slightly shriveled. Use as you would sun-dried tomatoes, or eat as a snack.

Grilling: Slice large, firm tomatoes at least 1/2 inch thick or cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cook on a prepared grill on both sides until the edges brown, about 5 to 8 minutes total. Mesh-type grill toppers are useful for grilling tomatoes since they tend to go so soft. Cherry tomatoes are great for using in grilled kebabs. No special preparation is needed aside from basting with whatever marinade you are using.

Pureeing: Place large chunks of tomato into the workbowl of a food processor. Process until evenly pureed. If you want a smoother puree, put it through a food mill, which will remove the seeds and small bits of skin.

Seeding: If a recipe calls for seeded tomatoes, simply cut them in half horizontally (that is, through the stem end. Scoop out the seeds with a small spoon, such as the 1/2 teaspoon measure of a measuring spoon set.

Skinning: Removing the skin from tomatoes is not as complicated as it might seem. All you need to do is cut a cross in the skin of the tomato, plunge it into boiling water for 10 seconds, then remove. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, the skins slip off easily.

Six Easy Things to do with Tomatoes

Tomato salad: For a simple salad, cut lush tomatoes into large chunks. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs, such as a combination of basil and dill.

Tomato sandwich: To enjoy summer’s ripest tomatoes in a sandwich, simply spread two slices of whole grain bread with Veganaisse, layer on some sliced tomatoes, cover, and enjoy.

Stuffed tomatoes: Cut large tomatoes in half horizontally and carefully hollow out with a spoon. Stuff with anything you fancy.  Especially good when stuffed with chickpea salad.

Fried tomatoes: Use red or green tomatoes, as you prefer. Dredge firm tomato slices in cornmeal and fry in a small amount of olive oil on both sides until the cornmeal is golden.

Fresh tomato pizza: Instead of sauce, use sliced fresh tomatoes as the base for pizza, using fresh whole wheat pizza crust. Layer other toppings as you wish over the tomatoes.  Try thinly sliced summer squash, mushrooms, sliced fresh garlic, Italian seasonings and vegan mozzarella style cheese.  Bake for 10-15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Fresh tomato salsa:  Instead of buying over-priced packaged salsa, try making a quick batch at home with fresh tomatoes.  Warning – once you try this recipe, you’ll never go back to bottled salsa again.

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