It’s one of the more unexpected things that I hear folks say, especially this time of the year.
“I don’t like tomatoes.”
That’s almost blasphemy to the multitudes of us die-hard tomato devotees. Of course, if the only fresh tomatoes one has ever tasted are those reddish, round things sold in midwinter, shipped from thousands of miles away and with all the flavor of a tennis ball, not liking tomatoes is a lot more understandable.
But how can you not like fresh, sweet-tart tomatoes just harvested from the garden? OK, so I’m prejudiced about one of late summer’s most delightful gifts, what Wikipedia calls “the edible berry of the plant Solanum lycopersicum.”
“Berry” isn’t a term most of us connect to tomatoes, although we understand that they’re not a vegetable at all, but a fruit. Personally, I don’t care what scientific family they come from, as long as they keep turning red, ripe and tasty back in the garden patch.
And whether you call them “tomato” or “tomahto,” they’re incredibly healthy. One medical website I checked calls tomatoes a “super food,” chock full of nutrients and antioxidants, including lycopene, which is reported to fight cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration in the eyes. Interestingly, it also noted that some 80% of the dietary lycopene consumed in the U.S. comes from tomatoes.
Like most gardens I’m familiar with, ours produces a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs, from beets and basil to zucchini. But, tomatoes are a larger crop, and I “put up” as many of them as the season yields, beyond what we eat fresh and share with friends and relatives.
For whatever reasons, this year has been an outstanding season for the garden’s tomato production. Although they never ripen soon enough to suit my fresh tomato impatience (think May 1st) since they started turning red in late July, the tangle of plants has delivered bushels of “berries.” And this year’s yields have been some of the overall largest, most solid, best-holding ones our garden has ever yielded.
Nevertheless, the tomato season has left me with a mystery. What in the world is one particular variety and where in the dickens did it come from?
They were the first tomatoes to ripen — huge, fist-sized fruits that dragged their stalks down to the ground, despite sturdy, wooden supports under the plants. The plants were started here from seed, a variety I’ve grown for many years, specifically for canning. With firm, round fruits, the bulk of the yield would always ripen about the same time, right near Labor Day.
Instead, this year those plants were the earliest to ripen fruit, even ahead of the Celebrity variety which generally upstages the others. And the fruits are large and suggestive of a beefsteak-type tomato. They’ve been a seasonal success, but they certainly aren’t what the seed packet labeled them to be.
One is fermenting down right now, with hopes of saving seed to try to replicate the mystery plants. Regardless of what those are, the patch continues to deliver batches of red, ripe tomatoes, and a large shelf in the basement is nearly full of canned ones.
Returning back to her college in Boise, Idaho, after a brief visit home, our granddaughter Rachel packed several of our garden tomatoes for a batch of salsa. They arrived unscathed after traveling across the country in hard-sided luggage, and ultimately became the subject of a TikTok video, one of many humorous videos she’s produced. Who knew fresh tomatoes would make a TikTok subject?
Here, on this particular morning, the fragrance of simmering tomatoes fills the house. One quart jar which didn’t seal (I found a flaw in the rubber sealant) went into the blender to puree the small pieces and seeds. Unlike many friends, I don’t can sauce. I just peel, chop and cook down the tomatoes. When in need of sauce, I just dump the canned tomatoes into the blender and cook the puree down. Blended and simmered with browned, crumbled sausage, plus chopped peppers, onions, celery, garlic and fresh herbs, we’ll enjoy one of our farm crew’s favorite meals: spaghetti. And the accompanying green salad will be topped with tomatoes.
While yields have peaked, we hope to enjoy garden tomatoes for many more weeks.
And, by this time of the growing season, we’ve had enough squash, and we’re looking ahead to pickings of fall lettuces, string beans and cabbage.
But we never, ever get tired of fresh, garden tomatoes ... any way you pronounce them.