I’ve been waiting, worrying, pestering the farmers at the Boulder Farmer’s Market. “You ARE going to have tomatoes this year, right? Is it time yet? Maybe next week?” With our fickle weather and short growing season, you never know – some years tomatoes are abundant, other years there are none at all. Blame it on a late snowstorm in May, not enough sun, too much sun, too wet, too dry, pestilence, or even bad luck. It’s too early to know what tomato season will look like here in Colorado, but I’ve seen the first heirlooms from Red Wagon Farm with the promise of more to come from one of the workers at Cure Organic Farm, and I’m pretty darned excited about it.
Supermarket tomatoes sold year-round are nothing like the tomatoes of summer, with their juicy flesh, sun-ripened sweetness, and seductive aroma. A summer tomato is bursting with life. In Tender, Nigel Slater writes, “I find the scent of a ripe tomato, especially that of its stem, faintly erotic.” A ripe tomato is heavy for its size, voluptuous, gives slightly under the embrace of your hand… A ripe tomato brings out the greed in us, the desire to possess, and it’s all too easy to get caught up in a tomato-induced fervor, only to return home with more than we could possibly eat. Alice Waters understands human nature, and addresses this issue in Chez Panisse, advising “If you find yourself with too many ripe tomatoes at once, make them into a quick sauce.” Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday, and you’ll find plenty mouthwatering recipes for cooking with tomatoes during summer.
Enjoying your own hand-picked tomatoes fresh from the garden is possible for anyone provided you’ve got a sunny spot. Tomatoes don’t need a spacious garden, and will happily produce fruit when grown in a container on a warm and sunny apartment balcony. They take a long time to mature and produce fruit, so it’s best to start with a small store-bought plant, rather than sowing seeds. If you live in a shady apartment with little sun like I do, the farmer’s market is the place to find freshly harvested tomatoes grown locally. The delicate tomato was not built for long-distance travel, and big agriculture has bred tomatoes with thick skins to withstand cross-country trips without bruising, resulting in a uniformly red product that’s devoid of flavor and life. Part of the joy of summer tomatoes is in the ugly heirlooms, with their freakish, irregularly-shaped bodies cloaked in colors ranging from green to gold to blushing pink. Many varieties of tomatoes can be found, from tiny cherry tomatoes (and even tinier currant tomatoes) to grande beefsteaks, and I encourage you to try them all.
Carefully carry them home and store the tomatoes in a single layer on the countertop at cool room temperature. Never store tomatoes in the fridge, which nullifies their flavor and turns their texture mealy. Reading Chez Panisse Vegetables, I learned that a good tomato doesn’t have to be vine ripened. Alice Waters suggests that a tomato should be picked just as it starts to change from orange to red, and then left to ripen indoors at room temperature for a few days. The theory is that if a tomato is left to ripen on the vine, its sugars peak and start to dissipate before the fruit is even harvested. Allowing tomatoes to ripen on your counter yields a sweeter, more flavorful fruit.
Tomatoes are the ingredient of the week at la Domestique, where we’ll be sharing fresh inspiration for cooking with this harbinger of summer. Eating a perfectly ripe tomato sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil is pure joy, but we also love them in salads, pastas, pizzas, egg dishes, and salsas. The wait is over, tomato season is officially here!
Do you have a favorite variety of tomato? Tell us about it in the comments section. Click Here.