Tomatoes, Tomatoes, and Even More Tomatoes!
Posted: August 27, 2012
I am eagerly awaiting the first ripe tomato from my garden! There is nothing better than the taste of a tomato fresh from the vine, and while it seems like we wait forever to savor that taste, once the first tomato arrives within a short period of time, we are overwhelmed with them. Fortunately, this vegetable lends itself to freezing, drying and canning as a way of preservation.
Tomatoes are the most popular home garden vegetable, grown by more than 90% of all home gardeners. I think some of this popularity is the fact that you don’t necessarily have to have a garden to grow these plants. Many people grow them in containers, and now there is the “topsy-turvy” method that takes up even less space. In other tomato trivia, the plant originally came from South America and grew wild in the Andes. The modern tomato was developed in Mexico and was called “tomatil”. Not surprisingly, Thomas Jefferson was one of the first Americans to cultivate tomatoes in the late 1700’s. If you have ever wondered why we classify tomatoes as vegetables, when botanically they are a fruit, it is because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they were vegetables in 1893 as a result of a tariff dispute. Finally, on average, Americans eat about 18 pounds of fresh tomatoes and about 70 pounds of processed tomatoes in the form of ketchup, sauces and salsa each year.
Nutritionally, tomatoes are packed with vitamins while being low in calories. One-half cup of chopped tomatoes provides about 15 calories, 20% of our daily needs of Vitamin C, 15% of Vitamin A and one gram of fiber. In addition, cooked tomatoes are a better source of lycopene, a phytonutrient that we are learning has a protective effect against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease, than fresh tomatoes. So eating a mix of fresh and cooked tomato products, without a lot of added fat, salt and sugar, will help you get all the benefits of tomatoes. Another important note is not to remove the seeds, the nutrients tend to be concentrated in the jell surrounding the seed.
Besides eating in salads, on sandwiches, or as tomato sauce, tomatoes can be broiled, baked, stewed, grilled or microwaved. Be creative when thinking about using these vegetables. If your tomatoes need further ripening when picked, keep them in a warm place but not in direct sunlight with the stem end down. Once ripe, place in the refrigerator if you are not able to use them immediately. For green tomatoes, put them in a paper bag with some holes punched in it and fold the top over. Place in a dark spot for several days, checking often to see how they are progressing.
As with any type of fresh produce, tomatoes could potentially be contaminated with harmful bacteria, so safe handling after harvest or purchase is important. Wash tomatoes just before you are going to eat or prepare them. The Food Science Department at Penn State recommends that after washing your hands, to wash the tomatoes in a clean sink under running water gently, rubbing the tomato with your hands to help remove dirt and then patting dry with a paper towel. Water temperature should be slightly warmer than the temperature of the tomato. You should not use detergent, soap or bleach to wash tomatoes. In preparing the tomatoes, cut out the stem end and discard before slicing as this would tend to be an area where bacteria may hide. Once tomatoes are cut, refrigerate within two hours and store under refrigeration until consumed.
If you are looking to preserve tomatoes you can contact the Somerset Extension office at 445-8911, Ext. 7 and request a copy of “Let’s Preserve: Tomatoes”. This publication will give you information on both canning, freezing, and recipes for tomato sauce and other products. Many people like to make salsa and a great recipe source for canning salsa can be found at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_salsa.html . These are tested recipes and safe for canning. If you have your own salsa recipe, the best thing to do is to freeze it for safety.
One last recipe source is http://www.mealsmatter.org/ sponsored by the California Dairy Council. Search the recipe data base for tomatoes. One of my favorites is the cheese topped grilled tomatoes, it is simple, quick and delicious – give it a try!
References – Fresh from the Garden, University of California Cooperative Extension; Safe Handling of Fresh Tomatoes, Texas Cooperative Extension