The tomato is the favorite summer vegetable of U.S. residents and one of Indiana’s most successful cash crops. Elwood Indiana-based Red Gold is one of the nation’s larger tomato processors and employs nearly 1200 people full-time. The company contracts with several Indiana tomato farms that supply the processor with some of the best quality tomatoes available. The company saw an upswing in earnings between 2007 and 2011, despite a sagging economy. Whether canned, dried or fresh, the tomato is one of the most versatile vegetables available on the market. Depending on the variety, the tomato can be part of a breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert item.
Indiana gardeners know the value of tomatoes and have been growing their own in the garden, in patio pots, in hanging baskets and even experimenting with the Topsy Turvy planters. For those people not blessed with either the time or the green thumb required to grow tomatoes, local farmers markets always have a few vendors who bring freshly picked tomatoes.
There are literally hundreds of tomato varieties grown, but not all of them are available at a market. Many of the heirloom varieties bruise easily when packed, making them only available to home growers or people with friendly neighbors who grow them. The most popular varieties available at farmers markets or farm markets are the hybrid varieties Celebrity, Burpee’s Big Boy, Roma, and the heirloom variety, Brandywine. Other tomatoes that a shopper might encounter include Rutgers, Amish Paste, Amana Orange, German Giant, Goliath and Cherokee Purple.
Tomatoes come in several different colors that include red, orange, pink, yellow, orange, green and creamy white. In general, the lighter the color, the lower the acid content of the tomato. Many people with sensitivities to red tomatoes find they are able to eat yellow, green and white tomatoes without difficulty. Shapes may also differ, ranging from an almost perfect round to an oblong to pear shaped. The heirloom varieties are notorious for being unusually configured and appearing to be malformed. Often, this is because the blooms are doubled or tripled; the fruit that follows are the equivalent of conjoined twins or triplets. Tomato buyers shouldn’t let these oddities prevent them from purchasing the vegetable, because the size of the fruit creates value and the flavor outdistances many of the modern varieties.
When buying fresh tomatoes, look for fruit that is plump, glossy, has good color and is not fully ripened. There are normally two large or 3-4 medium tomatoes per pound. Store tomatoes at room temperature unless they are fully ripe; refrigeration toughens tomatoes and prevents ripening. Tomato buyers should keep their purpose for the purchase in mind. Some tomatoes are excellent for slicing and eating raw but fall flat in sauces. Others are perfect for cooking but don’t measure up in salads. Paste tomatoes, such as Roma or Amish Paste, were developed for using in sauces and are very meaty. A variety like Celebrity or the Ugli tomato are great slicers; Celebrity slices just fit on a hamburger bun. Beefsteaks were meant first for admiring – each tomato can weigh a pound or more – but the fruit is so laden with moisture that these types are often best used for juice. Of course, the favorite Indiana snack is to slice a fully ripened tomato, sprinkle it with salt and eat it with no other embellishment; any fresh tomato is great for this purpose.
Here are two quick to make dishes that feature fresh tomatoes.
Pasta with Raw Tomato Topping
2 c. rotini pasta, cooked and drained
3 c. diced tomatoes – use different colored tomatoes for an attractive plate
3 tbsp. minced onions
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
Mix together tomatoes, onions and vinegar in a medium bowl, and marinate for 5-10 minutes. Drain off excess liquid. Top warm, drained pasta with tomato mixture, top with chopped fresh oregano and basil, and drizzle with 2 tbsp. olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4.
Shrimp Salad Stuffed Tomatoes
4 large tomatoes
1 lb. thawed salad shrimp, diced
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. chopped onion
1 tbsp. lemon juice
dash hot sauce
Remove stem end from tomatoes and gently scoop out seeds and pulp. Salt tomato shells lightly, then turn upside-down and drain.
Mix together shrimp. mayonnaise, onion, lemon juice and hot sauce. Fill tomato shells with shrimp mixture. Chill before serving. Serves 4.
Tomorrow we’ll look at sauces, salsa and homemade ketchup.