The beautiful, tasty, versatile tomato had its origin as a humble wild plant in South America.
It has not traveled around the world and is used in dishes in every country. Salsa, pizza, soups, salads and many other dishes feature tomatoes.
Only potatoes have a higher per person consumption in the U.S.
The first known written recipes using tomatoes was printed in Naples in 1692. The two recipes were for Spanish style sauces.
Although tomatoes are readily available year-round in grocery stores, there is no comparison between the retail tomato and the picked-off-the-vine variety. Fresh tomatoes are available from mid-summer through late fall at farmers markets, including Tigges Farm, 12406 Weld County Road 64½, near Greeley.
In addition to being delicious, tomatoes are a significant source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium and lycopene. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains.
Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and is believed to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer (especially prostate cancer) while boosting the immune system. Surprisingly, processed tomatoes have more lycopene and it also more readily absorbed by the body.
A ripe tomato with no cracks or bruises will last about a week on the counter. Refrigeration will reduce the flavor and ruin the texture.
You can also preserve some tomatoes from your garden or from local farmers markets so you can enjoy the flavor during the winter.
Tomatoes can be canned or frozen as sauces and salsas. Just be sure to follow approved directions from CSU Extension or from other trusted sources, such as the Ball Blue Book, and make adjustments in the length of processing time for Colorado’s high altitude.
Peeling tomatoes is also simple. Just dip the tomato into boiling water for 30 seconds and then into ice water for one minute.
You should then be able to slip the skin off. If left on, they can become tough in soups and sauces.
Try some new varieties this fall.
Red tomatoes make excellent soups and sauces and work well with Italian tomato-based toppings and Mexican food.
Yellow and orange tomatoes have a milder taste and work well with seafood or in jam’s marmalades.
Cherry and grape tomatoes are great alone as a snack or in salads.
Yellow plum and pear tomatoes are a favorite at Tigges Farm along with the red old time Shady Lady.
If the season is cut short by Mother Nature, pick the green tomatoes before the frost hits them, wash and dry them and wrap them in newspaper or shredded paper and put them in the dark. They will slowly ripen. Check them every other day.
You can also be adventurous and try fried green tomatoes and green tomato chocolate cake. Choose tomatoes that have just a blush of pink on them for best results.
Fried Green Tomatoes
1 pound (4 medium) green (unripe) tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup milk
½ cup flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
4 slices bacon (or 2 tbsp oil)
1. Wash and remove the stem ends of the tomatoes. Slice them ¼ inch thick and let slices rest for 10 minutes. Pat dry and season lightly with salt and pepper.
2. Pour the milk, flour and cornmeal into separate shallow dishes. Place the tomato slices first into the milk, turning to coat both sides, then into the flour, again turning to coat both sides. Then dip both sides again into the milk and finally let them sit for about 30 seconds, first one side, and then the other in the cornmeal. Place the prepared slices on a cutting board. When all the slices are ready, scatter any leftover cornmeal over them, cover with a cloth and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. When ready to cook, fry the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels, leaving the fat in the pan. If you choose not to use the bacon, just heat the oil in the skillet.
4. Add the tomato slices to the hot fat. Cook gently for 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning when each side is golden. Drain on paper towels to remove excess fat.
5. To serve, garnish the slices with the crumbled bacon.
Serves two to four people.
The recipe for the cake is at www.tiggesfarm.com.
Kathy Rickart and Gale Loeffler, co-owners or Tigges Farm Produce and Pumpkin Patch north of Greeley, are retired CSU Extension home economists in Elbert and Arapahoe counties, respectively. This is the first of four columns from Rickart and Loeffler that will appear during September as part of Fruit and Vegetable Month. For more information, go to www.ext.colostate.edu.