Chow Town

Ripe yet? First tomatoes should start coming off the vine

It is that time of year when we all get excited as the first tomato comes off the vine.

Everybody you meet will always ask “Are your tomatoes ripe yet?” and sadly to say mine aren’t.

I just remember as a kid in the middle of picking tomatoes, I’d pick one, wipe the dirt off on my blouse, eat it down to the stem and then throw the remains as far as I could so there wouldn’t be any evidence.

That was the only good part of picking tomatoes.

The history of the tomato seems to be native to the Americas. It has origins that can be traced back to the Aztecs around 700 A.D.

It was not until around the 16th Century that Europeans were introduced to this fruit when the early explorers set sail to discover new lands. Throughout southern Europe, the tomato was quickly accepted into the kitchen, yet as it moved north, more resistance was apparent.

The British, for example, admired the tomato for its beauty, but believe that it was poisonous.

The rich people in that time used flatware made of pewter, which as a high-lead content. Foods high in acid, like tomatoes, would cause the lead to leech out into the food. Resulting in lead poisoning and death.

Poor people, who ate off of plates made of wood, did not have that problem, and hence did not have an aversion to tomatoes. This is essentially the reason why tomatoes were only eaten by the poor people until the 1800s.

What changed in the 1800s? First and most significantly, was the mass immigration from Europe to America and the traditional blending of cultures.

Many Italian-Americans ate tomatoes and brought that food with them. But also, and perhaps equally as important, was the invention of pizza.

The story goes that it was created by one restaurant in Naples to celebrate the visit of Queen Margarite, the first Italian monarch since Napoleon conquered Italy.

The restaurateur made the pizza from three ingredients that represented the colors of the new Italian flag: red, white, and green. The red is the tomato sauce, the white was the mozzarella cheese and the green was the basil topping.

Hence, Pizza Margarite was born, and is still the standard for pizza. Plus, leave it to the French, thinking it was an aphrodisiac, began to cultivate them and called it “pommes d’amour” or “the love apple”.

Fresh tomatoes are a delicious source of vitamin C, but the more important attribute is the nutritional asset this fruit/vegetable has and that is that it is one of the best sources of lycopene, a carotenoid with cancer-fighting properties.

The nutritional value of 1 cup raw chopped tomato is:

• Calories — 38

• Total fat — 0.6g

• Saturated fat — 0.1g

• Monounsaturated fat — 0.1g

• Polyunsaturated fat — 0.2g

• Dietary fiber — 2g

• Protein — 2g

• Carbohydrates — 8g

• Cholesterol — 0mg

• Sodium — 16mg

• Vitamin C — 23mg

Room temperature, above 55 degrees, is best for storing tomatoes.

Do not

refrigerate them.

Once ripe they will keep for a day or two at room temperature. Should you need to hold them longer, you can then refrigerate them.

If you pick them when they are not quite ripened, you can place them in a brown paper bag or like most people put them on your picnic table out of the sun.

Sometimes you have to pick them a little under-ripe to keep the turtles or birds from eating them. In my case, the wild turkeys love tomatoes.

Yummy Tomatoes Makes 12 tomatoes halves 6 medium-sized tomatoes 1/2 an avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped 1 cup (about 1/4 pound) of grated Swiss cheese 6 to10 chopped fresh basil leaves 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or fresh finely chopped)

Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Place the halves —open side up — on a cookie sheet. In a small bowl, mash together the avocado, grated Swiss cheese, and basil. Spoon the mixture on top of the tomatoes and sprinkle with oregano. Broil the tomatoes for 5 minutes or until the cheese begins to ooze. Carefully remove the tomatoes from the broiler and serve hot or cool slightly and eat them with your hands.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.
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