Healthy Harvest Highlight: Tomatoes

TomatoThis morning I picked what will probably be the last of the tomatoes from my garden. I must admit, it made me kind of sad.  Here in the Northeast, the season is rather short for tomatoes. I wait anxiously for the first of these beautiful fruit to appear each summer – sometime around July for some of the early varieties.  This year didn’t disappoint.bushel tomato ii

Tomatoes can be planted in late spring or early summer and will ripen anywhere from July through September.  They are known for their strong antioxidant content – filled with lycopene, an excellent amount of vitamin C, beta-carotene and a good amount of vitamin E, just to name a few.  Tomatoes are low in calories and are low on the Glycemic Index.

There are lots of great health benefits that come from this little fruit, but tomatoes are widely known to reduce the risk of heart disease.  Another area of growing interest is their benefit in bone health; two things to be aware of in those peri and post-menopausal stages of life.

tomatoe varietiesThere are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes to choose from in different shapes, sizes, and colors.  I like to grow several different varieties for lots of different uses. Here are some that I plant:

Large Variety – I use the larger tomatoes generally for slicing, tarts, and Ratatouille.

Big Beef Beefsteak – Everyone’s favorite for its size and color. This large fruit is disease tolerant and has great flavor. (Intermediate)

Mid-sized Variety – Again, I use these in the same way I use the large varieties, and have also included these in my salsa.

Early Girl – heavy yield medium fruit; rich red and sweet. (Indeterminate)
Defiant – named for its defiance of most troublesome tomato diseases, this mid-size fruit is firm with a great flavor. This is one of my favorites to just slice on a plate. (Determinate)
Taxi – Best yellow short season variety. Heavy yields of mild, medium sized tomatoes (Determinate)
Stupice – This was a new variety for me this year. Oval shaped sugary sweet fruit. It was one of the first to deliver. Bred in the former Czechoslovakia, it is tolerant to cold weather. Heavy yield. (Indeterminate)

Plum – plum tomatoes have less seeds and are much meatier – I like to use them for my marinara sauce, and to combine in my salsa mix.

These were two of my favorite plumbs this year – Marzano & Super Italian.

Margherita Hybrid – dark-red, medium sized elongated fruit; very meaty. I found these at the Cooperative Extension’s plant sale near me. Paperwork said they were great fresh, broiled or roasted. I only have a handful of these left as I used most in my sauce, but I’m going to try the last few roasted.
Ray’s Super Italian Plum – assuming the name comes from the nursery I bought them from – the owners name is Ray. I tried these for the first time this year and wow – they were amazing. Each fruit was close to 6” long and almost felt hollow, but were very meaty.
Tomato Super Marzano – I don’t remember where this one came from (I’m super disappointed because I won’t know where to get them from next year) but they were my favorite. The yield was amazing and the color was the deepest red I’ve ever seen in a tomato. Maybe 4-6 oz. pear shaped.
La Roma – I supported our church’s plant sale by purchasing this variety. They did really well – produced a large yield for several weeks.

Campari – I really like this variety for my Caprese salad (with fresh basil and mozzarella).

Mountain Magic Hybrid – Heavy producer of round 2 oz. (just slightly larger than a cherry tomato) super sweet red. Camparis have a long shelf life. (Indeterminate)

Cherry/Grape Variety – These plants produce a lot of fruit, so I generally get 1-2 plants per variety leaving plenty to share with others.  I also love to grow a variety of shapes and colors, which you’ll see below.  I use these in salads, tossed into pasta…or my mouth – :-).

Black Cherry – Deep, dark, red, almost black cherry tomato; very sweet. High Yielding. (Indeterminate)
Grapette Hybrid – Clusters of oblong ½ oz. sweet, red fruit. (Semi-determinate)
Yellow Pear – Tall vigorous vine bears high yield of 2” lemon yellow pear shaped fruit. Mild flavor. (Indeterminate)

I found this to be an interesting fact on WHFoods.org – “According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides,” conventionally grown cherry tomatoes are among the top 12 fruits and vegetables on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found.”  (which is why I like to grow my own food).  So if you are purchasing from a grocer or a roadside stand (where you do not know the farmer’s farming practices), wash those babies well!

Heirloom – I always choose the yellow or orange variety of heirlooms – no real reason why, but they’ve always done well in my garden and are super sweet.  Heirloom refers to seeds that get handed down over time from tomato cultivars.

Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow, but you may run into some challenges along the way.  I go into more detail on my own garden challenges here.

Fresh tomatoes are delicious raw – they truly are the perfect farm to table food.  They can be tossed into salads, combined with cheeses, herbs, oils and vinegars for a simple, tasty meal or they can be baked, broiled, roasted, boiled, and stewed.  Two of my favorite things to prepare with fresh, garden tomatoes are Ratatouille and Salsa.  Last year I even began Canning Tomatoes to get that fresh picked flavor all year.

Tomatoes are sensitive to cold, and this does impede their ripening process. BUT don’t let that stop you from picking the green ones left on the stem. I usually bring in a bushel or two of them and 1) make Fried Green Tomatoes (YUMM), or 2) place them in a paper bag to ripen. Some people place a banana or apple into the bag as the ethylene gas these fruits emit helps to speed up the ripening process.  This was a trick taught to me by my mom, who learned it from her parents.

Tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator to prevent over-ripening.  A little side note: someone told me that when storing tomatoes in the refrigerator, you can regain their maximum flavor by simply removing them from the fridge 30 minutes before use.

I would love to hear which tomato varieties are your favorite and why.

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