2013-08-08 / Local & State

The Season For Fresh, Local Tomatoes!

Now is the time to enjoy the taste of home-grown, field-ripened, Pennsylvania tomatoes. There is nothing better than a thick slice of a juicy dark-red tomato on your home-grilled burger or a BLT sandwich. Ripe, local tomatoes also add the finishing touch to a summer-time tossed salad. Growers are starting the peak of harvest season for one of the state’s most valuable vegetable crops.

Fresh, local Pennsylvania tomatoes are both delicious and nutritious. One medium tomato supplies over 40 percent of the daily allowance of vitamin C and 20 percent of vitamin A plus potassium – all with only 35 calories. Tomatoes are also contain generous amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect the body from cancer.

August is the peak season for Pennsylvania tomatoes and many other locally grown vegetables. That’s why Pennsylvania growers are celebrating August as Pennsylvania Produce Month. Tomatoes and an abundance of other Pennsylvania produce are available at roadside farm markets, community farmers’ markets and supermarkets across the state.

Consumers concerned with rising food prices might want to consider buying a bushel or two of Pennsylvania tomatoes from a local farmer and canning a couple batches of homemade tomato sauce with grandma’s secret family recipe. Tomatoes are one of the simpler vegetables to can at home. Home canning Pennsylvania tomatoes will save gallons of fossil fuels used to truck canned product across the country. Penn State University offers detailed instructions and recipes on how to safely can tomatoes (and other vegetables) at home. This information is available on the Web at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/lets_ preserve.html, by contacting any Penn State Cooperative Extension office, or by contacting the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program at 717-694- 3596.

Of course another alternative to reduce your carbon footprint is to purchase commercially canned tomato products produced by Pennsylvania food processors from Pennsylvania tomatoes.

Pennsylvania’s fresh market tomato crop is grown on about 2,500 acres. Another 1,000 acres are used to grow tomatoes for food processors for use in several brands of tomato products. In addition, many Pennsylvania greenhouses produce tomatoes during the spring and fall months when they cannot be grown in the field. In number of acres, tomatoes trail sweet corn, snap beans, potatoes and pumpkins as a leading Pennsylvania vegetable crop. However, tomatoes typically are second or third in value.

Many local growers are growing heirloom varieties that are noted for their distinctive flavors. But local growers can offer superior quality tomatoes of ordinary varieties as well for one simple reason. They can allow them to ripen in the field. A fully ripened tomato cannot be shipped any distance. Any grower who has to ship his product is forced to harvest tomatoes before they are fully ripe so they will not bruise. In truth, the blame for poor tasting tomatoes lies not so much with the grower but with subsequent handlers and even the consumer.

Tomatoes picked before they are fully ripe can develop an appetizing flavor and texture if two basic conditions are met. First, the tomatoes must not be refrigerated. They should be stored at room temperature or at least above 55ºF. Unripe tomatoes that have been subjected to temperatures below this level will never ripen satisfactorily.

The second condition is patience. Tomatoes that are on the pink side need several days at room temperature to develop a deep red color and the desired tomato flavor. They should also soften slightly. Only when they have fully ripened like this should they be refrigerated and then only if necessary. Refrigerated tomatoes will have a better eating flavor if they are allowed to warm to room temperature before serving.

Pennsylvania tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The most common is the larger round, red tomato that can be sliced for sandwiches or burgers, cut in wedges for eating directly, diced for salads, salsa, or tacos, or cooked into numerous kinds of sauces. Small round tomatoes, also called cherry or grape tomatoes depending on their size, are perfect for salads or as a garnish. Plum tomatoes (sometimes called Italian or Roma tomatoes) are the choice for preparing secret family-recipe sauces as they cook down to a rich, thick sauce.

Health authorities recommend most Americans eat at least 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. Following are some tasty tomato recipes from the 2012 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest. Additional tomato recipes are available at www.paveggies.org.

Tomato Salad Pie

Serves 4 to 6

1 9-inch pie shell, homemade or store bought

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 cups plum tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch slices with seeds removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small clove of garlic, mashed

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/8 teaspoon dried)

1/4 cup fresh basil finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the pie shell. Sprinkle a layer of cheese over the mustard, followed by a layer of tomatoes. In a small bowl place the olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix well and brush over the tomatoes. Bake for 35 minutes or until pie crust is golden.

Submitted by Kenneth Ward,

Hulmeville

Curry Tomato Sauce with

Chick Peas over

Buckwheat Soba Noodles

Serves 4

1 cup water or vegetable stock

1 medium red onion, sliced

1/2 medium green pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic minced

2 teaspoons minced ginger root

2 teaspoons curry powder (Madras)

1/2 teaspoon dried ground coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon coconut flour or more if needed to thicken

1 (28 1/2-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in thick puree

1 cup chopped red cabbage

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans (chick peas), lowsodium, drained

6.2 ounces soba noodles (2 packs) bite-size mustard greens to plate or your favorite dark leafy greens salt to taste

In a large non-stick skillet, in 1 cup of water, sauté the sliced red onion, diced green pepper, minced garlic and minced ginger root until onions are translucent. Then add and stir in curry power, coriander and cayenne pepper. Simmer another 5 minutes to meld seasonings. Add and stir in coconut flour, Italian plum tomatoes (broken up), chopped red cabbage, and garbanzo beans. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until cabbage is cooked to your liking. In the meantime cook soba noodles according to package directions, usually boil for 4 minutes. To plate, start with bite-size greens, noodles, then top with the tomato sauce.

Submitted by B. J. Reed,

Chambersburg.

Quick Buying Tips for Fresh Pennsylvania Tomatoes

Tomatoes must ripen to a deep, rich-red color to achieve their best flavor.

Ripen pink tomatoes at 60 degrees – 70 ºF in an open area with good air circulation.

Never refrigerate tomatoes until they are red and fully ripened.

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