Timeless Tomatoes - Carolina Country

Timeless Tomatoes

The fruit of summer

By Amy Ney

Timeless Tomatoes

When my husband and I married, we moved to Canton, N.C., just west of Asheville. We began trying to eat more locally grown food, so we joined a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) for farm fresh vegetables that we picked up each week. Growing up, our parents had raised gardens and preserved fruits and vegetables, so when we stumbled upon a tomato festival in Canton, we bought two boxes of tomatoes. Thus began our canning journey.

We bought a water bath canner and canned quart jars of diced tomatoes for use in soups and other recipes during the winter. We experimented with spaghetti sauce, but the results were too thin (and too much work). The following year’s boxes of tomatoes became canned tomatoes and salsa (see recipe). This last year, in addition to tomatoes and salsa, we found green tomatoes at our CSA farm stand and made green tomato pie filling, using the recipe my mother-in-law used when my husband was young (see recipe). This year, I found a recipe for spiced tomato jam and am eagerly anticipating this new experiment with tomatoes while adding another jam to my repertoire of strawberry, peach, blackberry and whatever other fruit we can find — last year’s scavenging led to crabapple and chokecherry jams.

Eating tomatoes

Fruit or Vegetable?

In all of my tomato research, I rediscovered what I’d probably been taught in elementary school: Tomatoes are a fruit! In 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, based on common usage of the word, that tomatoes are vegetables. But botanically, tomatoes are actually fruit because the seeds and flesh are contained within the skin. True vegetables do not contain seeds but instead consist of roots, stems, leaves and flowers.

Regardless of whether you consider a tomato a fruit or a vegetable, they have many health benefits. Tomatoes contain high levels of antioxidants, especially vitamins A, E and C, which help to protect our bodies from cellular damage caused by free radicals (atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons which may cause harmful reactions with chemicals in our bodies). Tomatoes contain lots of potassium and their high lycopene content may help reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. Tomatoes also have synergistic effects: When eaten with broccoli they may reduce the risk of prostate cancer and when eaten with oils such as avocado and olive, they may have cardiovascular benefits and increase absorption of carotenoids, plant pigments which our bodies convert to vitamins. Most importantly, tomatoes are high in nutritional value and low in calories.

A Variety of Uses

Tomatoes have many common uses, from salad toppings to the favorite tomato sandwich. They are used in soups and sauces and even in pies.

They can be eaten raw or cooked and with or without the skin (although the skin is very nutritious). Tomatoes may be fried green, canned whole, diced into salsas or even made into jam. Books such as “Simply in Season” and “From Asparagus to Zucchini” are wonderful guides to eating seasonal foods such as tomatoes. “The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving” is a great resource for anyone interesting in preserving fruits or vegetables.

Tomatoes are a rewarding crop if you want to grow your own. Numerous varieties, including heirloom, are available at local farmers’ markets or through CSA shares at a local farm. Several locations throughout North Carolina also host tomato festivals where you can taste tomato goodies and buy a box or two to take home with you. Ripe tomatoes should be brightly colored and firm with just a little give when gently squeezed. Fresh tomatoes should be stored on the kitchen counter for up to a week. Store-bought tomatoes have been refrigerated in transit and will last best in your refrigerator.

About the Author

Amy Ney is a freelance writer with a background in private land management. She lives in Haywood County and is a member of Haywood EMC. Related land management information can be found at www.woodlandstewardseries.org.

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