‘Plump Thing With a Navel’ = Swimsuit Season? No, It’s Just Tomato Time!

As we find ourselves halfway through August (where *has* the summer gone, anyway?), the local tomato crop is coming on strong. Whether you have a bounty of tomatoes from your backyard or container garden, you are expecting lots of tomatoes from your next CSA share, or you want to take advantage of the peak ripeness and low prices at the grocery store or farmers’ market — we’ll be talking about all things tomato this week.

Wolf-peaches, anyone? We’ve mentioned here before that the botanical name for the tomato is Lycopersicon esculentum. This Latin name translates, strangely, to “wolf-peach” – round and soft-skinned like a peach, and “wolf” (maybe?) because the tomato was considered poisonous at the time that French botanist Tournefort assigned the name.

Plump thing with a navel.You also may remember that, before Europeans took tomatoes from the new world and christened them with their own botanical taxonomy, the Aztecs of Central and South America domesticated the tomato. They used it not just as a yummy source of food, they used tomatoes, a member of the “deadly nightshade” plant family, as a “powerful (and dangerous)” hallucinogenic! Aztecs called tomatoes xitomatl, which means “plump thing with a navel” (not to be confused w/ how many of us look in a swimsuit with a sunburn).

Grow your own. If you garden, chances are good that you’re growing tomatoes. 93% of American households who garden, grow tomatoes! It’s the most popular vegetable in the US.

Average American eats around 24 pounds of tomato each year. Most of the folks we know will go through at least half that amount in the summertime, just on Caprese salads and BLT sandwiches alone.

Tomatoes increase in weight as they ripen, even after harvesting, but they can also begin to lose their Vitamin C if sunlight can reach them while they are stored. Refrigeration of tomatoes can diminish the fresh flavor of a ripe tomato, too – a shaded spot on the kitchen counter, away from the window, is the ideal spot for keeping un-cut tomatoes.

It’s so easy being green. Green tomatoes will ripe if you store them together with apples. Released ethylene gas from the apples will provide perfect conditions to ripen faster. If you don’t have apples, you can loosely wrap the tomatoes in newspapers and leave them for week or two. You can also slice and fry them up as the delicious Southern delicacy, Fried Green Tomatoes.

Simple pleasures. For utter simplicity’s sake, this African Tomato Salad recipe is perfect: toss chopped ripe tomato with fresh minced chile peppers, scallions, sugar and White Balsamic Vinegar. Inspired by this month’s “your-favorite-food-except-on-a-stick” fare at the Iowa State Fair, we also love this ridiculously easy Mozzarella, Tomato and Balsamic skewers idea – a Caprese salad on a stick! An equally simple and flavorful use for abundant tomatoes is this “Speedy” Tomato Sauce: just a couple pounds of Roma tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil, quickly cooked into a chunky fresh sauce.

Well-preserved. Fresh tomatoes are divine when locally sourced, ripe, and ready to eat. But that time is fleeting. If you want to call back the delightful late-summer taste of tomato, it’s a great food for “putting up” for your pantry:

  • AllSpicer Chad’s ultra-easy Sun-Dried Tomatoes. They’re not really dried in the sun; they’re slowly (for 6-8 hours) baked at a low temperature, or packed in olive oil and herbs. Either way, they’re easy, and a delicious addition to your cooking long after tomato time is over.
  • This Tomato Marmalade is sweet with a spicy kick from fresh minced jalapeño peppers and whole Cumin Seeds.
  • A milder spread is this Tomato Jam which gets its spice from Ginger, Cinnamon, and Cloves.
  • It takes a little more time and patience, but simply canning tomatoes, or making and canning homemade tomato sauce, is a lovely project. It also makes great use of those “ugly” tomatoes that are oddly-shaped, blemished, a bit overripe, or otherwise not suitable for display in a salad or on a sandwich. Our recipe for home-canned tomatoes is at this link.

Still need more tomato ideas? Browse pages and pages of tomato-themed recipes and posts, on the AllSpice website, at this link.