By Krista Elliott
It's September, and whether you're a gardener or just love local food, you know that September is the time for tomatoes! There's nothing like the fragrance of a ripe, sun-warmed tomato just off the vine. Delicious, healthy, and versatile, it's the mainstay of so many of your favorite recipes, from salads to sauces. There might be some things about tomatoes that you didn't know, though.
A Sinful Salad: Historically, tomatoes had a rather dubious reputation in parts of Europe and in Colonial North America. First off, they were widely believed to be poisonous, due to their bright and shiny red fruit and the similarity of their leaves to plants in the oft-deadly nightshade family. (Interestingly enough, tomatoes are a member of this family, and their leaves are poisonous). In other parts of Europe, people knew tomatoes weren't poisonous, but thought it might be the "apple" represented in the Biblical origin story of Adam and Eve. It was even called a pomme d'amour, or a "love apple," leading to the Church of Rome banning it. Heck, it's a fruit that has fooled people into thinking it's a vegetable. Sneaky!
A Nutritional Powerhouse: If you can look past the poor, misunderstood tomato's sordid past, you'll see that it's actually one of the most wholesome foods you can eat. Lutein. Lycopene. Beta-carotene. No, they're not Pokémon — they're some of the amazing cancer-fighting, antioxidant, whole-body-helper substances found in tomatoes. Add in impressive amounts of Vitamin C and Vitamin E, and you can see why tomatoes feature prominently in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
Something for Everybody: Tomatoes come in a broad range of varieties. You have your slicing tomatoes or your beefsteaks, larger tomatoes with great flavor, making them perfect for sandwiches. Roma or plum tomatoes are lower in water content and higher in solid flesh. These tomatoes lend themselves beautifully to sauces and salsas. Small tomatoes, like cherry or grape tomatoes are a wonderful snack, great to cut up into a salad, and are amazing when slow-roasted with some olive oil. I just did a huge batch of roasted cherry tomatoes to freeze, and they're dynamite added onto homemade pizzas or in pasta sauces or chili. Whatever you do though, do NOT refrigerate your tomatoes. It turns them mealy and dulls the flavor. Besides, they look so pretty in a bowl on your counter, making people think you're a much better cook than you are ... or maybe that's just me.
During September, you may find yourself with more tomatoes than you can eat, so feel free to share the bounty with your neighbors. With the tomato's amazing flavor, interesting history, and health benefits, this may be the best gift you could ever give them!