Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Produce of the Week: Tomatoes!

Photo by Tara Maxey

The last of summer drifts away as the leaves begin to turn and flutter to the ground. But even as the weather turns (and let me tell you, the weather has definitely turned from warm and sunny to chilly and rainy), tomatoes are still around to brighten the day...for another couple of weeks.

Native to South and Central America, the tomato made its way from Montezuma's garden to Cortez's Spain (and subsequently the rest of Europe) in the early 16th century. The Italians embraced these beauties most heartily and were the first to actually cultivate the plants outside of the Americas. As a fruit from the Nightshade family, the tomato was thought to be poisonous by many, but it finally caught on in the rest of Europe and jumped over to North America in the early 18th century.

I find it fascinating that a crop that presently epitomizes a region, such as tomatoes in Italy or potatoes in Ireland, originated from a land across an ocean. Tomato breeding has led to a smaller scope of domestic diversity than the initial range of the wild plant, yet there are still more varieties (especially with the resurgence of heirloom tomatoes) than most people can handle. Take a look at this article on the impacts of tomato domestication and explore a snippet of tomato biodiversity.

As with many of the crops we have explored, tomatoes have an interesting and complex history of travel and domestication. But tomatoes are also incredibly versatile; there are just so many ways you can cook with them! Dice 'em, roast 'em, stew 'em, dry 'em, can 'em...this time of year, though, my thoughts turn to ways of preserving summer for the coming winter.

I attempted my first canning enterprise this past week. I'll get back to you in a few months as to whether they we properly canned (or whether I fell victim to botulism...). Try out this recipe for Roasted Tomato Sauce and read this sound advice before canning. I also might branch out and make tomato jam or oven-dried with my next batch of tomatoes...

Other fun recipes for end-of-summer tomatoes:
The Italian in me goes straight for bruschetta, crispy bread and drizzles of olio.
Panzanella for end-of-summer festivities
Classic and easy rustic tomato salad (basil may be getting harder to come by this time of year)
Moroccan tomato soup (dice your own tomatoes!) is perfect as fall sets in.
If you are in the mood for Indian, cauliflower tomato curry might be up your alley.
Seriously, tomatoes over polenta is fantastic and flexible (just leave out the cheese)
And Bitman blogged about season's last tomato sauce, so hop on board before it's too late!

Enjoy your season's end bounty. Stay tuned for some exciting posts in the coming week (conservation, blog action day, and one-year birthday)! Over and out!

1 comment:

jkim5154 said...

Ahh, don't get botulism Rachel!