However you say it, this tasty treat is in season now
One of the season’s brightest, juiciest, edible products is tomatoes. Right now is the time to grab some to enjoy in a number of ways, from sliced thick and piled high between two soft pieces of white bread, to chopping for salads, to making cooling, refreshing gazpacho.
Tomatoes have an interesting historical footnote to Lynchburg. Turn back the calendar a few centuries, the fruit (yes, tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable) wasn’t brand new to America, but it wasn’t common in the 18th century. Many folks regarded tomatoes suspiciously because the plant was a member of the poisonous nightshade family.
The 1791 Miller-Claytor House in Lynchburg is colloquially called the Tomato House because local legend has it that Thomas Jefferson shocked folks there by eating a tomato to dispel such rumors.
Many folks may be surprised to know the chilled, tomato-based soup, gazpacho, has strong Virginia roots.
In fact, an early recipe called “Gaspacha-Spanish” appeared in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife cookbook in 1824; she may have heard about the dish from her sister who lived in Spain.
“Put some soft biscuit or toasted bread in the bottom of a salad bowl, put in a layer of sliced tomatas with the skin taken off, and one of sliced cucumbers, sprinkled with pepper, salt, and chopped onion; do this until the bowl is full, stew some tomatas quite soft, strain the juice. Mix in some mustard and oil, and pour over it: make it two hours before it is eaten.”
There are many types of tomatoes, from the tiny grape, teardrop and cherry to the big, sliceable beefsteak. Here are a few styles you are likely to find in the area:
• Better Boy: a large, textbook, juicy tomato
• Floramerica: a medium-to-large, bright red tomato
• Heirloom: a catch-all phrase for the many types of non-cultivated tomatoes
• Oxheart: a medium, lumpy, intensely flavored tomato
• Supersweet: a medium, very sweet tomato
• This isn’t a beauty contest. Some tomato types, especially heirloom, are not only not pretty; they are pretty ugly.
• Check for ripeness not by looking at color but by smelling the blossom end (opposite the stem end); you should pick robust, tomato notes on the nose.
• Pick tomatoes heavy for their size that are full and not shriveled and without bruises.
• Do not refrigerate tomatoes; keep them stem-side down in a cool, dark place.
• Use tomatoes within a few days of picking.
By Patrick Evans-Hylton