Hard to believe it’s already July. Gardens are burgeoning with ripening fruits and vegetables. Now’s the time to hit the farmers markets in earnest.
One of the most popular products, tomatoes, are starting to be available in mouthwatering quantities. This month I’m devoting my column to this juicy, plump vegetable. Or fruit. Which is it? Botanically speaking, it’s a fruit (not only that, it’s technically a berry, really!). But because it’s not as sweet as other fruits, and is not generally served as a dessert, it’s been thrown into the vegetable category for centuries.
A few years back, when I was a vendor at the farmers markets, there was a constant demand for two items: tomatoes and sweet corn. This demand began as soon as the markets opened, often in mid-May, and thus began the re-education of the North Country consumer as to what’s in season locally. A traditionally grown tomato plant in our zone o
ften does not produce ripe fruits until mid-July at best. With the introduction of high tunnels, many of our growers are now selling gorgeously ripe tomatoes in June. But if you’re seeing a tomato on a market table in May, it’s likely not grown locally. Be sure to ask the farmer if you want to know if it’s local.
Are you growing tomatoes in your home garden? A 2009 National Gardening Association survey found that 86 percent of home gardeners grow tomatoes: that’s nearly twice the percentage (47 percent) of the next most popular vegetable, cucumbers.
On our farm we’ve always grown a large number and variety of tomatoes, which is peculiar because as a family we’re not particularly fond of eating them fresh (I know, that’s a nearly heretical statement amongst tomato enthusiasts). We’re more inclined to preserve them for use in sauces, stews and other dishes.
But there are a couple of varieties we do succumb to: the super-sweet, orangey-colored “Sunsugar” or “Sungold” cherry tomatoes. Spotting the first ripe Sungold tomato in the garden is like finding a treasure, a perfect sweet prize amid the greenery. My boys said they tasted as good as candy.
Be sure to try some of the heirloom varieties, either to grow yourself or purchase at the markets. Heirlooms are old-time varieties, not engineered for truck shipping stability which, in the process, engineers out most of the flavor. Full, rich flavor bursts from funky looking fruits that are puckered, wrinkled, striped, and often just plain ugly by tomato beauty standards. They’re also not necessarily red. You’ll see greens, browns, oranges and yellows amid the bright reds.
Cornell Cooperative Extension and Adirondack Harvest are teaming up to bring consumers a hands-on cooking workshop called “Totally Tomatoes!” at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall, Route 22, Whallonsburg, 6 to 9 p.m. July 25. We are fortunate to have Paul Smith College’s Kevin McCarthy as the instructor for the evening. McCarthy is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and has served as executive chef at The Point Resort and Lake Placid Lodge. He’s an entertaining and highly knowledgeable chef who promises to even teach us how to use tomatoes as a dessert. To register for this workshop, call 962-4810 Ext. 0 or email essex 962-4810 x404. Email firstname.lastname@example.org