Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer's Sweet Bounty

One of my favorite things about summer is tomatoes.  Growing up in Florida, we always went tomato picking at least once a year.  We would eat them anyway imaginable; tomato sandwiches, sliced with onions in vinegar, and of course, in salad.  My mom would also can them for adding to spaghetti sauce or chili throughout the year.

It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta that I realized just how lucky I had been to have fresh tomatoes.  Going to the supermarket I picked up “vine ripened” tomatoes still clinging to the vine and brought them home only to discover that while beautiful and near perfection in looks with their deep red, flawless skin, they lacked any semblance of flavor, none, nada.  I tried for a few years to condition myself to eating these poor substitutes for the tomatoes back home, but finally gave up buying them in Atlanta entirely.  Instead, every trip home had the potential for a side trip to the tomato field to pick as many as I could fit into my car.  We would eat as many fresh as we could, sharing with friends and neighbors, and canning what was left.

A couple years ago I planted the first tomatoes in my tiny garden and have increased the space and number each year since—this year planting 10 in the front yard.  And then, of course, there is the farm… working at Wolfscratch once a week has given me access to as many tomatoes as I could want, as well as a wide variety.  Heirlooms are my favorites, with their funny shapes and sweet flavor, especially Cherokee Purples, which are wonderfully sweet (my daughter likens them to watermelon).  These are closely followed by Yellow Pear tomatoes.  I can eat these straight from the vine.

Last week I came home with a box of yellow and red Roma tomatoes and a large amount of Cherry and Yellow Pear tomatoes.  I immediately began cooking the reds down to make a rich sauce, which I then froze in batches for future use, but I reserved the yellow for drying.  Lucky to have a “drying” setting on my convection oven, I cut them in half and without any accoutrement put them on makeshift drying racks (two cooling racks set over the oven racks to make a cross grid) and left them for 12 hours at 140 degrees.  This resulted in the most intensely flavorful tomatoes I’ve ever put into my mouth.


Next, I roasted the Cherries and Yellow Pears with a little salt and pepper, which I stored in olive oil in the refrigerator as well as preserving them with my handy “FoodSaver.”  This has become my favorite kitchen appliance of late.

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