By David Whitney, Produce Buyer, Co-op Owner
Local tomatoes are one of summer’s special treats. Of course, tomatoes are available year-round, but to experience tomatoes at their taste pinnacle you need find a source locally. In Michigan our tomato season is pretty short, just a few weeks. We need to capitalize on the bounty that we get from our local farmers. At GreenTree we began to see the first local, field-ripened cherry tomatoes and early red slicers in mid-July. By the end of July and into August and beyond we also see the heirloom types ripen. Our season lasts until we get a hard fall frost, usually in mid-October.
I, personally, don’t eat many tomatoes out of season. Local, vine-ripened tomatoes are worth the wait. Winter tomatoes are pretty, but lack the full flavor of in-season varieties. Winter/hydroponic tomatoes are not bred for flavor, rather they are bred to travel long distance and ripen on trucks. They’re harvested green and don’t have well-developed flavor profiles. When you grow the tomato in the ground (as opposed to hydroponically) and let it ripen fully on the vine, you can get the best flavor, but you also have tender fruit prone to bruising and cracking that doesn’t travel well. That’s why buying local tomatoes from sources like GreenTree is your best bet for flavor. Last year we had less abundance than normal due to the prevalence of Late Blight. (This year sources are reporting that Late Blight hasn’t been an issue.)
The breadth of tomato varieties is pretty astounding. You can find tomatoes in a rainbow of colors from yellow and green to purple and chocolatey brown. Some of the best tasting are Green Zebra and Brandywine, heirloom varieties currently available at GreenTree. There are many heirlooms and all are worth trying if you love tomatoes.
Tomatoes should never be refrigerated – they lose flavor and change texture when chilled. Store them out of the sun in a coolish spot, ideally 55 degrees, though kitchen counters are fine. There are many ways to save your tomatoes for future eating; like making sauces, freezing, canning, dehydrating, or roasting in the oven. Roasting is one of my favorite methods of preserving – slice tomatoes about 3/4 inch thick, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast in the oven at 325 degrees until the edges start to caramelize. Then freeze. If you have no time and a bunch of tomatoes about to go past, you can stick them whole in the freezer and thaw to make sauce later, when time allows. (Tip: Save yourself some time and cut out the stem area before freezing.)
At some point during the season, if it’s a good year, it becomes very apparent that there’s a serious abundance of tomatoes. We’re looking at bringing in larger quantities for canning and preserving as the season progresses, so look for updates via email and Facebook. Stop in and share your favorite recipes and preservation methods. Share your tomato love!