These days, tomatoes get a lot of negative, and by the way unjustified, publicity. We now learn that the culprit of wide spread epidemic was a jalapeno pepper. This fruit, (yes it is a fruit) native to the foothills of the Andes Mountains, was cultivated and much heralded for millennia in South America particularly by the Aztecs who had a sell-functioning empire before Francisco Pizarro arrived with 13 horse-mounted conquistadors.
Eventually, the plant arrived in Europe, but at first farmers planted tomatoes on poor soil and in climatic conditions unsuitable for proper ripening.
After World War II chain grocery stores and restaurant chains started to dominate markets, standard garden variety, specially bred tomatoes took over. There are several enterprises and specialized plant breeders hybridizing and bioengineering tomatoes that ripen early, or late, grow large or small, with thick skins (to stand up to long transportation). Ultimately today in many regular grocery stores, one finds, even when tomatoes are in season, hothouse grown tomatoes that look unblemished, smooth-skinned and bright red, but essentially tasteless (taste free!) fruit.
After years of eating bland tomatoes, food lovers are now nostalgic for varieties that are juicy bursting with flavour. Fortunately, because seeds of old varieties were preserved, heirloom tomatoes are making a comeback. There are open-pollinated cultivars that produce identical plants, unlike hybrids. Heirloom tomatoes require more care, may mutate slightly, and are less uniform in producing year after year.
Heirloom tomatoes come in a range of colours, textures and sizes. Some are small as cherries; others may grow up to one to one-and-a-half kg. The average size is approximately 250 – 350 grams per fruit. More robust-flavoured, firmer-textured tomatoes are best suited for cooking.
Tomatoes ripen from the lowest fruit on the plant up and continue to ripen after picking.
The flesh of a ripe tomato should yield slightly when gently pressed.
Some cherished heirloom tomatoes are;
Big rainbow, Baby Special, Black Krim, Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Green zebra, Hillbilly, Jubilee, Mortgage lifter, Traveller, Abraham Lincoln, Fourth of July, Campari, Celebrity, Beefsteak, Early girl, Goliath, Matchless, Matt’s Wild cherry.
Store tomatoes away from direct sunlight at room temperature in a place with good air-circulation.
If you must buy canned, peeled, plum tomatoes for sauces when tomatoes are not in season, by San Marzano from Italy. They are more expensive but well worth the expense.
Mediterranean Tomato Salad
Yield 4 portions
1 love of garlic, minced
1 red tomato, thinly sliced
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
180 grams of feta cheese, crumbled
1 cucumber, halved, seeded, thinly sliced
2 large Beefsteak tomatoes, seeded, chopped in 1 cm cubes
2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Prepare dressing by dissolving salt and pepper in lemon juice. Add olive oil gradually and while mixing vigorously.
In a large bowl, mix all other ingredients thoroughly.
Pour over dressing, toss and serve with French baguette.