Tomato

Even though technically it is a fruit with seeds, the tomato has been treated as a vegetable for most of its history as cooking ingredient.

Fruit or vegetable? it does not matter. Tomatoes have been officially classified as a vegetables to avoid confusion with import duties on those coming from other countries. Whether they are on the fruit or vegetable side of the fence, one thing remains the same for those who love tomatoes: it doesn't matter how you classify a tomato, the only thing of any real significance is how you eat it. There are so many ways!

Where to find tomatoes?

These red veggies are found at farmer's markets, grocery stores, farms, and at roadside stands. You can find a tomato almost anywhere if you look. On very warm climates, tomatoes grow all year round, modern transport and storage make sure there are tomatoes in the shops any time of the year.

Choosing tomatoes

  • Choose globe tomatoes or beefsteak tomatoes - similar to Globe, but larger - for slicing in sandwiches or dicing in salads, these are also good for stuffing and chilling. These are round and may be red, orange, yellow or green. There are many varieties, including heirloom ones.
  • Choose plum or Roma tomatoes for sauces or soups. These are usually oblong and have intense red color.
  • Choose grape tomatoes for snacking - just wash and sprinkle a littl salt on top - and salads.
  • Cherry, pear or currant tomatoes are best for snacking, salads and quick sauteeing. There are small, round or teardrop shape, red or yellow in color. Very sweet flesh.
  • Green tomatoes are unripen tomatoes. They are good for frying, broiling, sauces, salsa, chutney or relish.

Tomato trivia

Tomatoes have been around for many centuries but only been in the forefront of cooking ingredients for less than two. They were introduced to Europe and Western cuisine by the Spanish, who brought them from Peru. Tomatoes became popular in the Mediterranean area because they need warm summers to ripen. In cool climates it is hard to produce a decent crop, so toamtoes were not common until gardeners began to grow them under glass.

People were once afraid of them, thinking they were poisonous. They were grown in gardens for their color. When people overcame that fear, tomatoes were not just grown to add color to the garden but for consumption. In the early days, they wee attributed aphrodisiac qualities.

How to grow tomatoes

Tomatoes are a wonderful addition to any vegetable garden. They add zing and a variety of healthy ingredients to any meal. But growing them can be a little tricky in some areas. Here are some tips about how to maximize your crop and minimize your problems producing them.

There are two broad categories of tomato plant, those that form a flower cluster at a terminal point and those that continue to grow taller indefinitely. The latter are called indeterminate and they tend to mature very late in the season. That makes them subject to possible frost damage.

Tomatoes love sun. They like very hot, dry soil and air. When they get it they grow up big and plump with healthy leaves. But cold temperatures will cause them to die rapidly.

Dealing with that potential problem involves employing a number of techniques. Some growers will utilize a small, mobile greenhouse to cover the tomato when frost is likely. Others simply plant and harvest early enough that the problem never occurs. Which you employ and when depends on your specific growing season - when it begins and ends.

The opposite problem can occur, however with other varieties - sunburning. These so-called first early varieties are well suited to northern climates since they are often ready to harvest in 60 days or less. The cooler climates are perfect for these medium sized species.

Beyond weather problems, tomatoes are at risk for a number of common diseases, pests and soil problems.

Blossom end rot, caused by a calcium deficiency, appears as a large brown spot at the bottom of the tomato. It will often produce a soft spot and appear as the tomato ripens. One underlying cause is an uneven watering practice. Water helps transport calcium into the plant.

The only solution is to pick the affected tomatoes off to give the others the best chance to thrive. But preventative methods are preferable. Water deeply to encourage deep root growth. Mulch around the plants to help the topsoil retain moisture during dry spells. Keep the pH around 6.5.

Tomato hornworms are a common scourge of all tomato growers. These four-inch larvae tend to blend into the green stems of the tomato plant. But they can be seen by the aid of the long white stripes down their sides. They have a large false eyespot, a black spot, on the tail.

The adults are large brown moths that may achieve wingspans of up to five inches. Marigolds, basil and other trap crops can help keep them off the tomato plants where they lay their eggs that develop into larvae.

Aphids are another common problem for tomatoes, as they are with many plants. They are tiny (1/10 inch across), soft-bodied bugs that appear yellowish, green or white. They can be temporarily washed off with a hose but will return.

Planting companion crops such as petunias, anise or coriander can help control them. But there are also many insecticide soaps that eliminate the problem without harming the tomatoes or you when you eat them.

Though they require a bit of care, tomatoes are regarded as well worth the effort by most vegetable gardeners. After all, the whole purpose is to have tasty, healthy vegetables to eat.

Preparation and use

Tomatoes are great for salads especially the grape, cherry, and Roma tomatoes.

There are thousands of ways to serve tomatoes as a main ingredient. Eat them raw in salads - mixed or the simple tomato salad - or cooked in sauces. They make great soups, warm or chilled,. Tomatoes can be stuffed and baked or stewed, and stuffed and chilled. They are used to enhance the flavor of many other foods. Any meat or fish casserole can benefir from the addition of tomato, as chili con carne, and many recipes from the Medterranean area to India and South East Asia will prove

A primary dish for tomatoes is salsa cruda to have with fajitas and tortilla chips, or simply salsa the canned variety . Salsa is great for chips, dip, and as a sauce for chicken and fish.

Herbs and spices to use with tomatoes: allspice, basil, anise seed, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, fines herbes, ginger, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme.

Tomato substitution - If you don't have fresh tomatoes at hand, there are a few things you can try. You can substitute 1 lb (about 500 g) fresh tomatoes with

  • Same weight tomatillos for salads and cooking. - they are tart and add apple and citrus aromas.
  • Same weithgt red bell peppers - Wash and dice for salads. To replace tomato sauce, roast, skin and seed red bell peppers, then puree and add 1 tsp lemon juice; you can use roast red peppers in a jar.
  • 1½ cups (375 ml) canned tomatoes - for cooking, we only know of one recipe for a salad prepared with canned tomatoes.
  • 6-8 sun dried tomatoes, re-hydrated in hot water - only for cooking, their flavor is very intense. You can add a little sundried tomato to a salad or salad dressing as a condiment.
  • 3 Tbs tomato puree to add tomato flavor + liquid - only for cooking.
Close up of tomatoes on the vine.

Tomato