Native to the Americas, tomatoes have been traced back to the Aztecs, around 700 AD. It was not until the 1500s that the tomato reached Europe. The pomi d’oro, or golden apples, are believed to have arrived in Europe via Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. The strange, yellow fruits were thought of as eggplants and were widely accepted by lower class, southern Europeans, but considered poisonous by the wealthy upper classes in England. Theory has it that the acid in tomatoes caused the lead in their old pewter plates to leach out, giving them toxic stomach upsets. Mass European immigration and the blending of cultures brought the pomme d’amour (love apple) back across the pond where it was finally introduced to Canada and North America 200 years later.
The word “tomato” comes from the Aztec language word “tomat”, meaning “the swelling fruit.” The scientific name Solanium lycospericum interpreted literally means “wolf peach.” As members of the deadly nightshade family, the leaves, stems, and immature fruits of tomato plants do not produce solanine, but a different alkaloid which is less toxic, tomatine. Many members of the Solanaceae family are indeed poisonous or hallucinogenic, so its bad reputation is warranted. Germanic people believed werewolves could be created from members of this family. However, the French word for tomato is pomme d’amour (apple of love). They obviously had a very different opinion of this food.
Tomatoes are fruits, which are botanically classified as a berry, but are considered a vegetable. There are two types of plants: indeterminate, which has a weak stem that sprawls and requires support. It grows as a perennial in their natural habitat. The prickly hairs all over the vines facilitate the vining process. When they touch the ground, they develop into roots. Determinate, or bush plants, stop growing at a certain height and produce fruit all at the same time. The size and color of the fruit depends on the cultivar and typically range from 1/2 of an inch to five inches in width. There are over 10,000 varieties and they grow in the shape of pears, ovals, hearts, spheres, ribbed like an accordion or even pointed like a bull horn. The colors range from blue, pink, red, yellow, orange, green with or without stripes and even white. Some tomatoes have very few seeds and are hollow inside, others are thick and juicy with lots of seeds. They are best stored stem side down, unwashed at room temperature, and out of direct sunlight. Do not refrigerate as this causes the tomatoes to permanently lose flavor.
Commercially grown tomatoes are harvested and transported while green. Before selling they are sprayed with artificial ethylene gas which causes them to turn red. Because they have not been allowed to ripen naturally, the flavor is inhibited because of the low sugar content. Another interesting fact, the tomato was the first genetically modified food—called Flavr Savr, which was engineered to have a long shelf life.
As is in the name, tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene. This has been linked to reduced heart disease and lower cancer rates and are a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K. Tomatoes are an excellent source of fiber and low in carbs since they are made up of 95 percent water. Gram for gram, the amount of lycopene in processed tomato products is much higher than in fresh. Combining fats with lycopene can increase absorption by up to four times (not everyone absorbs at the same rate). According to one study, people who ingested 1.3 ounces of tomato paste (16 milligrams of lycopene) with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 40 percent less sunburn. Even though processed tomatoes are higher in lycopene, it is recommended to consume fresh, whole tomatoes whenever possible. Getting healthy never tasted so good!
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
4 lbs of plum tomatoes (My favorite are Opolka. It’s a Polish heirloom that is dark red, solid with very few seeds, thin skin, and high sugar content.)
4 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Salt (season to taste—more or less)
Wash and dry tomatoes, cut lengthwise in half. Place cut side up on a baking tray. Fill the entire tray, stuffing them together to keep from sliding around. Drizzle the tops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 3 hours.
Once they are done, turn off the heat and let them cool down inside the oven. Carefully remove the tray from the oven—you don’t want to spill any of the sweet, oily juices into the bottom of the oven. Immediately spread on a piece of crusty bread, or just eat with a fork. These tomatoes are heavenly mixed with hot pasta, spread on pizza dough, as additions to sandwiches, or any other place you want that umami addition to a recipe.
Greek Stuffed Tomatoes
4 large, round tomatoes (yellow or red)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup basmati rice
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 cups water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons fresh, chopped mint
Cut the top 1/8 of the tomato off and set aside. Using a melon baller or spoon, scoop out all the flesh inside the tomato leaving the sides intact. Chop up the tomato insides and place in a bowl with the juices. In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add onions, and garlic. Cook at medium for approximately 5 minutes then add chopped tomatoes, capers, and rice. Saute to mix all ingredients, add water and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down the heat to a low simmer for 15-18 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed, mix in mint, and salt and pepper to taste. Place the tomato shells in a baking pan with high sides. Evenly stuff each tomato with the rice mixture and then place it’s lid back on. Drizzle first, with olive oil, and then the white wine. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes (be sure to baste the tomatoes every 10 minutes with the wine juices to keep the tops from drying out) taking the foil off after 30 minutes. Delicious served hot or cold. Opa!
Confetti Caprese Salad
This salad is my favorite way to showcase all the amazing colors of tomatoes I have grown each season. Afterall, who wants just a red tomato when you can have Sungolds, Green Zebra, Brown Berry, Isis Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Big Rainbow, Yellow Brandywine, Aubrey’s Pink, Peace Vine, Yellow Pear, Oxheart, Indigo Rose, Black Icicle, and Striped Roma?
6 cups of fresh, chopped, or whole cherry tomatoes—one inch, bite-sized pieces. As many varieties as you have access to, in as many colors as possible.
2 lbs of fresh buffalo mozzarella—cut into one inch chunks, or use two packs of ciliegia mozzarella
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons of chopped, fresh basil
2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
Salt and pepper to taste
On a large platter, place tomato chunks, and cherries. You can either mix all the colors together, or display them artfully with each color separated in a spoke pattern. Place the mozarella in the center and sprinkle basil over entire platter. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then thin ribbons of balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.
Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries. But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good.
We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality. Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.
We have so many varieties to choose from; butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean?
The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup or honey.
Saving Seeds and Pollination
The reason we have so many varieties is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety. The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin? You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?).
Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber. So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them.
2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”. Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking. Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting.
Curried Coconut Squash Soup
1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 ¼ teaspoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)
Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).
Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown. Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.
Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*
8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
Preheat oven to 425
Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.
Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet.
Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne
Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly
Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn! The sugars cause it to brown very fast).
This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month. Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.