Plenty of Home Grown Tomatoes

For Immediate Release
Plenty of Home Grown Tomatoes
August 17, 2009

Late blight of tomatoes and potatoes has been in the news this summer because the cool, wet weather across much of the state earlier in the summer was ideal for the growth of the fungus that causes the disease. Indeed, there is more late blight reported in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states than any time in recent memory. But consumers need not worry about a shortage of vine-ripened Pennsylvania tomatoes. Commercial growers are able to protect their crops from the disease and, despite some losses, expect to harvest plenty of tomatoes to keep farmers’ markets, roadside farm markets and supermarkets well supplied.

Pennsylvania tomatoes are not only “Simply Delicious” but they are also “Simply Nutritious”.  One medium tomato supplies over 40 percent of the daily allowance of vitamin C and 20 percent  of vitamin A  plus potassium — all with only 35 calories.  Tomatoes are also contain generous amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect the body from cancer.

August is the peak season for “Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” Pennsylvania tomatoes and many other locally grown vegetables.  That’s why  the Governor and General Assembly have both proclaimed August as Pennsylvania Produce Month.  Tomatoes and an abundance of other Pennsylvania produce are available at roadside farm markets, community farmers’ markets and supermarkets across the state.

Consumers concerned with rising food prices might want to consider buying a bushel or two of Pennsylvania tomatoes from a local farmer and canning a couple batches of homemade tomato sauce with Grandma’s secret family recipe.  Tomatoes are one of the simpler vegetables to can at home.  Home canning Pennsylvania tomatoes will save gallons of fossil fuels used to truck canned product across the country.  Penn State University offers detailed instructions and recipes on how to safely can tomatoes (and other vegetables) at home.  This information is available on the web athttp://foodsafety.psu.edu/lets_preserve.html,  by contacting any Penn State Cooperative Extension office, or by contacting the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program at 717-694-3596.

Of course another alternative to reduce your carbon footprint is to purchase commercially canned tomato products produced by Pennsylvania food processors from Pennsylvania tomatoes.

Pennsylvania’s fresh market tomato crop is grown on about 2,000 acres.  Another 1,500 acres are used to grow tomatoes for food processors for use in several brands of tomato products.  In addition, about 15 acres of Pennsylvania greenhouses

produce tomatoes during the spring and fall months when they cannot be grown in the field.   Those acreages rank Pennsylvania eighth in the production of fresh market tomatoes.  In number of acres, tomatoes trail  sweet corn, snap beans, potatoes and pumpkins as a leading Pennsylvania vegetable crop.  However, tomatoes typically are second or third in value.

Many local growers are growing heirloom varieties that are noted for their distinctive flavors.  But local growers can offer superior quality tomatoes of ordinary varieties as well for one simple reason.  They can allow them to ripen in the field.  A fully ripened tomato cannot be shipped any distance.  Any grower who has to ship his product is forced to harvest tomatoes before they are ripe so they will not bruise.   In truth, the blame for poor tasting tomatoes lies not so much with the grower but with subsequent handlers and even the consumer.

Tomatoes picked before they are fully ripe can develop an appetizing flavor and texture if two basic conditions are met.  First, the tomatoes must not be refrigerated.  They should be stored at room temperature or at least above 55ºF.  Unripe tomatoes that have been subjected to temperatures below this level will never ripen satisfactorily.

The second condition is patience.  Tomatoes that are on the pink side need several days at room temperature to develop a deep red color (and the desired tomato flavor).  They should also soften slightly.  Only when they have fully ripened like this should they be refrigerated and then only if necessary.  Refrigerated tomatoes will have a better eating flavor if they are allowed to warm to room temperature before serving.

Pennsylvania tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  The most common is the larger round, red tomato that can be sliced for sandwiches or burgers, cut in wedges for eating directly, diced for salads or tacos, or cooked into numerous kinds of sauces.  Small round tomatoes, also called cherry or grape tomatoes depending on their size, are perfect for salads or as a garnish.  Plum tomatoes (sometimes called Italian or Roma tomatoes) are the choice for preparing secret family-recipe sauces as they cook down to a rich, thick sauce.

Health authorities recommend most Americans eat at least 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day.  The following recipes from the 2008 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest offer creative ways to help include tomatoes in your menus:

 

Summer Salad

Serves 6

 

2 slices     Provolone Cheese – one-inch thick slices

3 slices     Hard Salami – one-inch thick slices

4                Tomatoes – large

4                Sweet Bell Peppers – large, any color

Zesty Italian Dressing

 

Cut the provolone and hard salami into bite-sized cubes. Place in a large serving bowl.

Cut the tomatoes and peppers into bite-sized chunks and place in the bowl. Add enough dressing to cover the vegetables. The salad can be eaten right away or refrigerated for a nice cool side dish or light meal.

 

Submitted by Krista Harding, Orwigsburg.

 

 

Tomatoes Provençale

Serves 4

 

2 T.            Olive Oil

1/4 tsp.     Salt

1 clove      Garlic – minced

1/2 tsp.     Oregano – dried leaf

Black Pepper – freshly ground, to taste

4                Tomatoes – large, cut in half crosswise, seeded

1 T.            Parsley – fresh, finely chopped

2 T.            Bread Crumbs – coarsely chopped

 

In a large flat bottom microwave-save casserole dish, combine olive oil, salt, garlic and oregano. Season with pepper. Place tomatoes in dish, cut side down. Cover tightly. Microwave on high 3 minutes. Brush tomatoes to coat with oil. Re-cover and microwave on high 2 to 3 minutes more or until tomatoes are tender. Place tomatoes on serving platter. Stir parsley and bread crumbs into seasoned oil in dish. Microwave on high 2 minutes. Spoon crumb mixture over tomatoes. Makes 4 servings.

 

Submitted by Emily Meloy, Danville.

 

Scalloped Tomatoes

Serves 4

 

3 c.            Tomatoes – whole canned or fresh, sliced

1                Cucumber – medium, pared and sliced

1                Onion – small, sliced

1/2 c.         Bread Crumbs

1/8 c.         Margarine – chilled

1/2 c.         Cheddar Cheese – grated

Salt and Pepper

 

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Layer half of the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion slices, and bread crumbs into greased baking/casserole dish. Season layer with salt and pepper. Repeat layering with remaining vegetables and bread crumbs but set aside a few tomato slices. Season top layer with salt and pepper. Dot with margarine pats. Top with tomato slices and sprinkle with cheese. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

 

Submitted by Christine Chalusian, Dover.

 

Tomato Soup

Serves 6 to 8

 

2 T.            Olive Oil

1                Onion – large

4 cloves    Garlic, minced

3 lbs.         Tomatoes – fresh, ripe, peeled, seeded and chopped

(or 56 oz. of whole canned tomatoes, seeded and chopped)

1  1/2 qt.   Chicken Broth

1 T.            Basil – fresh, chopped

1/4 tsp.     Red Pepper – flakes

2 T.            Tomato Paste

2 T.            Olive Oil

2 cloves    Garlic – thinly sliced

1 loaf         Italian Bread – sliced

Olive Oil – for brushing

1/4 c.         Parmesan Cheese – grated

2 T.            Basil – fresh, chopped

 

In a large pot, sauté onion in olive oil until limp and almost brown. Add the garlic and sauté about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, basil, red pepper, and paste.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes. While simmering, in a small skillet, sauté sliced garlic in 2 T. olive oil until golden.  Add sautéed garlic to the soup when done simmering.  Brush bread slices with oil, top with grated cheese, and brown in the oven at 350ºF for 10 minutes.  Ladle soup into bowls over a slice of bread. Top with fresh basil. Enjoy!

 

Submitted by Sophia Dominick, Brodheadsville.

 

 

Quick Buying Tips for Fresh Pennsylvania Tomatoes

—    Tomatoes must ripen to a deep, rich red color to achieve their best flavor.

—    Ripen pink tomatoes at 60 degrees – 70 degrees Fahrenheit in an open area with good air circulation.

—    Never refrigerate tomatoes until they are red and fully ripened.