published Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Side Orders: Tomatoes are now in season

Wild cherry tomatoes, bottom left, and glacier tomatoes from Tant Hill Farm are displayed at Main St. Farmers Market in Chattanooga.
Wild cherry tomatoes, bottom left, and glacier tomatoes from Tant Hill Farm are displayed at Main St. Farmers Market in Chattanooga.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

God gave us memories so we could have summer tomatoes in December ... a retooled quote from author J.M. Barrie, but oh so true.

Vine-ripened tomatoes come just once a year, but their taste stays with us for months to come. Now, though, the time has come, and the gems of summer are at their zenith. Tomatoes are filling area gardens and, if you are a lover of summer's best vegetable, this must be your favorite time of year.

Tomatoes have deliciously sweet homegrown flavors and, whether you get them from the pop of a cherry tomato or slice into an heirloom, the taste simply cannot be duplicated in grocery produce sections. It can only found for a couple of months each year growing in the garden outside your window or perhaps bought from a farmer's roadside stand.

"The taste of a homegrown tomato is so much better than store-bought. The flavor is sweeter and the acidity is different and really brings out the flavor," says Kelly Ramsey Elrod at Ramsey's Produce on Access Road in Hixson.

Elrod says local tomatoes are the stand's top-seller during the summer months, starting in late June and continuing into September.

"People come in and start asking for local tomatoes on the first day we open in the spring," she says. "They're already ready for homegrown."

Ramsey's gets its tomatoes vine-ripened from Dayton Mountain and Flat Top Mountain, with a smattering coming from Sand Mountain in Alabama.

Elrod says most of her customers prefer to keep things simple, enjoying their tomatoes cut up and topped with cottage cheese or sliced on a sandwich with a little mayonnaise. Elrod's favorite way to eat them is even simpler: "Just like an apple," she says, only with a little salt and pepper added.

My favorite way to eat them involves just a few more ingredients and is a delicious way to use up those wonderful cherry tomatoes that may be filling your garden. Large tomatoes, such as Big Boy, Brandywine and all other varieties, work just as well. Just be sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces and seed them.

Cherry Tomato Salad

2-3 cups of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, or large tomatoes seeded and chopped

1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber

1/4-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon mint leaves, chiffonaded or chopped

1 teaspoon fresh, chopped oregano

Dressing

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots, chives, green onions or sweet onions

2 teaspoons olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toss the tomatoes, cucumber, feta, onions, mint and oregano together. Combine dressing ingredients and gently toss with tomato mixture and serve.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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