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A summer tomato is a blessing to behold with a taste that's like none other. We wait months as the hard green orbs take on a pinkish tint before turning a bold red — or purple, green, orange, yellow, streaked or striped. They come in a rainbow of colors that range in flavor, so there's a tomato for every taste.

"Our favorite here are the orange Valencia tomatoes," says Andy Boyd, assistant greenhouse manager at Crabtree Farms, a 22-acre urban farm in the shadow of Lookout Mountain. "And just like the name implies, it's kind of citrusy — a little sweet and a little acidic. They're bright orange and beautiful, about the size of an apple."

Crabtree has 20 varieties of tomatoes this season, growing in fields and greenhouses, and it's now that most are ripe and ready. None are genetically modified; all are either hybrid varieties or heirloom.

The farm divides its tomatoes into three categories:

* Those wonderful, cheery cherry tomatoes that you can pop in your mouth like candy. No summer salad is complete without them.

* Big, beautiful tomatoes for slicing for sandwiches and burgers.

* And Roma tomatoes that are best-used in sauces and tomato paste.

Depending on color, a tomato may have some citrus notes, such as orange Valencias. Pink tomatoes take a sweeter flavor approach. The darker the tomato, the bolder and richer the flavor.

"They're all tomatoes, though, and they're all gonna taste like a tomato. But they have different flavors that might be good for different things," Boyd notes.

Crabtree Farms has long been a favorite place to pick your own blueberries and blackberries, something they're offering again this summer. But for the first time in its 22-year history, the farm is offering pick-your-own tomatoes.

"We've always been a very community-oriented farm," Boyd says. "So at the end of the season last year, we started thinking about ways we could focus more on our community and grow people through food, not food through people — a way to engage people by having them come out and experience the farm in a more hands-on way."

There are 16 varieties of tomatoes offered for you-pick on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as one yet-to-be-determined weekday.

The farm will adhere to self-distancing guidelines as much as possible and offer hand-sanitizing stations, as well as one-way signage through the pick-your-own fields. Reservations must be made in advance (see box).

More Info

* Crabtree Farms, 1000 E. 30th St. (follow signs off Rossville Boulevard). Pick your own on Fridays and Saturdays. (Additional days will be posted at crabtreefarms.org). Reservations are necessary. Sign up at https://app.barn2door.com/e/36zL3/all. For more information, log onto the website, Facebook or Instagram.

* Gary Swafford Farms, 489 Summer City Road, Pikeville, Tennessee. Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday (all times Eastern). For more information and availability, check out the farm’s Facebook account.

Here are five ways to make the most of tomato season 2020.

1. Tomato cobbler: This is a new take on traditional tomato pie, a favorite here in the South. Rather than having pastry on the bottom, as most pies do, Tomato Cobbler is just like it sounds — savory biscuits spiked with whole-grain mustard are placed atop a bed of colorful heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, making a cobbler overflowing with tomato temptation.

2. Ugly tomato gazpacho: If your tomatoes are as pretty as a picture, don't throw them out. They can't help what Mother Nature did to them. Instead, turn them into delicious gazpacho, a filling summertime soup best served cold with some crusty ciabatta.

3. Tomato jam: Have you ever wanted a flavor you could bottle and savor throughout the year? This tomato jam is it. It's best when made using summer-ripe tomatoes you've plucked from your garden or brought home from a local farm or market. Slather it on a grilled cheese sandwich, dollop some on scrambled eggs or spread some on a bagel. This is the jam you've been waiting for.

4. Tomato sauce: If you've never had fresh tomato sauce, you don't know what you're missing. Try it over pasta, or add some spicy horseradish for a delicious cocktail sauce for grilled shrimp. And to keep the taste of summer going, freeze some in freezer bags and bring it out in the dead of winter.

5. Tomato salad: Cooking Light turns tomato salad on its head with a salad that features not only tomatoes but summer peaches, mint and tangy goat cheese.

 

Tomato Cobbler

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1 large sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups of cherry tomato halves

Biscuit topping:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, thinly sliced

2/3 cup whole milk, plus more for brushing

2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the tomato filling: Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof skillet. Add the chopped onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and light brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and cayenne pepper. Cook and stir for 1 more minute, then add the chopped tomatoes, brown sugar and salt.

Bring to a simmer and cook just until the tomatoes start to soften, 4-5 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove the skillet from the heat, and gently stir in the flour and cherry tomatoes. Dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

To make the biscuit topping, whisk together the flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper in a medium bowl. Add the sliced butter and, using a pastry cutter, blend the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup of milk, the thyme and mustard to the flour mixture. Gently stir with a fork just until a sticky dough forms. Do not overmix.

Using an ice cream scoop, drop balls of dough over the filling. Brush the dough balls with milk, and bake until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly, 55-60 minutes. Allow the cobbler to rest about 15 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

 

Crabtree's Ugly Tomato Gazpacho

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped (any color and type will do, ugly or not)

1 cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped

1 green pepper, cored, seeded and roughly chopped

1/2 small red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 thick slice of bread, crusts removed, soaked and squeezed (hold the crustless bread under running water and then gently squeeze out excess water)

Optional garnishes: homemade croutons, chopped fresh herbs, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil or any leftover chopped gazpacho ingredients

Combine all ingredients except the garnishes in a blender or food processor; puree for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer the soup to a sealed container, and refrigerate for 4 hours or until completely chilled.

Serve the soup cold, and garnish with your favorite toppings.

 

Tomato Jam

3 pounds ripe tomatoes

1/2 cup finely diced white onion

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped basil leaves

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and blanch the tomatoes a few at a time, until the peels loosen (about 1 minute). Transfer immediately to an ice bath to cool, and peel carefully. Remove the cores and dice.

Place the diced tomatoes in a large saucepan with the remaining ingredients; stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the temperature to medium, keeping a slow simmer going.

Cook for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed, until the mixture is thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat, and transfer to another container to cool.

Serve at room temperature, or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

 

Fresh Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

4 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon salt

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic powder; cook and stir until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, sugar, basil, parsley, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 1 to 2 hours.

 

Southern Tomato Salad

2 cups halved, multicolored cherry tomatoes

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup sliced fresh peaches

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 ounce crumbled goat cheese

Combine tomatoes and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Add peaches, olive oil, mint leaves, vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt; toss. Top with pepper and crumbled goat cheese. Makes 3-4 servings.

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Photo by Anne Braly / Andy Boyd, assistant greenhouse manager at Crabtree Farms, checks the progress of the plants growing in the pick-your-own tomato patch.
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