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TOMATOES, TASTES, AND TIMING

Hey Y’all! As it’s in the thick of Tomato Season and it is raining all the deliciousness that comes from them, I thought I’d give you my 2 cents on tomatoes to hopefully help you enjoy the season (and your tomatoes) just a little more!



PVC’s and Ripening

There are literally over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes in the world and each will have their own Peak Varietal Characteristics (PVC’s)! Some will be yellow, some purple, and some green when they are ripe. But with the majority of them, other than tomatillos, they will yield very gently, be heavy for their size and exhibit fully developed color when they are ripe. When selecting tomatoes, be gentle!! I often touch multiple tomatoes to find ones that are the level of ripeness that I am looking for. Unless I am cooking large quantities of food in a professional setting, I often select tomatoes so that some will be ripe for today, some in a day or two, and some in a few days to utilize them when they are at their peak ripeness. I stress to be gentle when checking tomatoes for ripeness (especially at the farmers markets!!) because you hardly need to press at all to tell how ripe a tomato is and pressing too hard can bruise the tomatoes. Bruising tomatoes, especially at a farmers market, is a real crappy move either for your tomatoes, or even worse, if you aren’t going to buy them.


Tomatoes won’t ripen if you put them in the fridge!!! This is a big one and there are chefs out there that won’t eat tomatoes that have been in the fridge. I certainly won't go that far, but if a tomato drops below 55º F (i.e. gets put in the fridge), it will not continue to ripen, even if you take it out of the fridge later. If you want to ripen tomatoes, put them on a plate with the stem side down, near a window, but not in direct sunlight. Check them daily and turn them over as they might start to ripen on the side that is down first before they look ripe on the side that is up. If they are ripe before you want to use them, then you can put them in the fridge to slow the ripening/rotting process (all part of the same cycle) until you are ready to eat them. Putting them in the fridge won’t stop them from rotting, but it will stop the ripening process and lengthen the shelf life of the tomato. However, always refrigerate cut tomatoes! A cut tomato is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow (moist, mild acidity, sugar) so whatever tomatoes that you don’t end up eating after they’ve been cut should be stored in the fridge for safety. :D



Color Has Flavor!

One of my favorite things with food is finding new and different varieties and tomatoes are specifically suited for this adventure! I like learning about their distinct flavors and coming up with specific ways to showcase each of their individual qualities in different preparations and flavor combinations. Tomatoes showcase something that simply thinking about flavor for decades has taught me; color has flavor in foods! Orange tomatoes taste a little similar to sweet carrots, yellow tomatoes have a bit of a bright, almost lemony flavor, green tomatoes (that are green when they are ripe) have a green grape/kiwi or green vegetal flavor, and the dark purple tomatoes have a deepness to them, a little similar to chocolate or dark grapes. The best way to test this theory out for yourself is to buy a mixed box of cherry tomatoes at the farmers market and do a side by side tasting of the different colored tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes in half and make sure you give them a little salt to help draw out their flavors!



Speaking of Salt…

I try to encourage everyone to be their own chef and do things if they make sense for their cooking, not simply tell them what to do. Seasoning tomatoes is one of the few things that I will defend to just about anyone. Seriously, Salt Your Tomatoes Independently!! However you use them! I’m mainly talking about any fresh preparation, as you should always be seasoning your food (including tomatoes) whenever you are cooking anything, but in fresh preparations (putting on sandwiches, on top of toasts, in salads, or just eating straight) I see people regularly forget to season the tomato independently and it is such a missed opportunity! However you use your fresh tomatoes, please, please, please, season it with at least salt (and maybe even a little fresh cracked pepper) right before you serve it. It will draw out the flavor (and the moisture as well, hence why you should do it right before eating) and take your tomatoes to another level. This is one of the simple little things in cooking that I just call “showing the love” where a little bit of knowledge and a few seconds of care can really elevate the quality of your food! You won’t be sorry! :D



Seasonality: Bathe then wait! If you can…

Tomato Season!!! It’s the time to enjoy tomatoes when they are at their best; when they are brought to full maturity on the vine, when the growing days are the longest, and there is as little time between picking and eating. A long time ago I heard a saying about the seasonality of produce and I think it sums up tomatoes well. It goes:


“Wait until it’s the season (of the item you are talking about) and bathe in it! Then wait patiently with bated breath until it comes around again!”


Tomatoes, when in season, are so unbelievably great that they are simply a different thing when it is off season (fall, early spring, and winter). Now, that being said, tomatoes grown in a hot house in the off season that are cared for with love can still be great, but they simply will never be as good as one grown in optimal conditions, in season. Period.


Now, I love tomatoes on sandwiches and in lots of other preparations whenever it’s not tomato season. But just know that if you choose to eat them when not in season, they simply won’t be as amazing as they are when in season. I will occasionally get a few tomatoes in off season, ripen them appropriately and use them however I feel but they are never anywhere close to what tomatoes are in season. I won’t tell you what to do, but I will tell you to manage your expectations when it’s not the season. This is simply part of celebrating the seasons with food!



Used to be a hater! Now it’s all Love!!

Now, all this tomato love is coming from a full convert. When I was young and even into my career, I thought tomatoes were disgusting! It was a texture thing for me at first, but then I realized what beautifully ripe, in season, and properly treated and seasoned tomatoes were and I fully changed my tune! I also realized that what I thought a “tomato” was growing up was apparently very unripe, industrially farmed (no love given), refrigerated, and under-seasoned. Yuck! I don’t like that now so no wonder I didn’t like that as a kid!


Tomatoes are one of the many things that I realized, as I grew in my career, I simply didn’t like because they had been done/taken care of so badly when I first had them. I can’t stress this enough… WHEN FOOD IS AT ITS PEAK AND HANDLED WELL, ALL FOOD IS AMAZING!!! I can’t tell you how often I have gotten over my career some version of “I hate XXX (type of produce/protein), but THIS (what I just served them) is amazing!!!” It is one of my favorite things to hear because what I have learned is that most aversions to certain foods are simply aversions to food that is cooked, seasoned, or ripened extremely poorly. This is one of the reasons that I focus so much on the foundations of food and cooking and not on the “fancy stuff”. Yes, I can create beautiful, creative, and delicious food on the highest stages of the culinary world. I’ve done it for the majority of my career, I can send you all the proof you need if you really want to call me on it. But why I spend so much of my time on the simple things is because they are the things that truly change the average cook’s (or person’s) lives with food. They did it with me and my food and life. And I have been doing this enough to know they can do it for pretty much anyone who is open to learning and trying something new or again when it’s been shown the love it deserves…


I hope this helps you enjoy your Tomato Season and all the other seasons happening now and to come!! Happy Cooking, Y’all!! :D

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