Nothing says, “Summer,” like a homegrown tomato. _____________________________________
Ok, I hear you out there in blogland. You are sneering. It’s coming through, loud and clear. And you know what? You are R-I-G-H-T! I do have a brown thumb and every attempt to grow my own tomatoes has sucked wind…badly. (Is it even possible to suck wind in a good way? Hmmm, I will have to investigate that…)
Yes, so I am agriculturally challenged. And I have the PETP folks after me most of my days because anytime I buy plants from the garden store I automatically sign their death warrant. Poor dears, they have a good week or two at least and they tend to get an abundance of water and food. *sniff* By the way, for those of you who aren’t aware, PETP = People for the Ethical Treatment of Plants. ;)
So I cheat...a little. What’s a little cheating amongst friends, right? I buy my homegrown tomatoes. I’m not afraid to admit that one iota. And I adore our farm stand. The stand is more of a little produce shop, really. It’s owned and run by a family who has been in the area for generations and whose family helped to settle the area. The stand sits next to their farm which is a good place for it to sit; since they are selling farm produce…They sell everything this Texan lusts after during the dog days of summer, with my beloved tomatoes topping the list:
Tomatoes – Great big beefsteak tomatoes, juicy yet meaty
Cucumbers – Vine ripened and delicate tasting
Summer Squashes – Several varieties to choose from here, gorgeous
String Beans – Tender and fresh off the vine
Okra – Crisp and small, tender all the way through
Potatoes – Fingerlings and beyond
Onions – All colors sweet and hot
Green Onions – Crisp and grassy with huge fragrant bulb ends
Jalapenos & Cilantro – What Texan could live without these?
Fresh beans and peas – Pintos, Purple Hull, Cream Peas, Black ‘o’ peas
Corn – Sweet, tender and juicy
Peaches – Fresh and in-season from Fairfield, TX (famous for peaches)
Watermelon – Sweet and juicy and waiting for a seed-spittin’ contest
Cantaloupe – Golden globes of juicy perfection
Plums – Sweet and firm with juice that drips down your arm as you eat it
Berries – Fresh in season (alas, we are past berry season here)
Eggs – Fresh from the chicken with orange yolks that stand tall & proud
After a visit to my farm stand, I come home rabid for a good Southern-style veggie dinner. It always begins the same way: sliced tomatoes with a side of sliced onions and cucumbers marinated in home style vinaigrette, followed closely by fresh okra and tomatoes, cream peas cooked in salt pork, corn on the cob and homemade macaroni and cheese made with farm-fresh eggs. A big slice of buttered corn-bread rounds out the menu. If there’s room after, we’ll have a gorgeous lattice-topped peach cobbler, bubbling and juicy and topped with a dollop of homemade Blue Bell Vanilla Ice Cream. Who needs meat with a menu like that?
Some of my best food memories were eating meals like this during the summer. We never had a garden. Not exactly sure why but I think it had a lot to do with having five busy kids and both Mom & Dad worked long hours. Most of the time, we subsisted on veggies from the grocery and as it was during the ‘60s, much of the veggies were either canned or frozen. Somehow though, we found ways to get at least one or two meals made from fresh veggies produced by local farmers. And those were meals I relished with glee and still make me nostalgic, today.
Another personal favorite of mine is the fresh tomato sandwich. And if you are lucky enough to have a bit of bacon, a BLT is a nice combo, too! The Southern Tomato Sandwich is so simple to make. Take two slices of fresh sandwich bread (the fresher the better), Hellman’s Mayonnaise (it must be Hellman’s), Salt and Pepper and heeeeeewwwwww doggy! It’s awesome! Some people add lettuce to this sandwich or else a slice of onion. Those are both great but not necessary in my book. I also adore getting some of the green tomatoes and frying them in a cornmeal breading. Now that’s the taste of a Southern Summer!
Here’s a great, old-fashioned recipe for Homegrown Tomatoes:
Tomato, Cucumber & Onion Salad
Serves 4 – 6
2-3 Large Beefsteak Tomatoes
2 Cucumbers, peeled
1 Medium Purple Onion
Mustard Tarragon Vinaigrette
Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste
Wash, dry and core tomatoes. Cut each tomato into 8 vertical wedges. Add to medium, non-reactive*, salad bowl. Slice cucumbers in half, lengthwise then cut cross-wise into ½” chunks. Add to bowl. Trim ends off of purple onion and peel off tough, outer layers. Cut onion in half vertical and slice it into thin vertical wedges about ¼” thick. Onions will become separated when you toss it with the dressing. Combine veggies with about 1/2 cup of the dressing and place in a container with a lid, in the fridge. Every few hours go in and turn the bowl to rearrange the veggies within the dressing. This is best made about 2-4 hours ahead but in a pinch, can be served immediately. It will also be good the next day.
*Non-reactive bowl tip: Tomatoes are an acidic food. Using a stainless steel, glass or plastic bowl eliminates any chance of having a chemical reaction occur from the acid and metal coming into contact with each other.
Mustard Tarragon Vinaigrette
2 Cloves Garlic, minced or pressed
1 Scant Tbsp Country Style Dijon (You can sub out regular Dijon)
1-2 Tablespoons Fresh Tarragon
1/3 Cup Lemon Juice, squeezed from fresh
½ Cup Olive Oil
1 Pinch of Granulated Sugar
2 Tbsp Water
In small non-reactive bowl, whisk together minced garlic and mustard. Whisk in lemon juice and water. Once combined, slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking with the addition to make an emulsion. Add chopped tarragon, salt, pepper and pinch of sugar. Whisk to incorporate.
This is not a sweet dressing. The pinch of sugar will be virtually indistinguishable. The purpose of the sugar is to cut a bit of the acidity of the lemon and help balance it. The licorice or anise flavor of the tarragon is a great combination with both tomato and cucumber, especially when paired with the citrus of the lemon.
This dressing is completely awesome with any veggie salad. It works great with mushrooms and also works well with artichokes and fresh asparagus. You can easily substitute any herb in place of the tarragon, to make it versatile with other dishes. (i.e. Serving a salad to go along with lamb? Sub out the tarragon for fresh mint!)
You know, I always marvel after a visit to “the stand”, how little it costs. Veggies and fruits have become outrageously expensive in the grocery store. For $1.99/lb you too can have hydroponic tomatoes, picked green and ripened off the vine! $1.79/lb will get you zucchini trucked in from California and full of ripped skins and pock marks.
I have estimated that we save at least 50% by buying farm produce and sometimes, it’s as much as 60%! I even get “seconds” which are tomatoes that didn’t make the first cull for only $0.50/lb. Can you imagine only paying $0.50/lb for a homegrown tomato? What’s not to love about buying produce so fresh that only that morning it was on the vine or still in the ground? I love knowing WHO grew my veggies. I heart knowing that my money helps support their family and helps perpetuate the livelihood of the small, family farm.
Hug a farmer! Go buy your homegrown tomatoes today!
Blue Zebra Shopping Tip:
Who isn’t on a budget these days? It feels like inflation is going through the roof, even though the government claims there isn’t any inflation. That’s kinda like saying, “What purple elephant dancing in the middle of the living room?”
But the point is, it’s so hard buying nutritious food when your budget is sooo tight you barely have food factored into it. One of the things that helps me tremendously is shopping for veggies at the farmer’s market or farm stand. I can save 50-60% on my produce costs AND get produce that is often freshly picked the morning of purchase. It has more flavor, better nutrients and saves me money. How cool, yes?
Another thing, when you are at your farm stand, either look for or ask about “seconds” or “culls”. My stand has “culled tomatoes”. These are fruits that have blemishes, or spots or cracks or something that keeps them from selling at full price. They are only $0.50/lb at my market! Can you imagine a fresh tomato for $0.50/lb? What do I care about its looks? It could have giant ears and buck teeth as long as it tastes great! I use them for cooking sauces or for freezing. I just cut off the bad spot/s and move forward through the fog with it. It eats the same! I also will just slice or chop around it and use the tomato as purposed, in salads. It’s a bargain.
You can often find peaches with the same dilemma. Bruised spots can be cut out. So try your local farmer’s market or farm stand and experience the economy provided by cutting out the middle man. Get “it” fresh off the vine!
(“This message brought to you by the family farmers of America.”) ;)