By Emerald Adkins
Nothing says summer like a beautiful, sun-ripened tomato.
Thomas Jefferson knew that. He wrote of tomatoes in his 1781 book, Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he presents the fruit as one of many plants grown in gardens across the state. According to his garden book, tomatoes were planted in the Monticello vegetable garden from 1809 through 1824, which speaks of deep appreciation for their acidic charms.
In Virginia, tomatoes seem to have first been grown & eaten in Williamsburg in the 1740s. By the end of the century, the plant was well established in the Middle Atlantic States and in the South, and by 1850 had assumed its place as one of the most popular of all garden plants.
Tomatoes come in hundreds of varieties, grown in a rainbow of colors in a taste range suited for everyone’s palate. They come smooth and knobbly, tiny and enormous, mild, tart, acidic, sweet. They’re simmered in sauces, broiled, sun-dried, eaten in salsa and salads, or right in hand in big messy bites that dribble delightfully like a memory from childhood.
Although tomatoes are available year-round in stores, they are most delicious when fresh from the garden. They are among the most commonly grown edible in home gardens, and widely available this time of year at farmer’s markets, and grocery stores and restaurants which source locally.
Look for clear-skinned, full-fleshed fruit with good, deep color, preferably free of blemishes. At home, set the tomatoes stem-side down on the counter or on a sunny windowsill to finish ripening.
Here’s a recipe to try, from Bert Greene’s book, Greene on Greens:
Baked Herbed Tomatoes
4 medium tomatoes
1 large shallot, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ tsp anchovy paste
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
- Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. Gently squeeze out the seeds. Sprinkle each half with salt and turn upside down on paper towels. Let stand 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400° Mash the shallot with the garlic and anchovy paste in a medium bowl. Stir in the butter, the herbs, and the breadcrumbs. Mix well.
- Spoon the crumb mixture onto each tomato half, packing the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with pepper to taste. Bake ten minutes, then place under a broiler until lightly browned. Serve hot, or cold sprinkled with vinegar and oil.