For weeks, I waited impatiently as the early summer gave way to the heat of late July, ushering in tomato season here in Connecticut. And when the first tomatoes appeared in farm stores and at the farmer’s market, I was ecstatic, buying up even the early ones, which aren’t as sweet or juicy August tomatoes. I sliced them and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sprinkled them with sea salt. Sometimes I would add a sprinkle of crumbled feta or a palm-full of chopped fresh mozzarella and basil. My family has been feasting on them as a nightly side dish.
My favorite summer tomatoes are the heirlooms — especially the deeply gnarled ones in shades of yellow, orange and green. They vary in flavor — some sweet and crisp, some tart and firm. To me, these tomatoes are beautiful and perfect. The little ones are better than candy. And the larger ones are perfect for anything from simple tomato salads to creating super tomato sandwiches and BLTs. But these beauties also fall beyond the realm of what’s the norm for tomatoes. That’s not a bad thing — just different.
You’re probably used to the red tomatoes in a variety of shapes and sizes that can be found in grocery stores everywhere. The brilliantly red ones are the most popular, though they seldom carry a flesh as lovely as their exterior.
The uniformity of tomatoes in the grocery store has made people a little wary of tomatoes beyond the norm, I think. Take a recent afternoon in my cousin’s farm store. A customer walked in and looked over the rainbow of early heirlooms. Then she walked all around the store before asking if those were the only tomatoes. It was clear she was seeking the red ones she was used to … which just weren’t available. She left without buying any. The tomatoes were ripe and lovely — but they would never be that jeweled red found in the produce section.
I wish everyone would step beyond their tomato comfort zones. There is so much goodness found in tomatoes of a different shade. Try a green zebra with its sweet but sharp flavor. Open up to a black cherry tomato with its sugary sweet taste. Sink your teeth into a Cherokee Purple with its juicy sweetness. These tomatoes are an awakening as to what the combination of seeds, soil, air, sun and rain can do. Let these tomatoes amaze you.
And one more thing. Just don’t ever store your tomatoes in the fridge. Tomatoes are best stored at room temperature and eaten soon after purchase. Refrigerating them makes them mealy — and that can ruin the best of tomatoes.