Tomatoes are the main ingredient in many recipes. They are a base for soups, salads and a number of other dishes and condiments. They are loaded with Vitamins C, A and K, Potassium, Manganese and contain fiber and antioxidants essential for keeping our body’s cells, tissue and vital organs healthy.
One of the things I love most about summer is the ripening of the first tomatoes of the season. For me it is God’s confirmation that patience and hard work pay off! Planting, weeding and watering are necessary to make a good garden and if we are willing to work for it we can see results and reap the benefits in good time.
To get started, tomato plants can be purchased from most any farm and garden center in the early spring or you can plant seeds in individual containers and start your own plants indoors. When the last frost has past and the plants are a few inches tall they can be transplanted into your garden.
Each tomato plant can produce from one to a dozen or more tomatoes. As the plants grow taller and the limbs spread out they will produce better when they are supported by wire cages or secured to stakes which are driven firmly into the ground. When you are using cages they should be put over the tomatoes when the plants are newly set out and should be checked often for limbs that may be starting to grow outside the cage. Gently weave these limbs back inside the cage being careful not to break them. If you do happen to break one off accidentally just put it into a glass jar of water and it will grow roots. When the roots are thick on the stem set it out in your tomato row and you have another plant!
Tomato blooms are yellow and will start to appear while your plants are still small. The plants will continue to grow as they bloom and soon little green tomatoes will appear where the blooms have been. Most varieties will produce all summer and you may still have some green ones on the vines when the first frost appears. I try to keep track of the fall weather and just before the first frost I gather the green tomatoes that are left on the vines. They are washed, sliced, battered and fried – a treat to serve with almost any meal or just to eat by themselves.
There are several very good varieties of tomatoes. Big Boy, Better Boy, Goliath, Big Beef, Better Girl, Park’s Whopper and Better Bush are all large varieties. The plants are hearty and stable. The tomatoes are smooth and round so that peeling is easy. All of these are ideal for canning!
Heirloom tomatoes produce extra-large oblong tomatoes. They have a great flavor and are perfect for sandwiches – one slice will cover an entire piece of bread! Because of their uneven texture they are harder to peel and take a little more time which makes them better for serving fresh than for canning.
Another good variety is Roma. These are smaller, smooth tomatoes which are easy to peel and have a very good flavor. Roma is also a good variety to use for canning.
Mr Stripey is a medium sized yellow tomato with red stripes. It has a mild flavor and can be used for canning or for sandwiches or salads. When it is sliced the inside stripes go from the red middle through the yellow meat in straight lines to the outside edges forming a design like rays of sunshine.
Golden Jubilee, Lemon Boy and Sun Sugar are yellow varieties. The yellow tomatoes have less acid and a much milder but still a very good flavor.
There are cherry, grape and pear varieties which are great for salads. They are small and can be added whole or sliced. Each plant produces dozens of these small tomatoes in a season.
Tomatoes can be prepared many different ways. Besides making a great sandwich they can be cut up and put in a garden salad, seven-layer salad, pasta salad or seafood salad. Tomatoes are used to make ketchup, spaghetti sauce and salsa. They are a good base for vegetable soup and of course tomato soup which is a favorite of ours. A grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup is a quick, easy and delicious meal!
I try to can as many tomatoes as possible during their season to use throughout the winter. We use a lot of tomatoes in cooking main dishes such as chili, Brunswick stew and spaghetti. There are two ways to can tomatoes. The first way is to peel, wash and quarter the tomatoes and pack them tightly into sterilized quart jars. You won’t need to add water, the juice will fill any empty space. Add a teaspoon of salt to each jar and put on sterilized lids with rings. Then place each jar into a pressure canner and process at 10 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.
The other way is to place the tomatoes whole and unpeeled into a large pot of boiling water and heat them until the skins begin to split. Then remove the pan from the heat and peel the skin off the tomatoes with your fingers being careful not to burn yourself. Core and quarter the tomatoes and follow the steps above to process them.
There are a long list of dishes for summer and winter that you can use tomatoes in. When you grow and can your own tomatoes you have plenty available for preparing meals that your family will enjoy anytime. Whether you need an idea for a main dish, a side or a sauce, tomatoes are a great start!
Genesis 8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.