• TIPS: Growing tomatoes in Colorado: colostate.edu/Depts/CoopExt/4DMG/VegFruit/tomat.htm
Any way you slice it, the tomato is one confusing comestible.
There’s the whole identity crisis thing — is it a fruit or a vegetable? And don’t get us started on the tuh-MAY-to, tuh-MAH-to thing. It’s enough to drive anyone ba-NAY-nas.
Here are what tomato lovers and experts have to say about some common misconceptions about this vine product.
FRUIT OR VEGETABLE?
This is the kind of thing that can spark quite the argument, with both sides passionately supporting their claims. Oddly enough, both are right, at least according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Yes, botanically speaking the tomato is a fruit, but horticulturally and legally, it is considered a vegetable.
This debate has been adjudicated by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court. It happened in the late 19th century in connection with a challenge to tariffs on imported produce. The high court ruled in Nix vs. Hedden that despite the botanical definition, tomatoes are a vegetable, in part because at the tables of the time they were served as “the principal part of the repast” and not as dessert. No telling what the justices would have done with today’s tomato jams and gelatos.
THE BIG CHILL
A lot of people pick out the freshest, juiciest tomatoes they can find, take them home. and bundle them into the fridge, thereby killing all that wonderful aroma and flavor.
Instead, tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, says chef Matthew Lowe of the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate in Fulton, Calif., which hosts an annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. Put the tomatoes in the fridge and “you lose that smell, that taste you get from the aroma, and you never get it back.” That means that tomatoes are not like cheese, which should be refrigerated for storage then allowed to come to room temperature before serving. With tomatoes, once chilled, there’s no going back.
Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family, just like peppers and eggplants, which have led some in the past to believe the fruit is poisonous. In fact, the tomato is harmless. However, Lowe notes, you don’t want to eat the leaves or other parts of the plant. On the other hand, your parents were correct. If you eat lots of tomato seeds, one is likely to grow in your stomach.
RED EQUALS RIPE?
Tomatoes come in all shapes and colors, from white to mahogany. “I am fascinated by the sheer variety of tomatoes available — black ones, yellow ones, stripy ones and white ones in all sorts of shapes and sizes,” says Gail Harland, author of “Tomato: A guide to the pleasures of choosing, growing and cooking.”
Lowe likes to use color as a wine-pairing tool, matching lighter wines with paler varieties of tomato and more robust reds with their color counterparts.
Tomatoes are best picked absolutely ripe, so if you have access to a farmers’ market, grow your own or are lucky enough to have a generous green-thumbed friend, you’re getting tomatoes at their best. “Some of the best tomatoes don’t actually make it out of the garden,” says Lowe.
Tomatoes intended to be served on hamburgers, etc. are picked before ripe, and are then ripened by exposure to ethylene gas. You do the same thing by putting unripe tomatoes in a paper bag with bananas or apples, which emit ethylene gas.
What about those “on the vine” tomatoes marketed as being superior to stemless tomatoes? Tomatoes with or without stems shouldn’t be different if they’re handled properly.
1 quart peanut oil
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 large red tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
2 large green tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
In a large deep pot over medium-high, heat the oil to 320 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, Old Bay seasoning, hot sauce and lemon juice. Set aside.
Drain any excess liquid from the tomatoes and transfer to a medium bowl. Stir together with the eggs, green onions, chives, parsley, cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper. Working in batches, drop the mixture by the spoonful into the hot oil. Turn as needed until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve with the prepared mayonnaise. Makes six appetizer servings.