Tomatoes Star in Summer Recipes
Tomatoes arrived in our area in the mid-18th century – before we were even a state. Today, we have old-fashioned named slicers, such as Better Boys and Early Girls. These reliable old friends belong on white bread with mayonnaise and a dash of salt and pepper. Cherokee Purple, Bradleys, Black Zebras and Caspian Pinks are newer at our tables. These sophisticated friends pair well with olive oil, herbs and local gourmet cheeses.
We all have our personal favorite varieties of this plump and delicious savory fruit. Tomatoes are so beautiful that the French grew tomatoes as a table ornament. When held in the light, the tomato is a sight to behold. The taut skin of myriad colors holds versatile and flavorful pulp and juice. This graceful orb is ripe with culinary potential.
SEE MORE: Farm Facts: Tomatoes
Fortunately, Tennessee climate offers a long growing season (mid-June to late September) that brings forth diverse varieties and applications. In fact, our state ranks fourth nationally for production of fresh market tomatoes, and the industry contributes more than $37 million to the state economy each year. Grainger County may be the unofficial tomato capital of Tennessee (known for its annual tomato festival held the last full weekend in July), but other top-producing tomato counties include Washington, Unicoi and Lauderdale.
Green tomatoes taste wonderful fried or baked into pies. For a simpler approach, Pettus Read can show you how to make a tomato sandwich, or as he says, 'mater samminch. Heirloom and other hearty varieties of tomatoes last until the first frost. They offer an excellent segue to casseroles and winter stews. We are tomato rich and proud in Tennessee. In 2003, it was even named our official state fruit.
SEE MORE: Tomato-Growing Tips
Basil is the perfect partner for tomatoes. It can be planted from seed as late as August to carry tomatoes into fall – just keep the plants watered.
The recipes that follow have been developed to embrace the unique flavors of the region in summer.
A friend of mine told me that the delicious Caprese salad she ate in the south of Italy was no better than those she had enjoyed at home in Tennessee. Isn’t it great when something is so simple that we can duplicate it? This ideal blend of tomatoes, fresh cheese and basil gets a nice bump up with another garden-fresh favorite – eggplant. If you are already grilling meat for dinner, you can simply add eggplant to the grill list to make this Grilled Eggplant Caprese Salad a healthy side dish.