You say tomahto I say tomayto

by Jeanne


A family of Brandywines, a herd of Green Zebras and the Costoluto Genovese have taken over my kitchen table. Over the years I’ve developed a passion bordering on obsessive for heirloom tomatoes.

It’s that time of year when the colors, aromatics and bounty of the farmer’s market is almost too tempting for me to go. The French once called the tomato pomme d’amour or “the apple of love,” and in Italian similar sounding to French, pomodoro roughly translates as golden fruit while German translates to “the apple of paradise”. All due to its reputed aphrodisiac properties. And love them all I do.

The tomato originates from the Peruvian Andes and Mexico where it was grown by the Incas. The word tomato comes from the Aztec word ‘tomalt’ meaning ‘fleshy fruit’. Christopher Columbus discovered it and brought it back to Europe where it enjoyed great success in the Mediterranean. Peter Hertzmann captures the tomato’s history from a French perspective. The recipes and facts go beyond the historical journey from South America to Europe, then back across the ocean to North America.

With so many books on tomatoes from gardening, to cooking to folklore it’s a challenge to find the right one. I’ve picked a few that are more on the history, cultural and cookbook side of the fence to help those of us dealing with our current addiction.

In Praise of Tomatoes : Tasty Recipes, Garden Secrets, Legends & Lore by Ronni Lundy shows us many ways to love the tomato. The book is part cookbook, part history and shows a passion for tomatoes that is impressive. What’s impressive is not so much the number of recipes but the unique ways that tomatoes show up. Recipes such as Spicy Red Tomato Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, a North Carolina soup called Muddle, and a Thai salad of papaya and tomato.

The tomato is used around the world. After all where would Italy’s repertoire of tomato-sauced pastas, cacciatores, minestrones, pizzas, to name a few, be with out pomodoro? French dishes have featured the tomato since the days of the Great Careme. Mexicans have a range of tomato based salsas. The Spanish are known around the world with their famous soup, gazpacho. In India and Indonesia hot-tomato chutneys are a staple. In the United States where would our burgers and fried be with out ketchup?

A helpful and recent discoveries, in understating the importance of the showcasing tomato in various cultures around the world is Tomatoes: Easy, Delicious Tomato Recipes by Manisha Gambhir Harkins. The collection of recipes pulls together a global survey of tomato-based recipes such as Lebanese bread salad, called fattoush, Italian Bean and Tomato Soup, Provencal Tomato Tian, and of course the Sunday brunch reviver the Bloody Mary.

Warm days of summer can be retrieved deep into winter with sun-dried tomatoes. Bringing depth and enlivening many dishes from risottos, breads to soups Sun-Dried Tomatoes by the daughter and mother team of Ethel Brennan and Georganne Brennan offers a slim well-illustrated book filled with 30 easy-to-follow recipes including instructions on how to sun dry your own tomatoes. If you have the time you’ll save a few dollars on this tangy and endlessly versatile pantry staple.

With more than a few pounds of tomatoes on hand and not hailing from a Sicilian family, I was missing a foundation in garden tomato sauce preparation. Joanne Weir, the PBS TV personality and cookbook author recently released You Say Tomato: Peel, Chop, Roast, Dry, Freeze, Preserve, and Enjoy. Weir demonstrates through 250 recipes basics such as how to make such tomato essentials as tomato paste, canned tomatoes, and ketchup to more elaborate fare such as Turkish Spiced Lamb and Zesty Salsa Verde.

Weir also includes a wide variety of sauces, one called Nonna’s Winter Sauce which can be canned for use in a few months that I am going to put to the test in a few weeks time. The most important advice she provides is this—don’t keep your tomatoes in the fridge. It kills the flavor. There’s something for everyone in this book.

The various tomato recipes include flavors from far and wide, including ingredients typical to Mexico, the Mediterranean, and the South to name a few. If you are a gardener, there is an extensive list of seed companies offering a wide selection of heirloom seeds and plants for sale.

Lawrence Davis-Hollander, founder and director of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, is dedicated to the preservation and rediscovery of heirloom food plants. Slow Food USA and chefs such as Alice Waters have praised his work. In what has got to be the longest cookbook title going, The Tomato Festival Cookbook: 150 Tempting Recipes for Your Garden’s Lush, Vine-Ripened, Sun-Warmed, Fat, Juicy, Ready-To-Burst Heirloom Tomatoes, a compendium encouraging the use of heirloom tomato varieties over the supermarket hybrids. Taste one and you’re sure to be a fan.

With over 150 recipes in this collection of over 150 recipes from such well-known and accomplished restaurant chefs such as Rick Bayless, and Daniel Boulud you’ll be seeking out heirloom tomatoes at your local farmer’s market soon.

The season will eventually end come late September/early October so feed your passion today and enjoy the tomato in all its many guises.

“The Tomato Festival Cookbook,”
by Lawrence Davis-Hollander’s

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

3 stems of mint, plus 4 to 6 sprigs for garnish
3 cups tomato juice
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Bruise the mint by rolling it with a rolling pin or bottle to release the flavors. Place the mint stems in a tall pitcher and add the juices. Stir, then season lightly with salt and sugar to taste.

Serve over ice, or chill for 1 hour before serving. Garnish glasses or the pitcher with the mint leaves.