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Volume 39 Issue 11 • July 16-22, 2009
now in our 39th season

A Taste of Summer Sunshine

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

Finally all the summer vegetables are beginning to ripen and mature.  It is my favorite time of year for eating and cooking.  I love the brilliant colors and robust flavors.  Cooking is so easy when the ingredients are top quality and fresh.  Tomatoes are one of my favorites!  They are so versatile, and delicious hot or cold, made into a sauce, or as a condiment.  I especially love to pick tomatoes; the plants have a unique, fresh aroma.  I also love how a freshly picked tomato, still warm from the sunshine tastes.  Once a tomato is refrigerated it never tastes the same way:  it often gets watery and loses a lot of appeal.

Everyone has a favorite way to eat tomatoes.  My grandfather always sprinkled a layer of sugar on the big ruby red tomato slices at dinner.  My cousin swears by diced tomato with cottage cheese and chives.  Another relative was a purist, only salt and pepper.  My mother has always enjoyed her first tomato out of hand in the garden.  She enjoys her second tomato of summer as a BLT sandwich.  This is kind of a ritual for her; she hauls out the old cast iron skillet and heats it up.  She cooks off lots of bacon, very crispy, preferably with a few burnt flecks in it.  She toasts the bread, slathers on real mayonnaise, and tears off some large crispy lettuce leaves.  Then for the tomato, nice thick and meaty slices.  Not much more satisfying than this crispy-salty-sweet treat on a hot summer day, especially when you don’t feel like cooking a meal.  

Since tomatoes are native to South America, they have been a part of American food culture since ancient times.  They are relatives of chili peppers, potatoes, tobacco, eggplant, and belladonna (which is poisonous).  No one knows for certain who or when the first tomatoes were domesticated, but evidence points to the Aztec of central Mexico.  Historians have actually found ancient Aztec recipes for tomatoes, combining them with chili peppers, salt, and ground squash seeds or corn.  This is believed to be the first tomato “salsa” recipe.  It is known that they used this condiment on seafood, venison, and turkey.

Though this sauce pre-dates the Spanish Conquistadors by many centuries, it was dubbed salsa by them (namely Alonso de Molina in 1571).  Since the word salsa in Spanish just means sauce, and can be a little confusing for people.  In Mexican cooking they clarify by calling the salsas by different names, like salsa cruda (raw salsa), salsa roja (red salsa), salsa verdi (green salsa) etc. 

Jenn’s Salsa Cruda

  • 1-1/2 pounds firm, ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red onion
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Pinch of ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice (lemon juice could be substituted, but I don’t like vinegar in my fresh salsa, it tends to make the tomatoes taste like they are spoiling.)

Wash and core the tomatoes.  Dice the tomatoes, I prefer a small to medium dice for mine, but if you enjoy it chunkier you may large dice them.  Mince the jalapeño pepper and the garlic and add to the diced tomato.  Small or medium dice the red onion and add to the tomato mixture.  Toss this together with the chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  For a little more depth of flavor add a little cumin powder and coriander.  For more heat add more chilies or add a little cayenne pepper.  Enjoy!

My mother has a gorgeous garden and always has an overabundance of vegetables.  This is one unusual recipe that my mother makes when her tomatoes start to overrun the garden.  I have never had any other jam quite like this; I have found it works well with savory foods like roasted pork, grilled lamb loin, and beef tenderloin.

Mom’s Tomato & Coriander Jam

  • 5 pounds tomatoes, firm, fleshy, and ripe
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, finely minced
  • One half teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander, freshly ground

Cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato.  Boil a big pot of water, and prepare a large bowl with ice water.  Carefully dip the tomatoes into the boiling water, then shock them in the ice water, this will make skinning the tomatoes easier.  Skin and core the tomatoes.  Halve them crosswise.  Squeeze the tomatoes over a strainer to remove all the seeds, but catch the liquid.  Reserve this liquid, but discard the seeds.  Chop the tomatoes coarsely and mix with juice in a preserving pan. 

Zest the lemons, and then juice them.  Use 6 tablespoons lemon juice into the tomatoes with the lemon zest, ginger, and salt. 

Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the tomato pieces become soft.  Stir in sugar and raise the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly.  Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 219 degrees, or until a small amount of the mixture on a saucer congeals quickly and does not run down the plate when refrigerated.  Add the coriander, and the jam is done. 

Ladle into clean, hot jars.  Place lids on and process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.  Check to ensure the jars seal properly before storing (if they don’t seal, then refrigerate and use the jam immediately). 

Another favorite way for my family to enjoy tomatoes is in a nice salad with cucumbers and onions.  Any dressing will do.  I love garlic Italian vinaigrette; my grandparents usually had creamy dill and sour cream dressing on theirs.    My neighbor made a ranch style dressing with fresh herbs, a little chopped tomato and bacon that was out of this world.  Regardless of which you use, it is very simple way to enjoy tomatoes and a versatile recipe.  I often turn it into a meal by adding some garbanzo beans or lentils to the salad.  Here is one recipe that I enjoy as a light meal with a nice crusty baguette.

Tomato and Lentil Salad

  • 2 cups cooked lentils (an acceptable substitute  for lentils are white beans or garbanzo beans)
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped fresh herbs like dill, chives, parsley or basil for garnish

Toss all the ingredients together, season and enjoy!

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