Tomato, is today the most popular garden vegetable in America. For many years, however, tomatoes (then called "love apples") were considered poisonous and were grown solely for their ornamental value. Tomatoes are usually easy to grow and a few plants provide an adequate harvest for most families. The quality of fruit picked in the garden when fully ripe far surpasses anything available on the market, even in season. The tomato plant is a tender, warm-season perennial that is grown as an annual in summer gardens all over the continental United States. Spring and fall freezes limit the outdoor growing season.

Nutritional value and health benefits: Nutritionists have always known tomatoes were good for you, now there is research-based information as to why. Tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, potassium, fiber and vitamin A in the form of health promoting beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.

Tomatoes are also a source of lycopene, which is the subject of current promising research on the role of plant chemicals that promote health. Research suggests that lycopene may play a role in the fight against cancer, especially prostate cancer. Like beta-carotene, lycopene is a carotenoid, responsible for the bright red color of the tomato, watermelon, and grapefruit. Although lycopene is available in all ripe tomatoes, a greater supply is more useful to the body in cooked tomatoes.

Nutrition Facts (Serving size, one cup chopped raw)

    Calories 24
    Protein 1.1 grams
    Carbohydrates 5.3 grams
    Dietary Fiber 1 gram
    Potassium 254 mg
    Vitamin C 22 mg
    Vitamin A 1,133 IU

Preparation and serving: Tomatoes are, of course, delicious raw, sautéed, grilled, stewed, and added to many preparations. Use a serrated knife or very sharp non-serrated knife to slice or chop tomatoes or prick the skin to get a slice going. Cut tomatoes lengthwise from stem to blossom end to retain more juice in each slice.

To peel tomatoes, blanch by dropping them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, or longer for firm tomatoes, then plunge into a bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. Cut an X on the stem end and use a paring knife to pull skin away. Skin will pull away easily if the tomatoes have been blanched long enough.

To seed tomatoes, cut the tomato in half horizontally. Holding a half in the palm of your hand, squeeze out the jelly-like juice and seeds over a strainer and scoop out remaining seeds with your fingertip. Do not throw away the juice, sieve it and use it in another recipe or drink it.

Home preservation: Tomatoes are excellent for canning, freezing, and drying. With a forced-air dehydrator, you can make your own sun dried tomatoes. Use plum-type Romas, with their thick, meaty flesh and low percentage of water for best results. Once they are dried, tomatoes should be packed in airtight containers. They should not be packed in oil for longer than one or two days, and they should be stored in the refrigerator. Commercially prepared sun-dried tomatoes in oil have been treated to prevent bacteria growth.

To Freeze Tomatoes

Frozen tomatoes keep their fabulous fresh flavor, but they become mushy in texture and are best used in cooked soups, sauces or stews. The skin will toughen in the freezer, but it is much easier to remove upon thawing. Or run frozen tomatoes under cold water and the skins will curl up and can easily be pulled right off.

  1. Wash whole tomatoes, remove the stems and cut out the core.
  2. Leave the tomatoes whole or quarter them and pack them into freezer bags, leaving about an inch headspace.

To Can Tomatoes

Tomatoes are an intermediate acid food. To make them acid enough for canning in a water bath canner or pressure canner, lemon juice (2 tablespoons/quart), vinegar (4 tablespoons/ quart) or citric acid (1/2 teaspoon/quart) must be added. Use half the amount of acid for pint-size jars.

Acid can be added directly to the jars before filling with the tomatoes. Vinegar tends to change the flavor; lemon juice actually produces the best results. Fresh or bottled lemons can be used. If the additional acid makes the produce taste too acidic for you, add a pinch of sugar to each jar to offset the taste.

Green tomatoes are more acid than ripened tomatoes and can be canned safely using any of the following directions. Select only disease-free, preferably vine-ripened, firm fruit for canning. Two and a half to three and a half pounds of fresh tomatoes will yield one quart of canned tomatoes.

Tomatoes can be raw or hot-packed. All tomato products must be processed in a water bath canner. Processing times vary depending on the form (whole, crushed, or juiced) of the tomatoes being canned and the jar size (pints or quarts) and whether a hot-pack or raw-pack is used.

Tomatoes Crushed, Hot Pack Method

  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt, optional
  1. Wash jars by hand or in dishwasher. Rinse well and prepare 2-piece canning lids according to manufacturers directions.
  2. Wash tomatoes under running water, and remove skins according to instructions above (see Preparing and Serving Tomatoes). Trim off any bruised or discolored portions and quarter.
  3. Heat about one pound of the quarters quickly in a large pot, crushing them with a wooden mallet or spoon as they are added to the pot. This will draw off some juice. Continue heating the tomatoes, stirring to prevent burning. Once the tomatoes are boiling, gradually add remaining quarters, stirring constantly. These remaining tomatoes do not need to be crushed. They will soften with heating and stirring. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Add fresh or bottled lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar to each jar. Follow ratio outlined above. Add teaspoon salt to each pint or 1 teaspoon to each quart jar, if desired.
  5. Fill jars immediately with hot tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles with a plastic utensil or rubber spatula. Wipe jar rims with a damp cloth. Adjust lids and process.

Option 1:
Process in Boiling Water Bath
Pints . . . . . . . . 35 minutes
Quarts . . . . . . . 45 minutes

Option 2:
Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds pressure:
Pints or Quarts . . . . . 15 minutes

To safely can other tomato products, follow USDA Canning Guidelines.


Fresh Garden Salsa

This coarse textured salsa is more of a relish or Pico de Gallo. The ingredients can be finely diced or use a medium for chunky salsa. Serve with traditional tortilla chips or use as a side dish with grilled meat, squash cakes (see Summer Squash) or anywhere you want a bright, tart, savory accompaniment.

  • 2 large ripe, red slicing tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 green onion, top included, chopped
  • 1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
  • Juice of lime
  • teaspoon salt
  1. Using a serrated knife, chop tomatoes. If using plum tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons water.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and sprinkle on the salt. Allow to rest 30 minutes before serving to allow salt to draw juice from the tomatoes. Stir again just before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes are a southern tradition made famous by the movie of the same name. They are so popular in the south that gardeners plant extra slicing tomatoes to be harvested green for this recipe.

  • 4 green tomatoes, cut in 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg beaten with cup skim milk
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper
  • Canola oil for frying
  1. Assemble ingredients. Spread flour on a sheet of waxed paper or on a plate. Put the egg wash in a shallow dish.
  2. Spread the cornmeal on a sheet of waxed paper or plate, add salt and pepper, and mix well.
  3. Dredge the tomato slices in flour and shake off the excess.
  4. Dip each slice in the egg wash and drain off excess, and then coat with the cornmeal, shaking off excess gently. Place on a tray and set aside.
  5. Heat the oil in a large heavy (preferably cast iron) skillet over a medium flame. When hot, add the tomato slices. Do not overcrowd the skillet. Cook several minutes, until golden, then turn. Drain on paper towels and serve while still hot. Makes 5 servings.

Grilled Tomato Kebabs

Small tomatoes such as cherry, current or pear tomatoes are best eaten raw or briefly cooked. They are perfect for skewering and grilling because they do not fall apart, unless overcooked. If you are using wooden skewers, soak them for 30 minutes in cold water before using.

  • 36 small tomatoes, such as Cherry, Ping Pong, or Yellow Pear
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • teaspoon each, salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Six wooden or metal skewers
  1. Wash and drain tomatoes. Using a paper towel, dry each or spread on towels and allow to air dry so the oil will stick to the skins
  2. Place the dry tomatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with oregano and pepper. Toss to coat tomatoes.
  3. Thread 6 tomatoes, spaced at least an inch apart, on each of the 6 skewers.
  4. Brush hot grill grate with oil to prevent sticking. Arrange skewers on grate. Grill 2 to 4 minutes. Turn and grill the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove skewers and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Makes 6 servings.