We are in the thick of it … tomato season on the Vineyard. Like many, I wait in anticipation for the Island farms to explode with tomatoes — and not just your sweet cherry and beefsteak-style red tomatoes, I am talking all shapes and sizes bursting with summer goodness. This is the time of year where you could bite into a sweet juicy tomato like an apple, but let’s not forget the salt and pepper and basil, olive oil, and you name it. It is the tomato’s time to shine.
OK, yes tomatoes are botanically a fruit, growing on a vine, but according to smithsonian.com, in 1893, Supreme Court Justice Horace Gray basically declared the tomatoes a vegetable. Tomatoes are much lower in sugar, and are mostly grown, sold, and used for savory cooking. So yes, they’re a fruit, but so are cucumbers, beans, and squash, and nobody ever argues that. Let’s just accept tomatoes are one of the superstar vegetables from the summer garden. The one vegetable that cannot be faked or duplicated six months from now, shipped to us from Florida. They’re best fresh harvested off the vine, gently handled, ripe, and never refrigerated.
There are a good amount of local tomatoes available at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, or at farm stands around the Island. Praise to these farmers who have figured out how to grow these often finicky, full-sun-loving plants, which can be hit by blight, environmental stress, soil PH, nighttime temperature fluctuations, just to name a few issues. Ghost Island Farm in West Tisbury recently posted on their Instagram 170 varieties of tomatoes; Morning Glory has 38.
These Technicolor, often lumpy, misshapen, all-size beauties are abundant for these precious few weeks every year.
Tomatoes run the gamut of uses. It is the one vegetable kids love to say they hate as they stuff down a plate of penne with marinara, or have an order of ketchup with a side of fries, and yes, I mean that as it’s written. And let’s not forget pizza covered in that tomato sauce with a hint of oregano. Raw tomato is harder to convince them to eat, because tomatoes do have a distinct texture, and there are seeds, oh my!
There are many simple ways to celebrate tomato season, which I feel really, really don’t require exact recipes. Simple but gorgeous salads, raw salsa, sandwiches, frittatas, sliced on homemade pizza, baked with fish — it is endless and easy, no exact recipe required. It is summer, after all.
Here are two of my favorite ways to eat summer tomatoes.
Open-Face BLT with Basil Mayo
We have some good choices for fresh bread on the Island right now, but I suggest trying an open-face BLT, so the emphasis is on the ingredients, especially the tomatoes. Take some Hellman’s mayonnaise, and gently chiffonade fresh basil; add black pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Combine and slather on one slice of toasted bread and build your summer BLT.
Potluck Heirloom Tomato Salad
On a platter, shave red onions, add salt and pepper, and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Slice and arrange tomatoes. Add salt and pepper and a small amount of aged balsamic if you have it, and really good extra-virgin olive oil, or whatever you have. Shave a hard cheese over the top — I love Manchego cheese, but Parmesan or Asiago will be great too. Do not refrigerate!