I can never quite decide this time of year whether to can jars and jars of locally grown tomatoes while they are in peak season or simply invite in friends to enjoy a dish or two as often as possible, aware of the ancient fruit's too-short run.

Tomatoes have an intriguing history. They are indigenous to South America, where thousands of years ago they were chopped and combined with chile peppers, herbs and garlic for a kind of sauce or salsa. In the 16th-century returning conquistadors carried the squatty fruit back to Europe, and soon the tomatoes were fashioned into sauce for pasta and mixed with eggplant for ratatouille.

At their best, tomatoes boast clear but textured flesh with a sweetish edge and tangy juice. They offer fiber and a healthy dose of plant vitamin A and C, and when the locally grown tomatoes disappear from the markets here in late fall, I feel my breath snatching.

That's because tomatoes have deep roots in the South too, where years ago they were simmered with corn and okra for a dish that became the region's signature. Corn is indigenous to the Americas, too, and okra's origin is Africa.

And summer never passes in this kitchen without an offering or two of fried green tomatoes, another evocative dish of the South. Similarly, briny pickled shrimp served with tomatoes came out of Savannah, Ga., and its storied cuisine.

Another favorite salad boasts chicken breast brushed with Jamaican jerk sauce, roasted, cut into nuggets or strips and tossed with a vinaigrette stirred with chopped tomatoes.

When I want to gild the lily and travel the world with this salad, I add blanched bell pepper strips and slices of lightly sautéed zucchini or squash for an international meal in a bowl.

Guests often exclaim that the Caribbean inspiration is the best salad ever, but on a summer's day edging toward fall, hyperbole is expected and welcomed, especially when seasonal tomatoes are on the table, blushing and evocative in their prime, and like youth, fleeting.

Joyce White is the author of "Brown Sugar" and "Soul Food." Reach her at jwhitesoul@aol.com.