We expect a lot of our garden tomatoes. Too much, I think. I grew up in New Jersey, home of the robust, red “Jersey Tom,” so I can say with some authority that Minnesota tomatoes are, well, OK. Given this year’s cooler temperatures, they aren’t getting the heat and humidity that tomatoes require to cultivate the fruit’s deeply rich flavor.
It’s the smaller, less ambitious cherry tomatoes that have earned my summer love. Reliable and productive, the cherry varieties have ripened beautifully this year, to be firm and snappy sweet-tart. They’re flourishing in pots right outside my kitchen door, which makes them easy to move to be assured of plenty of sun. Not so incidentally, when ripe, they are within easy reach.
The cherry tomato varieties I am growing are the Sun Gold, Gardeners Delight and Yellow Pear, along with those blackish-brown small tomatoes that are a mini-version of Russian Blacks. These all make quick snacks for dips and are perfect for tossing into salads, pastas and sautés. There’s no need to skin or seed these tomatoes. In fact, much of the flavor resides in the gel that surrounds the seeds. The skins, though firm, are not worth the time and mess it takes to remove them.
Tomato flavor intensifies with the heat of the oven. While cherry tomatoes are fabulous fresh, their flavors are even brighter when roasted, as all the sweet-sharpness comes to the fore. When I have a big batch, I roast them all at once to top pizza and burgers later.
The best advice I ever received regarding fresh tomatoes (and many other things, for that matter) was from Mrs. Delliapiazza, who grew Jersey Toms in her garden and stored them in a big basket on her wooden cutting board.
“Never, ever put a tomato in the refrigerator,” she said. “Or basil, for that matter. They’re like me. They hate the cold.”
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis writer and cooking instructor.