South Central WI Archive
  • South Central Wisconsin
  • September 2015
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The fruit of summer: tomatoes

Beautiful in color and taste, there is nothing like the first fresh tomato of the summer — lightly sprinkled with salt to bring out its brightness or perhaps a little balsamic for balance, and then topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Tomatoes not only taste great, but are so healthy for you. They are an antioxidant high in vitamin A and C, and folic acid. Another big bonus is that they are so easy to grow regardless of your gardening expertise.


Tomatoes are so easy to plant and prolific. They can be sewn in pots, small plots or large gardens with equally good results. The variety is endless from the cherry type to the precious heirlooms. Good sun is a must. Soil needs to be slightly acidic, sufficient in nitrogen and warm.


But what to do with all those tomatoes?


The most care-free way to store tomatoes is to dry them, either using solar, a screen (see make your own resource below) or convective drier. Drying takes less room and not much energy. For example, my 1000 KW dehydrator runs for 4 hrs and costs 28 cents. I love it. You just put the sliced tomatoes in and walk away. You can dry them to just soft or all the way to a crisp. I like them soft and then I use with olive oil or freeze in a zip-close bag at that stage.


Just like peaches and other large fruit, you can freeze whole or cut in half tomatoes on a cookie sheet until solid. Then bag in a zip-close bag.


Many people love to reach for the red glass jar in the middle of the winter. There is some work involved, but it’s worth it. You are basically doing the following, according to “Prepare boiling water canner to sterilizing jars. Wash and cut tomatoes into quarters — about 2 cups. Add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each hot quart jar. Pack hot tomatoes into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar.” See for easy and very visual instructions on how to do this.

Two Fun Summer Tomato Recipes

Granitas are so refreshing in the summer heat or as an intermezzo during a coursed dinner. Basically you are making an icy slush with fruit and flavoring it with something interesting like a liquor or an herb. In this case, use tomatoes and basil and serve in a nice cold martini glass. To make, add a little garlic, salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne and basil to your crushed tomatoes, and balance with a touch of sugar if necessary. Freeze. During the freezing period you will want to mash with a fork 2-3 times to create slush like a snow cone or Italian ice would be. Spoon into your martini or fluted glasses and return to the freezer for a frosty presentation.

Polenta can be lightened up with tomatoes and served as a salad for a beautiful summer buffet dish. This is an adapted version of Jacque Pepin’s salad I have been making for many years. As you know, polenta will firm up, so in this dish you are going to layer tomatoes, basil, spinach and polenta in a bowl. Let it firm up. Invert on a plate and you will have a very colorful red, green and yellow dish. When you cut into it you have a layered cake effect.

  • Make your polenta as you normally like it (I recommend on the softer side with cheese). Set aside.
  • Steam ½ pound of spinach. Cool.
  • Chop good heirloom tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, add garlic, olive oil and fresh basil. Set aside.
  • Oil a large bowl well to enable the mold to come out easily.
  • Assembly: Start with polenta on the bottom, add a spinach layer, then your tomato salsa layer, and repeat so you have 3 layers, ending with polenta.
  • Let firm up in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Then when ready to serve, invert on a dish. You will have a dome of polenta with striations of green and red colors.
  • Cut into wedges or just spoon out. It’s very tasty, and is light and good as a main dish or as accompaniment to chicken, fish or meats.

References: “Preserving Tomatoes and Apples With a Homemade Solar Food Dryer.” Mother Earth News. Mary Lou Shaw.

Debi Morton

Debi Morton owns Driftless Depot Organic Market, Deli & Café, 140 Winsted St. in Spring Green. She is a lifelong foodie, chef and advocate of eating seasonally. Debi and her husband are also organic and biodynamic growers of fruits and vegetables. For more information, visit or call 608-628-1001.

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