‘Tis the season for tomatoes of all shapes and sizes! I think Barbara Kingsolver describes the growing season of a tomato best in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, when these little red fruit suddenly take over the entire garden, generating a cascade of canning, sauce preparation, and just-down-right biting into them like apples! Here in Boston, it is no exception: every where you look, little, red spheres are looking right back at you! The best part about this time of year is that you are actually enjoying the taste of real tomatoes, as opposed to settling for the ‘hothouse grown’ variety, which frankly, are a pitiful attempt at tomatoes, to say the least. Moreover, by supporting the heirloom varieties, rather than the genetically engineered sort, you are ensuring that these seeds continue to propagate the following year at your local markets, supporting varieties that have been cultivated for hundreds of years from going extinct.
Continuing my praise of tomatoes, we seldom realize that we are reaping a multitude of their nutrients to boot. Here are the statistics: in one serving, you get a megadose of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as potassium, fibre, folic acid, and a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. This is a carotenoid (a orange-colored compound that is a precursor for vitamin A) found in many fruits and vegetables that helps to protect the body from cellular damage (caused by oxidants). Specifically, lycopene has led to favorable outcomes in prostate cancer prevention and cardiovascular health. Remember that lycopene is released and more available to the body when tomatoes are cooked, so home-made sauces are a good way to get your dose! If you want to get into the scientific details of lycopene and its protective role in prostate cancer, click on NEJM Prostate Cancer for more details.
For the rest of us who love tomatoes for their juicy, slightly tart, but sweet flavor, we look no further than our local farmers’ market for culinary inspiration. As tomatoes are one of the most versatile fruit to use in cooking, you can pretty much put them in any dish from soups to puff pastry tarts, but I find the best way to enjoy them is by sprinkling a bit of sea salt on them, and taking a great, big bite. No matter how you say it, there is nothing like the flavor of a tomato, ripened to perfection!