Ah, Solanum lycopersicum, where would we be without your gorgeous summer fruit? For many of us it’s tomatoes and not the solstice that signify summer’s arrival. If you love them you’ve probably got a story about the best you tasted, and so often those tales are as simple as walking out into the garden with a salt shaker and picking a winner. There’s just nothing like a fresh tomato off the vine.
This garden staple is a member of the nightshade family with origins in Central and South America. Our word for them is derived from the Nahuatl name, tomatl, which you can see is just a short hop away from tomatillos (and salsa verde!). In their native habitat tomatoes are perennials, but greenhouse gardening allows for salsa in the off-season.
While they are a berry in the botanical sense, tomatoes are generally thought of as a culinary vegetable and feature more widely in savory than sweet dishes. However, playing to the sweetness of tomatoes can yield fantastic results; when you make an all-day pasta sauce, don’t you add a spoonful of sugar to the pot? While salsa pairs tomatoes with heat, tomato jams and relishes bring out the earthiness of the fruit with a bit of sugar.
If you’ve grown your own from seed or shopped at a farmers market you’ve no doubt seen the range of varieties that are available. Purple tomatoes, green tomatoes, white ones and even tomatoes with fuzzy peach skin. Many so-called “heirloom” tomatoes are hard to grow, more vulnerable to pests and don’t travel or store well, but they’re still worth the investment because their flavor is so fantastic. Slice one up, set it on a plate, and eat with a bit of sourdough bread to soak up the juices. Close your eyes and notice how sweet, tart and salty the fruit is. That’s summer you’re tasting. Enjoy it.
The tomato’s mixed identity as fruit and vegetable was adjudicated by the US Supreme Court in May of 1893 to settle a tariff dispute; they said it was a vegetable, but only for fiscal purposes. It went on to be a cultural divider in George and Ira Gershwin’s song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Do you prefer tomAYtoes or tomAHtoes? Which will you vote for this fall? Perhaps it was all this controversy that prompted the tomatoes to strike back in 1978, as the film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes attests. The horror movie parody sent up the central conceit of The Birds, speculating about what would happen if tomatoes became sentient and sought revenge on humanity for all those jars of marinara sauce; if nothing else, their color made for good special effects.
Leanne Brown’s recipe for Tomato Scrambled Eggs from the cookbook GOOD AND CHEAP is a perfect way to use imperfect tomatoes. (It’s also fantastic made with tofu in lieu of eggs, so substitute freely). Since you saute the tomatoes briefly they bring forth extra sweetness–even a version made in the dead of winter with those pink, sad, supermarket Romas can turn out quite nicely, and you can make it with canned tomatoes in a pinch! That said, made with freshly grown, first-of-the-season Early Girls, this dish is sublime.
Tomato Scrambled Eggs for Two
- ½ TB butter or olive oil
- 4 small or 2 large, fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 4 eggs (or ½ 14 oz. tub tofu, crumbled)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: Fresh chopped herbs (think basil)
Melt the butter over medium heat in a midsize nonstick pan. Add the tomatoes and cook until they release their juice and it begins to evaporate, 5-7 minutes. Stir gently every few minutes. Beat the eggs with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce the heat under the pan and stir the eggs in gently. Keep stirring them over low heat until they are as dry (or not) as you like. Sprinkle on any herbs you’d like to add (basil or chives are especially good) and serve with freshly made toast or spoon into a pita.