I wonder if most of us would consider tomatoes such good eating if they ripened white instead of red?
There’s something about color in vegetables and fruits that attract appetite: the luscious scarlet of tomatoes, the crimson of raspberries and strawberries, the purple glow of the concord grapes and the eggplant, the blush of pink on the plum and the peach.
Intuitively we use color to enhance good eating. How tempting red raspberries are on vanilla ice cream! Would black caps do as well? Hardly, blackcaps strike a pleasing dark contrast to the pastels in a fruit cup of canteloupe, honeydew, and watermelon balls.
Tomatoes have one great advantage over most vegetables—indeed, over most fruits—their beauty is more than skin deep. Lay open a plump tomato, and its red heart is as lovely as its skin. This makes tomatoes the darling of the season to gardening cooks.
They dress up his squashes, corn, zucchini, and broccoli, setting them off by contrast. Have you noticed how the eye of appetite is drawn to the platter of sliced tomatoes on the supper table?
We do well to plan now, in May, to exploit the virtues of the tomato in the interests of good eating in August. A little thought at planting time for how tomatoes can adorn our tables and satisfy our taste will pay off magnificently come harvest.
It’s a matter of visualizing menus, of seeing in the mind’s eye the table spread for lunch or dinner—even breakfast; for what’s better for both looks and taste than scrambled eggs and sausages ringed round with fried tomatoes?
Tomatoes for Breakfast
Some of us miss out on one of the prime joys of breakfasting by forgetting to include a spot of color in our menu planning. There are the June days of the bowl full of strawberries or raspberries in July to give zest to the day’s first meal. But in August, September, and October, the “spot of color” leads us naturally to tomatoes.
I have served raw sliced tomatoes perfectly plain with shad roe and bacon or brook trout for breakfast. These are delectable combinations, both taste-and color-wise. One of our household’s favorite Sunday brunches consists of the main dish of finnan haddie baked in cream sauce. It is suitable, and even with the sauce well flecked with parsley, it looks a little pallid.
Even the brown popovers, the ruddy jam, and the black coffee do not sufficiently relieve the pale, bland look of the finnan haddie. And something is missing in taste, too, until we hake tomato halves (sprinkled with salt, crumbs, dill, and well-dotted with butter) to serve along with the fish.
Tomatoes baked, broiled, or fried go well with many a breakfast favorite: eggs, of course, and sausage or bacon; scrapple or fried mush; creamed dried beef, corned beef hash, codfish balls. I prefer the tomato somewhat flattened in shapes for baking, broiling, and frying.
The rounded varieties may be stuffed for breakfast. I make tomato cases by scooping the pulp out of round, well-matched tomatoes (don’t forget to turn the shells upside down to drain for a few minutes or put the pulp in the soup kettle. Fill these cases with creamed ham (chop in some green pepper), corned beef hash, what you will, and eggs.
This last I find a great time-saver as well as a pretty dish. I usually sauté a little onion and green pepper in butter, put a spoonful in the bottom of the tomato case, and gently break a giant egg. Crumbs, butter, and a whiff of chervil on top, and they are ready for twenty minutes’ baking in a moderate oven.
I like to bake them in muffin tins (with a spoonful of water to prevent scorching) to help them keep their shape. While they are flaking, there’s plenty of time to attend to the toast and coffee, the bacon or ham, and the table setting.
Everything that has been said about tomatoes for breakfast goes for lunch and dinner, too: fried, sliced, or broiled halved tomatoes with corn custards, cheese souffle, creamed sweetbreads, and mushrooms; baked tomato halves (try a sprinkling of fresh chives, basil or marjoram before sending them to table) to accompany chicken hash, salmon loaf, or a toasted cheese sandwich; tomatoes stuffed with lobster, creamed vegetables or chicken livers.
The variations are endless, and the gardening cook with a bumper crop of tomatoes need never fear boring the family with monotony.
Highlights of Red in the Salad
While I lament putting tomatoes in a salad of tossed greens, I’m always looking for a place to put a spot of red on a salad plate. Consider the eye appeal of the luncheon salad most of us delight in shrimp, crabmeat, tuna, chicken, or sweetbread. These salads look lovely in a cup of lettuce, but how much more festive to pile the salad mixture.
Creamy with mayonnaise, upon a fine, out-sized tomato that has been peeled, chilled, and cut in wedges to lie open like a flower upon a bed of crisp lettuce! The points of the tomato wedges peck out invitingly, and the plate needs only a couple of ripe olives on one side for the final touch of contrast.
Tomatoes as a salad by themselves make perhaps the most delicious and colorful showing. Lay them out in thick slices on rings of Spanish onion, season them with salt and pepper and a dash of sugar and sprinkle them with fresh-chopped dill, basil, and celery seed.
Chill them thoroughly for several hours, and there they are, ready to serve—a connoisseur’s dish. Or try sliced tomatoes with a blob of sour cream atop; this varies from the standard tomato with cottage cheese. Slim wedges of peeled tomatoes go well with a salad of fruit. Visualize the color range:
- Red tomato with the pale sections of grapefruit
- Yellow sections of orange
- Soft green strips of avocado
Such a combination is most interesting if a pink-fruited tomato is used.
And let’s not forget the yellow and the meaty, orange-fleshed types for further salad experimentation. There’s a good Pennsylvania Dutch recipe, passed down from generation to generation of gardening cooks, whose elusive flavoring merits attention whether made with yellow or red tomatoes. It starts with six fine tomatoes, peeled, sliced thick, salted, and left to stand for fifteen minutes.
At this point, the juice is drained off. The slices are then spread with two tablespoonfuls of grated celery and dressed with 1/4 cup of vinegar and 3/4 cup of sugar. A thin dusting of cinnamon tops it off.
Tomatoes for Munching
One of the high moments of the harvest comes when the gardening cook wanders out to the tomato rows, plucks one of the perfect, ripe fruits, and munches it then and there. There is perhaps no greater satisfaction, even if the juice does drip down one’s chin.
We may add zest to the table by using tomatoes with color in mind, but the color, after all, is only a foretaste of flavor. We can bring the pleasure of both flavor and color from the garden to the house, the porch, and the terrace, without the indelicacy of oozing juice, by growing the many varieties of bite-sized tomatoes.
The small-fruited tomatoes, resembling such familiar fruits as pears, plums, currants, cherries, and peaches, are wonderful munching fruits. Try a mixed bowl for sampling between meals or as a light snack. For a suggestion featuring color, combine raw cauliflowers, cherry tomatoes, and strips of green pepper in a wooden salad bowl. Pass the salt-grinder with them, and watch them disappear.
Color Can Fool You
Don’t be put off by the color of tomatoes that threaten to get frost-nipped at the tail end of the garden season. The knobby, small, blatantly under-ripe ones conceal unsuspected goodness in their hard green hearts. Fried green tomatoes should be one of the rituals of the first frost. Slice them, dip them in salted flour, and fry them crisp and brown—almost charred—in butter. They’re a feast dish.
So it’s May, and soon time to set out the tiny seedlings we’ve been cherishing in the flats. Lots of lovely names, lovely colors, good eating for months to come.
44659 by Ruth A. Matson