Fall Tomatoes

September 18th, 2008

There is no denying that Seattleites’ tomato plants are a sad sight these days. Our slow start to the growing year means tiny toms are just turning from green to red as we speak.

I’ve fielded lots of tomato questions lately; how to speed up ripening, what grows best in Seattle, and finally what to do when you really get a good crop in?

While ample sunlight and warm weather are the best for ensuring a perfectly ripe tomato, (note –don’t water too generously – tomatoes like to get a little stressed out!), I’ve got a few tricks for when Mother Nature doesn’t play in our favor.

#1 The sun ceasing to show up much, the weather turning cool, and spider webs a plenty in the garden are all signals that summer is pretty much over. You need all your tomato plant’s energy to go directly to the fruit. I pinch off 85% of all the tomato plant’s leaves, save for just a few– this ensures maximum tomato plant effort going into the fruit and maximum light exposure to the tomatoes.

#2 When the fall chill starts to come on strong or the rain starts to fall too hard (resulting in tomato splitting) there are two things you can do to “ripen your tomatoes” or at least try to. For branches of cherry or smaller tomatoes, cut the whole shebang off the plant and hang the branch in a sunny window in your kitchen. You typically will be able finish off the ripening process indoors this way. The second method is to pick larger tomatoes that have no splits or blemishes and are “pink” but not red yet or “green on the way to pink”. Wipe any moisture and wrap each one individually in a small piece of newspaper. Place in a cardboard box and store in a cool dark area such as the basement. Check every week or so, and after a few weeks you should have some slightly riper and ripe tomatoes. I have even kept tomatoes this way for up to a month with good success …. but of course, this all depends upon the tomato gods!

When planting your summer garden next year, don’t get too ambitious with that seed catalogue or plant show. I know. It’s hard, I’ve also fallen victim to fantasies of several heirloom varieties, in all different colors, cascading from my garden, but to really get the best results in the northwest and colder states stick with tried and true varieties. For the northwest I still love the Early Girl or Better Boy varieties, and if like me, you’re a fan of cherry tomatoes, look for Sweet 100.

Hopefully we’ll eek out a few more days of grilling weather. I think you’ll enjoy my Chipotle Tomato & Sweet Onion Salsa; a perfect topper for fish, chicken or steak seasoned with some of my Dish D’Lish Cha Cha Chipotle Lime Seasoning before grilling. It is a great way to use up what you’ve grown from your garden, or your favorite farm.

Chipotle Tomato & Salsa
Great to top grilled fish, chicken or seafood.
Makes 2 cups

1 1/2 cups finely chopped tomatoes (about 4 tomatoes)
1/2 cup 1/4-inch-diced Walla Walla Sweet onions, or other local sweet onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chipotle purée* (more or less, depending upon spiciness desired)

Toss all ingredients together well.

*To make chipotle purée: Place 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in blender and purée until smooth. Freeze any remaining purée for another use.
Or omit the salt and season with Dish D’Lish Cha Cha Chipotle Lime Seasoning instead of the chipotle puree.

Copyright © 2008, Kathy Casey Food Studios®

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