caption: tomato plant in operating garden at Herbert Hoover birthplace in West Branch, IA
True Story: My mother, who will be 90 years old, still grows her own personal tomato plant-in a pot outside her apartment's patio door-every single year. So does my octogenarian mother-in-law.
In Iowa we're coming to the end of tomato season, a revered time of vine-ripened heaven. What passes for tomatoes in the supermarket most of the year is but pink Styrofoam compared to the deep red, juice-laden, home-grown delights that we devour annually as summer fades into autumn.
Every windowsill is lined with ripening goodness lest bugs or worms get them first. We gather the greens ones before the first frost and bring them indoors to stretch the flavor on into the fall. Farmers and gardeners bear boxes filled with the red orbs proudly into the food pantries to share with the poor.
caption: My windowsill--these guys fell off the vine early...wouldn't want to waste them!
People eat them in sandwiches, sliced thick on bread. Families beat the late summer heat by enjoying bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for supper. Kids grab tomatoes out of the garden and eat ‘em like an apple.
We can tomatoes. We freeze them. We eat fresh ones until our mouths break into canker sores. We can't keep up with the harvest. And then it's over until next year.
Our love affair is not exactly a secret. And we don't ever repent. If you want to belong here in Iowa, you don't have to adore tomatoes. But it helps.
A wonderful way to use lots of tomatoes, and also save a caboodle of money, is in homemade tomato salsa. This freezer recipe is easy and quick. I've never made it with canned diced tomatoes from the grocery store (because I've never had to) but I bet that would work, too.
caption: A big batch of freezer salsa ready to cool.
8 cups diced, seeded, peeled tomatoes (about 10 large) [My friends and I don't bother peeling the tomatoes, and we don't mind the seeds either. Just pulse the tomatoes in a food processor. Zip, it's done.]
2 medium green peppers, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
¾ cup tomato paste
2/3 cup condensed tomato soup, undiluted
½ cup white vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons salt
4 ½ Tablespoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper
In a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring often. Pour into small freezer containers. Cool to room temperature, about an hour. Cover and freeze for up to three months. Stir before serving.