Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Iowa's Little Love Affair with Tomatoes (and a recipe to share the love)

True story: Saturday, I visited the historic two-room Iowa house where President Herbert Hoover was born. To my astonishment, one of the first things the park service ranger said to me was: "Would you like a tomato?"

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.


afeatheradrift said...

oh yum, this looks soo good. I'm going to try this one for sure. thanks BE

an average patriot said...

Excellent Billie
That's excellent about your Mother!
Ever make pickle lily from your green tomatoes at the end of the year from your green tomatoes? It's excellent!
Can I tell you a little secret or two? You know I am a farmer from birth but a little secret, tomatoes ripen in the dark. No need to put them on windows except for looks

Squeeze a bit more from those unripened tomatoes by laying them on the ground and cover them with leaves. That will get them through a little deeper frost. One more secret maybe on ripening them, put them in a paper bag to ripen them or a dark closet.

How to ripen green tomatoes

Border Explorer said...

Sherry, it is about time I posted a recipe for all the good ones you've put up. This one is all about cheap and easy. Thanks!

Jim, I just LOVED all your tips. You're my survivalist! And, I don't know about pickle lily. I have heard the name...that's it. I'll have to look it up and learn about it. Looks like I'm not going to have many green tomatoes this year, though. The vines are dying, and the tomatoes I have are ripening on the vine. Then we'll be done. Thanks for stopping by!

Brother Tim said...

Oooooooeeeeee, I love tomatoes. My favorite thing is sauce piquante, a louisiana thing. :)

BTW-- My new sidekick broke a great drug story today. It flew under my radar. ;)

Spadoman said...

Thanks for the recipe. I see you grow Roma tomatoes, good choice. As a full blood Italian, hthose are the kind I like and use as well.
I make a great Tomato/Cucumber/Onion salad, and I like plain pico de gallo to go on the many Southwestern/Mexican dishes I make.
Just returned from a motorcycle trip and passed right through the heart of Iowa. I waved.


PS I think I'm gonna start a recipe day on my blog. I've ben cooking a lot and putting up veggies with harvest time here. You've inspired me.

More peace.

AArdvarker said...

Mmmmmmm! Tomatoes ripening on the window sill...my plants pretty much stopped producing after the temperature hit between 100 and 109 almost every day this summer. :(

But there is no global warming, just a 2 year drought.

an average patriot said...

It is pickling your green tomatoes Billie, quite good! I was going to send it to you but you can google. We made them every year!

Liberality said...


Jamie said...

We grew tomatoes for the first time this year. Unbelievably delicious just as I remembered from my childhood. You are right. They are so much better that anything you can find in stores. Thank you for the family recipe.

thepoetryman said...

Nothing, and I do mean nothing, beats homegrown vegetables, taste, texture, and/or price.

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