Archives for posts with tag: tomatoes

Oh joy! The tomatoes are finally ripening, after months of (our) impatient waiting. It’s time to get creative with tomato recipes.

When I looked at the big plateful of tomatoes, I had a flashback to our trip to France last September. At a restaurant in Giverny where Monet used to hang out with his pals, I had a wonderful appetizer called something like “freshness of the summer.” It certainly tasted like summer. Mary and I tried to deconstruct it, and I came home with a scrap of paper with the words “tomato (gazpacho?) cucumber sour cream feta.”

All these months later, I can no longer envision it. But essentially it was a tomato parfait presented prettily in a glass. It was delicious. With my tomato bounty, I tried to re-create it. Here is my version, sorta kinda the same.

Tomato Parfait

2 c. of ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced

Balsamic vinegar, reduced to a syrup

2/3 c. creme fraiche (you can substitute plain Greek yogurt but it will lose some of the silkiness)

2 seedless mini cucumbers, diced

1/4 c. feta cheese, cut into small cubes

1 T. chives, minced

Divide the diced tomatoes among four stemmed glasses. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar syrup. Mix the creme fraiche and diced cucumbers, and spread on top of the tomato layer. Scatter the feta cubes on top. Sprinkle with minced chives.

Note: I don’t think this needs salt, because of the balsamic and the feta, but add if you think necessary.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

We plant a variety of vegetables every year — little of this, little of that. My dream garden would be all tomatoes, only tomatoes.

My earliest garden memories are of tomatoes. Big platters of my mother’s sliced beefsteak tomatoes, which my father would sprinkle with sugar to enhance the natural sweetness of the fruit. And like my grandmother, my mom grew yellow pear tomatoes, the distinctive shape and size delightful to a child.

My mother would extend the tomato season by canning quarts of them, beautiful jars of ruby-toned fruit lined up by the dozen in the basement. To this day, my 82-year-old mother grows at least one tomato plant and brags with the rest of us about her harvest.

This year, we’ve got a mix of old favorites, new varietals and (once again!) an experiment with grafted tomatoes. DeBaggio’s didn’t make our choices easy, with 100 varietals to choose from (they stagger their stock into early and late harvest types – check the website).

Juliet. These are slightly larger cherry tomatoes, oval in shape, growing in abundant clusters. We had great success with Juliet a couple years back, and I expect to be popping the first one into my mouth in less than 60 days.juliet

Brandywine. This is native to either Amish country in Pennsylvania or the Shenanoah Valley, depending on who you believe. In any event, it produces well here in the DC suburbs. DeBaggio’s says it is “considered by many to be the finest-flavored tomato ever offered.” Ever! Bold deep flavors is what I remember. Counting back from 90 days…

German Giant. We had great fun joking about our German Johnson tomato a few years back. This one is an heirloom that promises big deep pink fruit. Heirlooms are tricky in our hot humid climate, so we’ll watch it closely.

Tangerine. DeBaggio’s says this is a heavy producer of orange (tangerine?) colored fruit.

Japanese Black Trifele. This one is the wildcard. Color ranges from intense black to dark gray blushed with magenta. Pear-shaped fruit weighing three to five ounces.

These tomatoes are in the ground, with a sprinkling of crushed egg shells to strengthen the shaft with calcium (a trick we learned from gardening guru Mike McGrath).  They are thriving in last week’s rain and now basking in mid-70s sunshine. The grafted tomatoes are coming from Wisconsin, and given the long cold winter there, might not show up til June!

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I arrived home one night last week and came face-to-face with a platter full of ripe tomatoes and peppers. CRR was out of town, so I knew tomatoes and peppers were the answer to the what’s-for-dinner question.

Then I remembered a recent tweet from @ChefJoseAndres about an attractive tomato & egg concoction. He’s one of my favorite Washington chefs, has a great story. Andres trained as a chef in Spain, came to Washington with little but his knives, and proceeded to build a culinary empire. His debut restaurant, Jaleo, helped put Penn Quarter on the map before the neighborhood was cool. A host of Andres restaurants are within a stone’s throw of my office: Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya and Minibar. All are excellent, with a great vibe.

Just a few blocks from Jaleo is DC Central Kitchen, a food bank that turns leftover food into healthy meals for the needy. Andres got involved with DC Central Kitchen soon after he arrived in Washington, using his celebrity to transform the food bank into a cause. Bravo, Chef.

Now, back to that platter of tomatoes and peppers. His tweet was a photo of a traditional Spanish dish, pisto manchego. It can be served warm or cold, on just about anything, according to the recipes I consulted. I ate mine with a fried egg, as served by Andres.

pisto manchego

pisto manchego

Pisto Manchego for One

2-3 ripe tomatoes, skin removed, chopped

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 peppers, chopped (I prefer the natural sweetness of red peppers)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

(optional: zucchini)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan, add the peppers and onion and cook over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, then a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity, cover, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Remove pisto to a pretty bowl and cover to keep warm. Fry one egg to soft stage, drape over the pisto. When you cut into the egg, the yolk will melt into the pisto. Enjoy.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Beguiled by its beauty, we planted two Indigo Rose tomatoes this year and they clearly are going to be the most prolific tomato plants in the 2013 garden.

Oh dear.

A gardening neighbor wandered by last weekend and asked about the little dark-purple fruits. I told him the jury was out, and offered him one to taste.

His polite response: “Hmmm. Novel.”

That’s kind of how I feel too. Because of the unusual dark coloring, I went online to figure out when to harvest them and also to get a sense of what other people say:

“The taste is how I think grass clippings probably taste.”

“No acid, no sugar, not much flavor at all. Very prolific producer–maybe 150 2-ounce fruits, but unless the skins appeal, little to recommend it.”

“They have a plum type flavor.”

That last comment was the most positive in the online chat, and I’m trying to be brave since we (obviously) are going to have scores if not hundreds of the little charmers.

Indigo Rose

Indigo Rose

Indigo Rose was developed in the 1960s when two scientists cross-cultivated tomatoes with wild species from Chile and the Galapagos Islands, seeking the magic antioxidants that promote good health. So: My new attitude is that I’m going to promote the “super food” aspect and exotic coloring of these tomatoes.

This definitely is a cautionary tale. If you’re going to experiment with an unknown tomato, buy ONE and let it prove itself.

P.S. I whirled some Indigo Rose tomatoes into the first gazpacho of the season, and they were delicious in concert with cukes, parsley, garlic, scallions, V-8 juice and seasonings.


Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Usually this far into the summer, I’m getting tired of tomatoes. Last year, we were eating tomatoes by mid-June. This year, the long cool spring has really set back the tomato crop. But one of our new tomatoes, the Legend, is finally producing.

The Legend was developed at Oregon State University by James Baggett. As promised by OSU, it is the first of our large tomato varieties to ripen. This particular plant is one of the ‘grafted’ tomatoes that we bought this year. It’s full of fruit, doing much better than some of the other tomato plants that have struggled with recent monsoon-like rains and now a 6-day heat wave.

Baggett developed 45 varieties of vegetables during his long career at OSU, and was named to the Seedsmen Hall of Fame. No, I didn’t make that up. The Seedsmen Hall of Fame, sponsored by Victory Seeds, is dedicated to the horticulturalists who create the thousands of varieties of fruits and veggies that fill the seed catalogs – and entice you in the winter to over-order. “Preserving the past, one seed at a time,” is its slogan.

If you’re interested in history, click on some of the biographies of the Hall of Famers. It’s a Who’s Who of  those seed catalogs. W. Atlee Burpee, who pioneered the mail order seed business. George W. Park, whose company became an empire but eventually fell into bankruptcy. Henry Field, who made his fortune by undercutting Burpee’s prices. Fascinating reading if you’re a gardener.

Legend Tomato

Legend Tomato

Back to the Legend. I can tell you that Baggett developed a tasty tomato. I ate the first one with just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. It was excellent.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.


Here is the mystery plant. If you can guess what it is, we’ll share whatever…”it”…produces this summer!

mystery veg

mystery veg


I hadn’t visited the garden in about 10 days. CRR was there every day, so it seemed redundant to make a site visit when he gave me a 5-minute report each evening –along with a nice salad as evidence.

Ten days turned out to be an eternity in vegetable years. Apparently, 90-degree heat and abundant rain was all our little vegetables needed to muscle their way toward puberty. Two tomato plants – Indigo Rose and Brandywine – sport little fruits about the size of a small egg. One pepper plant brandishes a 2-inch-long jalapeno. We’ll be eating the first beets this week – some of the red ones are already 2-3 inches across.

Our only cherry tomato seems to be in need of some TLC but with we are left scratching our heads because rain and sun have both been plentiful. The peas have pooped out, victim to some rust or blight that afflicts us every year. The lettuce and spinach seem to be surviving on the rain, heat be damned.

And we have two “mystery” guests – volunteers that every year we swear we will eradicate upon sight. But CRR, of the tender heart, is nursing these two lucky orphans along. In our haste to get to the baseball game today (Go Nats!), we neglected to take a photo. I’ll post one soon so you can play the guessing game with us.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

We never had much luck growing seedlings. Wrong equipment, wrong soil, wrong timing, whatever.

For Christmas I bought CRR a 4-foot-long grow light contraption. Our furnace room hasn’t looked the same since.

I figured he would grow some lettuce and maybe some herbs over the winter months. He started out slowly, with various kinds of sprouts. Then boom! Some long-repressed farm gene kicked in, and he went into high-yield mode. Fence row to fence row, in farmer’s parlance.

At this moment, there are 133 seedlings thriving under that grow light, stretched from one end of the workbench to the other. Beef Steak tomatoes, Big Beef tomatoes. Celebrity and Indigo Rose tomatoes. And enough Genovese basil to stock an Italian restaurant. I’m not even counting the dozens of seedlings that are growing in big pots, awaiting transplant.

Now, a rational person might ask: What does a family of two intend to do with 133 seedlings, other than eat ourselves into Caprese salad heaven?

Like a city version of Johnny Appleseed, CRR intends to spread his seedlings far and wide to friends and colleagues. Are you interested?

As the saying goes, you can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.Image

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

The seed catalogs began to arrive with the winter solstice. Never mind the wind and cold, I’ll curl up with the seed catalogs and daydream about the 2013 garden.

Pick just one out of the pile. The Totally Tomatoes catalog is, well, 67 pages of tomato varietals – and a handful of peppers and other tomato-friendly vegetables. There’s the beautiful Rossa Sicilian, an Italian heirloom (duh) brought to the U.S. in 1987. It’s a striking bright red with ribbed walls. Smallish, though, just 6 ounces.

The Brandymaster, a spin off one of our favorites, the Brandywine, comes in three colors — pink, red or yellow. The red and yellow fruits grow up to one pound, exactly the kind of yield we adore. There are beautiful striped tomatoes – the Hillbilly, mottled red and yellow; Ananas Noire, green with red streaks.

Oh wow, the Giant Tree, with dark red tomatoes that grow one to two pounds each. Jumbotron tomatoes!

On the pepper front, there is a Count Dracula pepper, with black leaves and black fruits that ripen to blood red. With a Scoville rating of 25,000, these would be living on the edge of the pepper world. Or at least on the edge of our garden. See photo at right.03006-1

It could be I have a future writing content for these seed catalogs. The trick is to lure home-bound gardeners, in dead of winter, to buy your fare with purple prose. It works. We will circle items in a half-dozen catalogs, and haggle for days over which specific varietals to order.

Minute by minute, the days will grow longer and soon it will be time to turn the earth again.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Who let Monsanto into the tomato patch?

There are millions of Americans who do not know what a real tomato tastes like. They think it’s the crunchy, flavorless rock-hard orb that appears in the supermarket – and your expensive restaurant salad or sandwich — for nine months of the year.

We’re savoring the last tomatoes of the gardening season, just as the Wall Street Journal published a whole section on “Innovations in Agriculture.” Which, because their primary market is Wall Street, means chemicals and genetic engineering.

WSJ’s history of tomatoes

I grew up on a farm, so I know the agricultural industrial complex has helped multiply yields on crops from soybeans to wheat – and helped feed the world. I draw the line at fresh vegetables for human consumption. Big Ag has created monster vegetables and fruits to withstand the trek from field to market. And we’re all the poorer for it.

Journalist Barry Estabrook blew the whistle on the tomato killers with his book, “Tomatoland: How modern industrial agriculture destroyed our most alluring fruit.”

He describes how tomato growers essentially bred the flavor out of tomatoes as a sacrifice to getting the tender fruit to market. That’s why you can buy tomatoes year-round. They may be hard as baseballs and utterly tasteless, but their red beauty draws consumers like Snow White to the poisoned apple. At least you won’t die from it.

Draw the line at the end of the season. Swear off tomatoes until the next season brings around locally grown tomatoes that taste like…well…tomatoes. LIke these last offerings from our garden we’re slicing into: juicy, sweet, glorious. Not for nothing are they called love apples.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

I was drawn by her name. Juliet. A flirty name for a tomato, especially compared with he-man varietals like German Johnson or Beefmaster or Big Boy.

I had grown tired of straight-up grape tomatoes and didn’t want a cherry (so 1980s) so I took a chance. And swooned for Juliet.

A cluster of Juliets

Is it a mini-Roma or a sturdy grape tomato? Or is it a Roma grape? It doesn’t matter, really, it was the hit of 2012 in our garden. It started bearing fruit in late June … and has never quit.

A little background. We have had an abnormally hot, abnormally dry year. Many of our tomatoes yielded abundant fruit early, and then pooped out. (In their defense, they are now forming new fruit as the temps cool and the sun remains strong.)

Ah, but the Juliet. She never let us down. This one plant has been a faithful mother to hundreds of small, sweet, sturdy tomatoes. By chance, we planted Juliet in the middle of our nine tomato plants, and her branches have vined their way through all of the other tomato supports and even into other plants. We find clusters of Juliets hidden in the thyme, in the rosemary, the peppers, the horseradish and squash. It’s like a treasure hunt.

As one of the tomato purveyors put it: “The wonderfully sweet fruit are crack resistant and remain in good condition on the vine longer than most cherry tomatoes. The fruit are as soft and juicy as cherry tomatoes, they hold up well in salads, even leftovers, and they have a longer shelf life so you can keep them on hand without picking every day. The vigorous vines set lots of fruit on long trusses and keep setting fruit throughout the summer. Quite heat tolerant. Vines are long and vigorous, so give the plant room to tumble over its cage. Tolerant to late blight. Resistant to early blight. One of the longest-lasting tomatoes in the garden.”

Bravo Juliet!  You rock! You can bet there will always be a Juliet in our garden.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening