This is the first year I didn't grow tomatoes. Usually, I load up the pots on my patio with tomatoes and green peppers, but this year, I decided to skip it. My pots are filled with petunias, instead. For the past several years, birds and squirrels (one squirrel in particular … more on him in a minute) have eaten very well from my back patio, and I decided to not go through all of the work if I can't enjoy more of the benefit from my efforts than my backyard wildlife does.
The rather large squirrel that pushed me over the edge last year was quite brazen. He would run across the back patio, looking into my glass sliding doors as he did so. Then he'd grab a tomato and run off with it. If nobody was around, he'd nibble on them and leave half-eaten tomatoes dangling off the plants. I thought my dogs would be a deterrent, but this squirrel was not impressed by my pug and Chihuahua. In fact, he seemed to be taunting my Chihuahua ... she would stand inside, yapping at him (jumping backwards as she did so, very excited) and the squirrel would just stand there, staring … I swear, I could hear him thinking … "You've got to be kidding me." I was afraid to let the dogs out because the squirrel looked larger than my Chihuahua and (I can't believe I am about to type this) I was afraid the squirrel would harm my dog. (And no, my pug wasn't much help, either. Pugs are such sweet dogs … they think every living creature they encounter is just a friend they haven't had the chance to play with yet.)
Lucky for me, it seems as though my container gardening has caught on with friends, family, and neighbors. They all decided to give it a try this year – and share their bounty with me. So between them and the beautiful tomatoes I can't seem to pass up at the farmer's market, I have more tomatoes this year than I ever did when growing them myself.
With the popularity of farmer's markets, container gardening, and community gardens, perhaps you are overrun with this wonderful vegetable, as well. (Yes, technically it is a fruit because it has seeds. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1887 -- due to a tariff imposed on vegetables and not fruit -- that the tomato is a vegetable. Their reasoning? It isn't sweet.) Don't worry – there are so many great ways to use the tomato, you'll be able to eat them all and enjoy them.
My favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes comes from my mother-in-law. Cut the tomatoes into bite-size chunks then add some sliced onion, Kalamata olives, and cubed (or crumbled) feta cheese. Toss with olive oil, salt, and a pinch of oregano. It's like summer on a plate – delicious and refreshing.
When my mother-in-law comes up for a visit, my husband always asks her to make his favorite dish: Yemista. (When my mother-in-law says it, it sounds more like ghe-me-sta with the accent on the "sta.") It may sound exotic, but it is actually very easy – stuffed tomatoes with rice and ground beef. Invite some friends over to your apartment and serve these – they will think you are a culinary genius.
I'm excited to try this recipe for tomato-basil crab bisque. This cold soup sounds so refreshing and delicious – perfect for a hot summer evening. Tomatoes are great for everything from a traditional BLT to a classic bruschetta to my end-of-season favorite: fried green tomatoes. And the best thing about tomatoes – they are super healthy!
Tomatoes contain lycopene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, mineral manganese, and phytonutrients. They promote bone health and heart health, and they protect against certain cancers such as prostate and breast cancers. So the next time someone shows up at your door with a basketful of tomatoes from their garden, thank them – and then invite them to stay for dinner!