I don’t always look forward to summertime in south Mississippi. It’s just too darn hot and humid. The roads are crowded with visitors (of which I am delighted to see, of course!), it’s too hot to sit for so long in the car, and the older I get, the more the heat seems to just knock me out.
But there is at least one significant event that occurs in the summertime that rouses me from my languor, and that is the arrival of the summer’s first tomatoes. No, I am not talking about those hothouse abominations some grocery stores carry. I mean just picked off the vine, still hot from the sun, glorious tomatoes.
Produce that is sold in grocery stores must pass a checklist of standards and qualities. A certain color might be required, and no blemishes or certain size requirements might be demanded and, herein lies the fatal flaw, they have to have an extended shelf life. That means that produce has to be picked before it is sun-ripened, and that is where and when the flavor is developed. Rule of thumb: smell produce, especially tomatoes before you buy them. What does a hothouse tomato smell like? Nothing, and that is what it tastes like as well.
Rouses stores do carry heirloom tomatoes that are very good, and their selection of small cherry tomatoes is good as well. You also might like to try out the Saturday morning fresh market in Ocean Springs. I have a garden of my own, and although it will not supply all the tomatoes I want, I do get to pick the first big fat ones and turn them into the delicacies I love.
First on the list is a tomato sandwich with lots of mayo. I like to make my own mayo, but for this application, store-bought is just fine. Fresh thick sliced tomatoes, bread, lots of mayo and salt and pepper. There you go.
Next on the list is Caprese Salad. This is another very simple recipe. Just slice and arrange on an attractive platter tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Douse with the best quality olive oil and you are home free.
My third favorite is a tomato chutney. I make it all year but have to use canned tomatoes until summer arrives. This is a great condiment on peas, beans, and greens, and the recipe has been in my family for generations.
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 chopped onion
1 seeded and chopped jalapeno
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup vinegar (of your choice)
4-6 whole cloves
Combine all the ingredients and simmer until thick. Serve at room temp.
These are just a few of the good things you can do with a beautiful, fresh from the garden tomato. If you love them as much as I do, just grab a big one and bite into it like an apple. A little salt and pepper might help, but nothing beats the taste of a great tomato.