you say (heirloom) tomato

What to do with a bag of overripe heirloom tomatoes that you bought on sale at the farm market?

A member of the nightshade family, tomatoes are native to South America and at some point were thought to be poisonous. Others adored tomatoes: the French called them pommes d’amour (love apples) and claimed that they had aphrodisiac powers. Either way, it took until the 1900s for this fruit to gain popularity in North America. While technically a fruit, in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court classified the tomato as a vegetable for trade purposes, based on a popular definition that it’s not served as dessert, but rather with dinner.

Because tomatoes are very perishable, they’re often picked green and ripened later with ethylene gas or in a warming room. These will rarely have the same aroma and taste as vine-ripened or heirloom tomatoes. In addition to the balance of sugars and acids in the tomato, the flavor also depends on subtle fragrant compounds, called volatile compounds. These compounds float to our nostrils when the tomato has been bitten or sliced and contribute to flavor. It’s speculated by scientists that geranial (one of the volatile compounds in tomatoes) improves the overall flavor of a tomato by enhancing its innate sweetness. Compared to heirlooms, standard tomatoes have less geranial. Modern supermarket tomato plants are generally bred for high yield, which means that the tomatoes will be less sweet since the more fruit a plant produces, the less sugar it can invest in each tomato.

Upon bringing these misshapen beauties home, I realized that the only way to salvage them would be to drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle generously with basil and fresh cracked pepper and roast at 425 until the skins look crispy. I didn’t, however plan for the excessive amount of liquid that the heirlooms would produce. Not wanting to waste this precious juice, I scooped most of it out and used it instead of water to make the quinoa. Kids approved highly of my invention.


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