Fresh tomatoes are showing up, and boy, are we ready for them. It was a delight a few days ago to open the door to the carport at home and find a bag of just-picked tomatoes hanging on the doorknob, a gift from a green-thumb neighbor. Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff
June 24, 2020 10:46:23 AM
Is the tomato sandwich a Southern invention? We can't say for sure, but we do know lots of folks around here seem to consider it the essence of summertime. At the Hitching Lot Farmers Market last week, I witnessed several customers asking vendors, "Got tomatoes yet?" A couple of the curious simply cruised by in their vehicles and asked from their windows. Well, wait no more. At area farmers markets, at produce stands, in backyard gardens -- the ripe, red, sun-loving harvest is coming in.
"We have tomatoes showing up now," said Katherine Lucas, coordinator of the market at Second Street and Second Avenue North in Columbus. She enjoys a summertime BLT. "And I love just eating tomatoes with salt and pepper," she added. "I just cut them up and eat them."
Grower Mel Ellis of Mayhew Tomato Farm in Lowndes County is seeing a good tomato crop and, if Mother Nature cooperates, expects to be picking them until mid-September.
"I've gotten lucky. I've had pretty decent showers at the right time," said Ellis, who sells tomatoes and other produce at his family's farm at 452 W. Artesia Road, and on Saturdays at the Hitching Lot market.
Of course, some of the harvest makes its way to the Ellis kitchen.
"I eat 'em every lunch," the veteran farmer said with a grin. "I put salt and pepper and mayonnaise on them and eat them with saltine crackers. To me, I love that combination of taste."
Pack a room with tomato-lovers, and you're likely to hear that many versions of the perfect tomato sandwich. They all start with vine-ripened 'maters, but beyond that, purists will debate the mayo -- Hellmann's and Duke's both have vocal camps. But you be you. If Miracle Whip calls you, follow the muse. If avoiding mayo altogether, you might opt for avocado, guacamole, hummus, Greek yogurt, pesto or nut butter. Or mozzarella cheese, a little olive oil, ranch dressing or cream cheese may suit best.
Bread? Prevailing sentiment seems to favor good ole loaf white bread. Sourdough, ciabatta, multigrain, pita and French, however, like those chin-dripping tomatoes, too.
If looking for more variety, arugula, watercress, chopped herbs and bacon (always bacon) can enhance flavor and texture.
The South's love affair with fresh tomatoes doesn't stop at sandwiches. Think fried green tomatoes, tomato pie, chow chow, the list goes on.
I'm reminded of something Ellis said several years ago, when I was doing a tomato story for Catfish Alley magazine, published by The Dispatch.
"You can love watermelon, you can love cantaloupe, but you can't eat but about two of those a week. But if you love tomatoes, you can just keep on eatin'."
Hitching Lot Farmers Market, Columbus, is open Mondays 4-6 p.m. and Thursdays and Saturdays 7-10 a.m. Starkville Community Market (Lampkin at Russell Street) is open Saturdays 8-11 a.m. West Point Farmers Market (Mossy Oak Pavilion) is open Thursdays 4-6 p.m.
1 pie crust
1 cup mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 bottle real bacon bits
1/2 teaspoon each basil, oregano, Italian seasoning
(Source: "Taste and See Too" cookbook, First Baptist Church, West Point, 2007/Elizabeth Bounds)
CHICKPEAS AND TOMATOES
Makes 6 servings
1 teaspoon oil
1 1/4 cups onion, cut into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and cut into tiny pieces
1 can low-sodium chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) (about 15 ounces)
3 cups canned crushed or diced tomatoes with juice, low-sodium
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
RUSTIC TOMATO CHEESE TART
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 30 minutes
Makes 12 servings
7 sheets phyllo dough (14-by-9 inches)
1/3 cup olive oil
7 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
(Source: tasteofhome.com/Moji Dabney)
Hitching Lot update
Hitching Lot Farmers Market coordinator Katherine Lucas announced that, beginning Saturday, June 27, all vendors, including craftspeople, are welcome at the market in Columbus. Due to COVID-19 health guidelines, only produce and baked goods had previously been allowed this season.
Vendor booths will continue to face toward the parking lot, to avoid tight crowds.
All shoppers are strongly urged to wear masks and continue social distancing.
The Fourth of July holiday falls on a Saturday, but Lucas stressed that the market will be open that day, from 7-10 a.m.
For more information, contact Main Street Columbus, 662-328-6305.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.