They're heeere: Tomatoes -- a summer super favorite


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.

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


Jan Swoope



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."



Sandwich savvy


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


4-6 tomatoes


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



  • Bake pie crust for a few minutes. Slice tomatoes and onion into pie crush.


  • Drop a mixture of the mayonnaise, bacon bits and spices over the tomatoes and onions. Sprinkle cheese on top.


  • Bake at 325 F for 45 minutes, or until brown.


    (Source: "Taste and See Too" cookbook, First Baptist Church, West Point, 2007/Elizabeth Bounds)





    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



  • Wash your hands well with soap and hot water. Turn the eye of the stove to medium-high. Preheat a medium pot.


  • Add the oil to the pot. Add the onion. Stir as the onion cooks. Cook until the onion is soft, but not brown.


  • Add the garlic to the pot. Stir and cook for about 1 minute.


  • Open the can of chickpeas. Drain off the liquid. Rinse chickpeas with cool water, in the can or using a colander. Pour off the water.


  • Add chickpeas to the pot. Add tomatoes and their juice. Then add water, ginger, chili powder and cumin.


  • Stir gently to mix all ingredients. Keep cooking until chickpea mixture comes to a boil.


  • When mixture boils, reduce heat to medium. Let chickpeas simmer, gently bubbling, for about 10 minutes. Do not put a cover on the pot.


  • Cook until there is only enough liquid in the pot to cover the bottom. Then chickpeas are ready. Serve while hot. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.







    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



  • Preheat oven to 375 F. Place one sheet of phyllo dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with oil and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon goat cheese. (Keep remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent it from drying out.) Repeat layers, brushing oil all the way to edges.


  • Sprinkle onion over top to within 1 inch of edges; sprinkle with fontina cheese. Arrange tomato slices in a slightly overlapping pattern over fontina cheese. Sprinkle with chives, basil, salt and pepper. Bring up edges of tart over filling.


  • Bake until crust is golden brown, 30-35 minutes.


    (Source: 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.


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