It’s mid-August, and the following month is the height of harvest season. Corn and peaches abound. But the all-star at this time of year is clearly the tomato. This humble vegetable, which appears year-round as a mealy, pale slice atop a hamburger, gains a cult-like following at this time of year. You can find the tomato’s devotees exclaiming over knobbly, multi-colored fruits at farmers’ markets, hunting for the perfect specimen, or carefully tending to their own tomato vines for months throughout the spring and summer, all for the perfect tomato.
Of course, it’s possible and even enjoyable to eat locally and seasonally all year round, with greens in the spring and squash in the winter. But admit it- even the most dedicated locavore knows that this is the time we’ve all been waiting for. Late summer presents the ultimate abundance, the heavy hitters, the sugary, juicy fruits we dream of all year round.
Here in New England it’s been an excellent harvest season, especially for tomatoes. Unlike last year, where most of the crop was lost to wet weather and late blight, this year has presented its own challenges with dry weather, too much heat and not enough rain. Fortunately, this kind of dry, hot weather makes for some amazing tomatoes, and farmers all around the Northeast are reporting a great crop.
Tomatoes are in many ways the Local Food All-Star. While most vegetables taste notably better when fresh and local, in tomatoes the difference is astounding. A ripe, juicy, farm fresh tomato is a completely different food from a winter hothouse baseball shipped from far away. Tomatoes are familiar and accessible, not to mention sweet and full of natural sugars. It is in tomatoes that heirloom varieties have particularly caught on: in the quest for the most delicious tomato, heirlooms like Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Black Krim, Arkansas Traveler, Striped German, Trophy, and hundreds of other varieties share the center stage.
The season for the perfect tomato is short but abundant, lasting only until the first frost kills the plants. This encourages a flat-out tomato binge that will keep you satiated until the beginning of next season. So feast while you can- enjoy delectable locally grown produce of all sorts all year long, but for now, eat tomatoes.