Grow Your Own Tomatoes

Add summer love to any meal with ripe, juicy fruit right off the vine.

I used to have a sunny side yard where I planted a row of tomatoes each spring. It was a rewarding hobby. Tomatoes are relatively easy to maintain, and once you enjoy a salad with a ground-warm tomato, you will be spoiled forever. 

Growing your own tomatoes isn’t hard unless you decide to plant a huge patch of them. Once you make a large commitment like that, you have to worry about weeds, bugs, critters, and disease. A less complicated but just-as-rewarding route you might consider is buying a large pot or building a small raised bed. 

If space is an issue, choose dwarf tomatoes such as Sneezy or Sleepy. I suggest you plant several varieties and see which ones work best in your yard. The choices are mind-boggling. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there are 25,000 tomato varieties, and that doesn’t include the exotic 3,000 varieties of heirloom and heritage tomatoes in cultivation. 

Any way you slice it—or can it or chop it—the tomato is an irresistible summer fruit. (And yes, the tomato is scientifically classified as a fruit, not a vegetable.) Once vine-ripened tomatoes show up in area grocery stores and farmers markets, the Dallas eating scene brightens. Thick slices appear on burgers, sandwiches, and salads served all over town. Most of the tomatoes sold as local come from the Canton area where longtime farmers such as J.T. Lemley work the dark, fertile soil of East Texas. Lemley has been a fixture at the Dallas Farmers Market for more than 40 years. 

Simple, fresh tomato preparations are often the best. I love to chop them and toss with chunks of mozzarella cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and top with a touch of sea salt and coarse black pepper. If I want to get fancy, I add some Niçoise olives, basil leaves, minced garlic, and a few red pepper flakes. Of course, fresh salsa is always in my fridge to be eaten as a dip or spread atop a baked potato or piece of grilled chicken. Ketchup goes back in the pantry until winter, when the flavorless and tough hot-house tomatoes flood the market. 

Cherry tomatoes are summer candy. If they begin to go soft and wrinkle, toss them in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, roast them in a 450-degree oven for about 20 minutes, and use them in pasta dishes, omelets, or grilled sandwiches. When the season starts to wane, buy a box of tomatoes and freeze them. They will add some love from summer to your hearty, cold-weather sauces. 

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