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All About Tomatoes

How to Buy, Store, & Use Tomatoes


Tomatoes are the poster vegetable - the cause célèbre, if you will - of seasonal and local eating. Finding tomatoes that taste like tomatoes may be the biggest single draw to farmers markets around the country. See here how to choose and use these summer gems.

The Best Tomatoes

Tomatoes on a vine
Louise Heusinkveld/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
For all the hoopla around "heirloom" tomatoes, I fear people sometimes lose sight of the most important indicators of a tasty tomato. The best tomatoes tend to be:
  1. Dry-farmed, which means the tomato plants aren't watered after their flowers set, forcing the plants to work a bit harder to make the tomatoes and leading to better, deeper flavor. Learn more about dry-farming here.
  2. Vine-ripened, that is, the tomatoes were allowed to ripen on the vine before they were picked (not simply left on the vine when brought to the store).
  3. Locally grown, because tomatoes grown as outlined above are delicate creatures not up for long voyages.

Tomato Varieties

Photo © Molly Watson
Gone are the days when tomatoes were necessarily red and beefsteak (although I'd never refuse a well-grown, perfectly ripe sliced beefsteak tomato sprinkled with salt!). Find your favorite variety of tomato with these guides.

Tips for Buying Tomatoes

Photo © Molly Watson
How often have we all bought perfect looking tomatoes at the store only to bite into flavorless mush? Once is one time too often, quite frankly. While I can't guarantee these tips will forever save you from such a fate, they should keep such incidences to a bare minimum.
  • Look Don't worry about tomatoes with weird shapes. Even cracked skin is okay, but leaking juice and soft spots are not.
  • Feel Choose tomatoes that feel heavy for their size.
  • Smell Tomatoes should smell earthy and tomato-y, never musty or flat.
  • Taste This is where farmers market shopping really pays off – you can often taste the tomatoes before you buy them.

How to Store Tomatoes

Photo © Molly Watson
Treat tomatoes gently. Heirloom tomato varieties, in particular, tend to be quite fragile. So don't pile the tomatoes in a bag where their weight will squash one another, and always pluck vine-ripening tomatoes off their vines (or the vine stem off them) to avoid having the sharp vines poke holes in your precious cargo. But above all never refrigerate tomatoes. Temperatures under 50°F turn tomatoes mushy and mealy.

Grow Your Own Tomatoes

Photo © Molly Watson
Now that's local! All the clichés about tomatoes warm from the sun from grandmother's garden can't take away from the fact that no tomato tastes quite as good as one fresh from the vine, eaten with your feet still standing on the soil covering the roots. See here how to grow your own organic tomatoes.

Raw Tomato Recipes

Photo © Molly Watson

Sliced and salted or chopped and tossed into salads are an easy and delicious way to enjoy the wonderful flavor of really ripe and well-raised tomatoes. Try one of these recipes for raw tomatoes:

Cooked Tomato Recipes

Photo © Molly Watson

Use these yummy recipes to get started cooking with tomatoes. These were all developed to take advantage of the bright flavor and ripeness of fresh, local tomatoes.

Tomato Sauce Recipes

Image of Fresh Tomato Sauce
Photo © Molly Watson

There are more tomato sauces to make in this life than there are dreams to dream. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you thought tomato sauce was tomato sauce, give one of these bad boys a try:

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