Jana Stocks Brown
Caprese salad

While tomatoes are often seen in grocery stores through out the year there is something wonderful about the Utah tomato harvest. Tomatoes found at local farmer's markets and backyard gardens tend to be juicier and have a much richer flavor than off season tomatoes trucked in from further south.

Low in calories and rich in vitamin C, Lycopene and antioxidants, tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse when added to any plate.

Most varieties of tomato do well in Utah's soils, provided that they are protected from early frost and kept well drained. Tomatoes prefer deep infrequent watering to daily sprinkling and produce anywhere from 50 to 90 days after germination depending on the variety. Tomatoes should be harvested when they have achieved full color, but are still firm. They come in many colors including red, orange, yellow, striped and some heirloom varieties are available in a deep red or plum color. More information on growing Utah tomatoes can be found at the Utah State Extension Service.

Tomatoes can be harvested and eaten green though the flavor tends to be more sour than mature fruits. Green tomatoes tend to be popular in southern-style Fried Green Tomatoes and some green salsas have a green tomato base as well as the addition of tomatillos (a cousin of the tomato, though the two should not be confused).

After harvesting it is important to use or preserve tomatoes within 5-10 days, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Tomatoes should not be refrigerated as such degrades the flavor and texture of the tomato, but they can be kept on the counter.

Tomatoes take well to being dehydrated and home canned or packed in oil and serve as a delightful base in salsas, ketchups and other homemade condiments and sauces.

When preparing tomatoes for canning blanch briefly (15-30 seconds) in hot water and the skin will remove easily. Some varieties, such a romas, do not peel easily but the skins are thin enough to be left on the fruit.

If you find yourself with a few more tomatoes than you know what to do with, an easy use is what is referred to as a caprese salad. This is a simple layered salad made of slices of fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or a combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The contrast of flavors is surprisingly rich and makes a great party appetizer, or a side dish at a summer barbecue.

Jana Brown is a freelance writer, wife and mother. She is an excellent cook with a cat who slept on her tomato plants. She blogs cornabys.wordpress.com. Twitter: Cornabys