In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2006
Regional Report

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Organically grown produce from Firefly Farm in Burnsville, North Carolina. Now this is fresh!

It's Time for Real Tomatoes

Every time my friend's young son puts something inedible into his mouth, she says, "That's not food," and he understands that he has to spit it out. Well, I think of her every time I bite into a mealy supermarket tomato. "That's not food."

It's tomato time here. Time for real tomatoes, that is. The best tomato of all is the one you just picked from your garden, still warm from the sun. The second best tomato is the one that you get from someone else who just picked it. Unless you're lucky enough to have generous, tomato-growing neighbors, the best place to find freshly harvested tomatoes -- and any other fruits and vegetables -- is at a local farmer's market.

Here in Western North Carolina, these markets are called "tailgate markets" to distinguish them from the large, state-run Farmer's Market where, for the most part, brokers sell produce grown by someone else, often from somewhere else. In contrast, tailgate markets feature local farmers selling their produce directly to consumers. You can talk to the person who grew your tomato, find out when it was harvested and, if you're like me, ask for recipes.

At the Greenlife Tailgate Market yesterday, I asked Scott Paquin, co-owner of Firefly Farm in Burnsville (just north of Asheville), for his favorite tomato recipe. He quickly replied, "Cut up a tomato and put the pieces into a small crock. Add some chopped garlic and basil. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the top, and add a layer of provolone. Then bake it." Sounds good to me!

It was tomato-testing day at the market, and representatives from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project were offering passersby the opportunity to sample different tomato varieties. Kim Austin, chef/owner of Mountain Gal, had samples of prepared dishes using fresh tomatoes. Mountain Gal is a line of "Appalachian-inspired, farm-crafted" foods, including salsas, rubs, and cooking sauces made from from local products. She generously shared a few of her tomato recipes.

Cherry Tomato, Melon, and Mint Salad
35 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
35 melon balls
2 tablespoons chopped mint
splash of lime juice
pinch of salt

Mix everything together and serve.

Italian Layered Dip
8 ounces cream cheese
6 ounces goat cheese
1 chopped garlic clove
6 ounces pesto (preferably Mountain Gal brand)
4 tablespoons chopped dried tomatoes

Let cheeses soften at room temperature, then mix with garlic. Line a dish with plastic wrap. Spread 1/3 of the cheese mixture in the dish. Add a layer of dried tomatoes, then 1/3 more cheese mixture, then a layer of pesto, then the remaining cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour. Serve with grilled bread.

Heirloom Tomato Pie
2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
chopped oregano to taste
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 pie shell
pinch each of salt and pepper

Layer tomatoes and scallions in pie shell. Sprinkle with oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix cheeses together and layer on pie. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 25 to 40 minutes, or until crust is done and cheeses have just begun to brown.

Take time to enjoy the bounty that late summer offers. Fresh, tasty, nutritious produce grown in your garden or by local farmers -- now that's food!


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