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Make the most of 'mater season

Kat Kinsman
August 15, 2017

Right now is really the only acceptable time of the year to eat fresh tomatoes, and if you're not jamming them into your mouth with the fervor of a starved badger, you're not taking full advantage of the growing season. But it almost feels like that sort of feeding frenzy is necessary when it comes to summer tomatoes. Yes, technically there are tomatoes available all year round, but they're generally not worth putting in your mouth because they tend to be bred for durability rather than flavor and they taste like lies. 

The pleasures of summer tomatoes are perhaps even enhanced by their scarcity—and it also super sucks when you score a giant bagful at the farmers' market and they seem like they're ready to rot by the next day. Here's how to enjoy and store tomatoes—briefly—so you can maximize your delight for a few days longer.

Store them according to your situation.

Every bit of advice you've ever read or heard will say that it's a mortal sin to put tomatoes in the refrigerator, but that's not taking into account that it's freaking hot in plenty of kitchens during the summer. If it's just gonna be an overnight thing and it's hovering below or around 70, leave ripe tomatoes on the counter (or if you're lucky, in a cool basement) and do not forget about them, lest you welcome fruit flies, funky smells, mold, and tears into your life. Hotter than that, and they should go into the warmest part of your fridge, stem-side-down in a single layer. And take them out of the bag if they're in one because the ethylene gas emitted by the ripest ones will cause the less ripe ones to spoil more quickly.

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Resist the urge to over-buy. 

That sounds like heresy, right? Sorta, but it's a cruddy thing to feel obligation rather than pleasure toward a piece of produce. The nuns at St. Thomas Elementary also hammered into me that it's a shame to waste food. So rather than mourn as the excess tomatoes decay before my eyes—because they were indeed bred for enjoyment rather than shelf stability—I'll make a point of deeply relishing what I have, and then feel lucky if I happen upon more.

Wedge them into every meal, starting with breakfast.

The role of the breakfast tomato tends to be relegated to stewed or grilled halves alongside bangers in a traditional British fry-up, or diced and tossed willy-nilly into omelets and atop hash browns (your Waffle House "diced" option). Take this brief window to toss fresh slices and chunks into yogurt, grain bowls, or atop your toast—buttered or avocado-smeared. Do this every day until you are medically one-third tomato or they are out of season.

Don't get too fancy.

Let tomatoes be tomatoes and don't hesitate to eat them. You don't need a recipe—just a pinch of salt, and maybe a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you feel like they need it. Toss some mozzarella or burrata in there. Spread mayo on cheap white bread, layer it with tomatoes, and go to town. Or just slice and eat. They're that good.

Tomatovana. #matersandwichgram

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Know when it's time to let go.

It's hard to say goodbye to a fresh tomato, but wait too long and it just gets weird. Take a sniff and be honest with yourself. (BTW, if you have any sort of dirt and sun situation, consider sticking a few of the seeds in the soil and see what happens.) If the tomatoes are juuuuuust on the edge, consider making sauce, tomato jam, homemade bloody mary mix, or even the tomato powder that just might hold you through until next season.

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