As a kid, I had to do chores. If my siblings and I fought, we had to do extra chores. We often fought. I don’t know why my parents thought it would be a good idea to make fighting siblings do chores together, especially if one of the chores was gathering rotten tomatoes from the garden to feed to my brother’s pigs.

I don’t remember how it started, but my sweet little sister, Stacey, took aim and threw a tomato that hit my older brother, Rob, squarely in the face. There was a brief pause, all three of us were stunned, and then my sister took off running for the house, screaming.

This from my sister: “I remember Rob saying something that made me really mad. I’m not sure what it was, I just remember being really mad and hurling a rotten tomato at him. When it hit pay dirt, I remember fearing for my life. I distinctly remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t remember how it ended. I don’t think I got pummeled, so I think I must have run to the house — somehow beating Rob — and hid behind Mom.”

Our tomato patch this year would have been a good place for a tomato fight. Sadly, late blight wreaked havoc on our garden and the rotten tomatoes outnumbered the good ones. The survivors were prized indeed.

Most things taste better fresh from the garden, but some things are essential to have fresh. The tomatoes that you can get all year round in the grocery store, in my opinion, aren’t really tomatoes. Sure they look like them, but these impostors certainly don’t taste like them. Real tomatoes have to be picked locally and eaten in season. Period.

A sure way to ruin a good farm fresh tomato is to store it in the refrigerator. It changes both the flavor and texture. A refrigerated tomato is still good to use in a sauce, but I wouldn’t use it for anything that wasn’t cooked. No worries though, cooking tomatoes increases lycopene absorption.

Lycopene is the darling of the phytonutrient world and tomatoes are an excellent source of it. It’s found in vegetables with red pigment such as tomatoes, apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and guava. Lycopene is purported to be protective against a number of cancers. It may also provide cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A and a good source of fiber. So, eat up!

I had the good fortune to go south this weekend. I gladly lugged an extra bag on the train to carry my tomato haul. I treasured the tomatoes and fretted over just what to do with them. There weren’t enough to make all of my favorite dishes, so I had to be choosy. Just throwing them on top of a green salad wouldn’t do. I wanted to celebrate the pure tomatoness of the tomatoes.

There are three tomato dishes that I would be very sad if I didn’t get at least a taste of in the summer: BLTs, caprese salad and panzonela. All three dishes say “summer” to me. The recipes are sort of non-recipes — the amounts don’t matter so much and the ingredients are either self-evident or flexible.
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