Monday, May 7, 2012
Tomato Longings - May food of the month
Here's what I wrote for Trinity's newsletter this month:
I don’t know about you, but once the tomato plants are ready to go in the ground, I start salivating for a vine-ripened tomato. I have to keep reminding myself, though, that it’s usually sometime in July, or in cool summers even later, before I get one from my own Sonoma County garden. And it’s summer’s end before my picking basket feels the full weight of seasonal bounty.
When I looked in my freezer and cupboard a few days ago, I realized supplies were low from last summer’s preserving. This is the season when I sometimes turn to canned tomatoes; and we can assume that our hungry neighbors do, too.
So - May’s food of the month is CANNED TOMATOES & TOMATO SAUCE.
What’s in a can? Well, it’s sometimes hard to tell, but it is often true that the flavor of canned tomatoes is better than the out of season tomatoes on sale at this time of year. They have been bred to endure long bumpy trips and gassed into redness.
Did you know you can boost the flavor of canned whole tomatoes by roasting them, just as you would fresh? Drain a couple of 28 ounces cans, reserving the liquid for another use if you like. Put the tomatoes in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or more, until they begin to darken and shrink some. These are great for soups, stews and sauces.
Reading the labels will tell us if the tomatoes inside the can were grown organically, and how much salt has been added: but it’s tricky to tell where the tomatoes were grown. Labels tell the country of origin, and where the distributor is located, but not where produce comes from. We can make a guess, though, because 94% of canned tomatoes from the USA are from California. Our own UC Davis leads the way in commercial tomato production research.
The other thing labels don’t reveal is how the workers who tended the tomatoes and picked them and got them into the can were treated and compensated. Some of the worst cases of abuse of agricultural workers in this country have occurred in tomato fields. Activists are working toward domestic standards for Fair Trade, to parallel those we have internationally for coffee, tea, cocoa, and other crops. Stay tuned.