It's mid-July and the summer has set in with a vengeance on Johns Island. Mid summer heat also marks the end of the tomato crop. Two crops a year of Johns Island tomatoes, if we are careful, but no more planting now until cooler Fall weather sets in. But what to do with the last of the crop? These are not the best of the season but looks can deceive. The taste is wonderful, intensified by the heat and dry weather, the intense flavor a hallmark of a Johns Island tomato. Here is our own preference for how to prepare these lowcountry beauties.
Midday temperatures in the mid 90's mean the end of most crops, even with constant watering. Plants put more energy into growing and staying alive than into fruits and tubers so it's time to call a halt. With no late frost we can squeeze in two tomato crops a year from the garden of our Johns Island home. I've tried three but the sun usually brings these feeble attempts to a halt. The last of the crop will not be the prettiest, some with obvious flaws whether over or under ripe, undersized, split, or with a bit of insect predation.
We tend to try to pick them all before they get overripe and then complete the ripening on our window sills. Bringing them all to a good edible stage at the same time means they can be used together. Sun drying outdoors or dried in an oven on low works pretty well. A little garlic and olive oil to boost the flavor but its quite hard work for a few jars that last well in to the winter.
Our preference is to make puree as it's very simple and quick being forgiving of any initial aesthetic. You will need two pans, onions, butter (this is the South!), salt, pepper, tomatoes and the odd hot pepper we grow alongside them.
Rough cut the tomatoes, add butter and olive oil, a good handle of salt and pepper then slowly simmer. At the same time chop and caramelize the onions. 1 handful of onion to 6 of tomato. As the tomatoes slowly cook down in the pan, add the cooked onion and continue to simmer until about 25% of the water evaporates. More evaporation simply increased the tomato flavor. I use a masher to help the disintegration process. After about an hour allow to cool then freeze in bags.
This is a great base stock for a thousand pasta recipes, soups or with meatloaf. Cooking up a batch of tomato puree is the easiest thing to cook and uses up all the final crop in one session in the kitchen.
Tip - Grow basil and hot peppers with your tomato crop. Quite often they are all needed in the same recipe! We enjoy Penne with Peppers, Fresh Tomatoes & Basil
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