Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


The Winter Tomato Dilemma

How can I put this delicately? You’d be out of your mind to buy tomatoes mid-winter? Or the more delicate version, think twice before consuming an industrial winter tomato from far away that’s grown with extremely questionable, shall we say, techniques.

The human cost is devastating to consider and has been referenced in a previous post, Tomato Love Gone Bad. But the industrialized tomato itself, à la southern Florida, devoid of its essential character and flavor, still, technically, a tomato, is another story. The other other story is how we can have winter, and eat good tomatoes. First, some information to strengthen your resolve.

In his recently published book, Tomatoland, How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit , Barry Estabrook reveals more than we may want to know, but need to know, about industrial tomato growing in southern Florida, where, apparently, nearly all of our winter tomatoes are grown. Here’s an excerpt from Dwight Garner’s July 5th New York Times review of Tomatoland, which is worth reading in its entirety.

Why is South Florida such a grim place to grow tomatoes, the fruit we’ve agreed to accept – don’t ask, don’t tell – as a vegetable? Florida’s sandy soil, Mr. Estabrook writes, is as devoid of plant nutrients as a pile of moon rocks. “Florida growers,” he writes, “may as well be raising their plants in a sterile hydroponic medium.”

He continues, witheringly: “To get a successful crop, they pump the soil full of chemical fertilizers and can blast the plants with more than 100 different herbicides and pesticides, including some of the most toxic in agribusiness’s arsenal.”  Migrant workers are coated with these chemicals too. The toll that’s taken on them, in the form of birth defects, cancer and other ailments, is hideous to observe and should fill those who eat Florida tomatoes with shame.

I guess they’re one of the vegetables, OK fruit, that we miss the most mid-winter. We’ve all eaten them off season, been unable to resist trying one just to make sure we’re not missing something delicious. Looks kind of like a tomato, quacks kind of like a tomato, but in heart and soul, not a tomato.

Recipes for Tomatoes in Winter . . . Preservation!

So, here’s the deal. Take advantage of local summer tomatoes wherever/whenever/however you can get them – they may not be cheap, but certainly no more than the arm and a leg required at the cash register for winter tomatoes from across the land or the world. Buy or grow some and preserve them for next winter, like a squirrel. They won’t disappoint, I promise. Tomato fiend that I am, I can testify that preserved summer tomatoes retain the glamorous aura of real honest-to-god tomatoes, canned, roasted and frozen, or dried. And in January, trust me, the tomatoes’ culinary glam factor is something to behold. Your palate will dance with joy.

Roasted Tomato Sauce, Frozen or Canned

Roasted Tomato Sauce, a Walk in the Park, Tomatoes for Winter

Sundried Tomatoes

Happiness is a bowl of Sungolds mid-winter

If all else fails, get the best tomatoes you can in late summer, a little overripe is OK. Even in a cool, wet year like this one there will be tomatoes in August and September. Rinse and quarter them, place in zip lock bags and freeze. Ten minutes, done. Use in sauce, soup, juice whenever you’re ready.


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3 Responses »

  1. Thanks for the warning. I’ve been reading about all of our ‘engineered’ crops and it’s very disturbing. I am growing my own veggies this summer and the tomato crop looks promising. I hadn’t planned on it, but after reading your post, I will be sure to preserve as many of my tomatoes as possible. A suggestion: you might also warn your readers about the folly of genetically engineered seeds; and urge them to buy heirloom seeds for next year’s gardens. (My blog isn’t the right forum for such information, but I’ve been spreading the word via Facebook.

  2. Good idea. Thanks for the mention here Deborah, and we’ll make a mental note about discussing heirloom vs. engineered seeds in a future post. In the meantime, August is the time (yikes!) to start winter greens. Readers, pay attention to where those seeds or seedlings come from!

  3. I haven’t bought a store-bought tomato in years. I’m so spoiled between mine and loved ones’ gardens and the local farmers markets that I just can’t do it! One way to save a little cash is to ask your favorite tomato vendor at the farmers’ market for their seconds. The fruit isn’t as pretty and is sometimes a little bruised but i usually get it for half the cost and since I’ll be preserving it anyhow, who cares?