angel hair pasta with raw tomato sauce

I’ve always like angel hair pasta with a very light, fresh sauce. Since it’s tomato season, at least for a bit yet, I wanted to share this one–The recipes (and commentary) from this blog (Smitten Kitchen) are always good–and this is SO easy.  I’ve found that angel hair pasta cooks so well in the microwave pasta cooker which means no hot steamy, boiling pot in the  kitchen in this hot weather.


angel hair pasta with raw tomato sauce from the Smitten Kitchen.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella

Hot weather, summertime, tomatoes, and panzanella is just a natural.  It’s worth looking for heirloom tomatoes to make this salad. There are so many different flavors–it’s not just “tomato”.

This post from Savory Simple brings up an issue that we should all be aware of: we are moving toward homogeneous taste as we give up the heirloom varieties.  Check out Save the Flavors and Seeds of Change.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella.

Ratatouille (slow-cooker)

vegetables for ratatouilleDuring the summer abundance of eggplant, squash, and tomatoes  we’re often in the OMG-what-can-I-do-with-these-zucchini mode. Ratatouille and caponata  provide some good eating even when the hot weather has rather killed the appetite. I thought that being able to do this in the slow-cooker instead of stove-top would be an advantage in sweltering weather that is already taxing the A/C without adding more heat.

It’s easy to find ratatouille recipes–a quick search on the internet will provide a plethora.  The question:  are they  “good” recipes”?  I’m not sure I can tell you what (specifically) tells me “good”, “passable”, or “oh yuk”.  Most likely past experience, and reading a lot of food science, and (from America’s Test Kitchen) “why this recipe works”.

Here is a ratatouille recipe given by a friend, from, reproduced below. I’ve never made ratatouille in a slow cooker so I thought this was worth trying. In reading the recipe, I had only a couple questions, so I decided to make the recipe as directed–well, almost–as much as I can–I’m just a compulsive tinkerer, and constitutionally unable to follow a recipe strictly, but almost.  ratatouille ingredientsLooking at the recipe, I knew I’d want more garlic. Had I not been using part frozen peppers (from a Kitchen Disaster), I would not use green peppers–I prefer ripe (red, yellow, or orange) like them. I’m changing the herbs to thyme and oregano,  rather than basil (for reasons explained below in Cook’s notes).  My other question about this recipe had to do with that quantity of tomato paste. Why?

When I started the prep, I was still undecided about the tomato paste.  My inclination was to leave it out because this is an “all fresh” dish, and (to me) tomato paste tastes canned and cooked. Since this does not call for the tomato paste to be added until later, my obvious solution is to wait and see how it tastes, especially since these are summer tomatoes. If  I were wanting to supplement the “tomato” part of the flavor I would likely add some sun-dried tomatoes, rather than tomato paste–unless there is a dearth of “umami” (which is one of my reservations about slow-cooker dishes).

Slow Cooker Ratatouille (

The modifications that I made on this recipe on the first round are shown in parentheses after the ingredient. These were just to meet my seasoning preferences, not for any other reason.  Don’t hold this on “warm”–it just doesn’t do well.

Serves: 6 to 8


  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes–about 3 medium
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 large red bell peppers or 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil (substitute 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon Turkish oregano)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (4 garlic cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (held until end as I think it gets bitter with long cooking)
  • 1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (5 1/2 ounce) cans pitted ripe olives, drained and chopped coarsely (oil cured black olives)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (substitute chopped fresh oregano)


  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt; let stand in a colander 1/2- 1 hour to drain.
  2. Press out excess moisture.
  3. Rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Place the eggplant in crock pot.
  5. Add onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, olive oil, basil, garlic, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Cover and cook on high setting about 3 hours or until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape.
  8. Stir in the tomato paste, olives, and the fresh basil.
  9. Serve hot, room temperature or chilled.

Notes:  Being of scientific orientation, I decided to do an experiment–half the recipe is cooked as above; and the other half cooked separately, with modifications after I had tasted the results of the original method. First, I had to cook for an additional hour–I thought my rice cooker/slow cooker ran rather hot, but not according to this.  After tasting I did add the tomato paste as the tomato flavor was not at all pronounced, but I think the tomato paste (unless browned before adding) doesn’t add the depth I want. I needed more salt (which kind of surprised me because I don’t usually need to add much. Oregano and thyme needed to be bumped up as did the garlic. Those minor things were done to the first batch. So far the onions  have stayed crispy and I think I’d prefer them a bit softer so maybe microwave them before putting into the slow cooker (that had to wait because they were already mixed with the other vegetables). This came out with more juice than I’d expected.

Now for the second batch. I’m adding more olives, more garlic (sliced rather than pressed), some red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon) for a little zing (but not a lot of heat), and sun-dried tomatoes (instead of tomato paste), a bay leaf, and increasing the oregano and thyme. Instead of increasing salt, I’m going to add just a touch of nam pla (fish sauce)–or an anchovy fillet mashed would work. This is not intended to make it at all fishy just more flavorful. This needs to be stirred after an hour so that the bottom veggies don’t mush and the top be a bit undercooked. Check for doneness–don’t just trust the time. I prefer my veggies cooked but with a little “tooth” to them, so in my slow cooker this finishes in about 2 hours. I like this one as there’s no added liquid, except the dash of nam pla and what the veggies give off. Minced fresh oregano added the last 15 minutes of cooking leaves it very fresh tasting.

Bottom line: this is quick and works if you want a very light ratatouille, not complex ratatouille.  I don’t want my ratatouille over whelmed with herbs and garlic, but I’d like to make it a bit more complex, or layered flavor–maybe it needs a little more umami It has the advantage of being very quick to assemble.


As you likely know if you’ve read other posts, I’m somewhat partial to recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.  When the published Slow Cooker Revolution I had to check it out.  I was hoping that those recipes would improve my attitude to (and increase use of ) my slow cooker. There’s no denying it’s convenience, but generally I’ve simply not been happy with the results when compared with oven or stove-top methods.

A comparison of America’s Test Kitchen recipe with the one above is interesting. One of my “complaints” is that their recipes sometimes  seem more complicated–though they do increase flavor.  The recipe below is from the Slow Cooker Revolution (Kindle edition). This is the recipe that inspired me to try the one above.  The cooking instructions are quite extensive so I’m only going to summarize them for purposes of comparison. I’m trying to find a compromise of best flavor and easy preparation.

Slow-cooker ratatouille (America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves: 10 to 12


  • 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggplants (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 zucchini (1-1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


  1. Brown eggplant, half at a time, in olive oil (5 to 7 minutes), and transfer each batch to slow cooker.
  2. Brown zucchini, half at a time, in olive oil, transferring each batch to slow cooker.
  3. Cook onions, bell peppers, garlic, and thyme until softened and lightly browned (8 to 10 minutes), stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in reserved tomato juice, scrape up browned  bits, and smooth out lumps, and transfer to slow cooker.
  4. Stir tomatoes into slow cooker, close and cook until vegetables are tender (4 to 6 hours).
  5. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Notes:  The time it takes to brown the vegetables really is not that long, so it’s worth the extra flavor. It’s a drastic difference, even when you add some umami-hyping ingredients to the recipe.

The differences here are, notably, the use of flour to thicken, the lack of tomato paste, and the preparation of the eggplant. One of my reasons for trying the recipe from is the handling of the eggplant, with the idea that salting to remove fluid might eliminate the need for flour–I doubt that you’d know there was flour in this recipe simply by tasting.

After tasting the first batch of the recipe from with the adjustments noted in Notes, it’s a keeper for simplicity. The America’s Test Kitchen is a bit richer since you’ve browned the veggies. Either is good–depends on the time and effort you want (or have) to invest.

. . . a son goût


cooked ratatouille


Salad dressings…

I’m in the midst of an indexing project that’s taking a lot of time–it’s reduced my cooking to pretty rudimentary–like making salads and sandwiches.  Thankfully summertime is good for salads and there is always the tomato sandwich.

One of the things I do with salads, even when rushed, is make my salad dressings.  Here is a link from The Kitchn for some easy salad dressings.

Bleu cheese is one of my favorites, so I’m always looking for a better bleu cheese dressing.  Have a wedge of Roth’s Kase Buttermilk Blue in the fridge just waiting to have a bit of it go into a bleu cheese dressing.  Maybe tomorrow…depending on how the indexing progresses.

Lentil & couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, mint and goat cheese

As you can tell, I like lentils!  And tomatoes.

It’s getting to the kind of weather where I begin to think about “salads” for hot-weather meals.   I know it’s a bit early for this since tomatoes not  ready to pick yet.  While I was writing about lentils, shortly after planting some tomato seeds (Black Krim, Japanese Black Trifle, Black Pearl, Brandywine, Indigo…..) I couldn’t help but think of this salad with some anticipation as I planted the Black Pearl cherry tomato seeds.

Lentil & Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint and Goat Cheese

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Gourmet 1995, retrieved from Gourmet on Epicurious with a few changes from me.  (This is a great place to browse for salad inspirations.  You don’t need to follow the recipes–just look at the ingredients and make a salad.)


  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or brown lentils (or any small lentil that will hold its shape well)
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar  (The original recipe calls for white wine vinegar–but I prefer sherry; use what you have at hand.)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (spearmint, rather than peppermint)
  • 1 bunch arugula, stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry, and chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled (about 1 cup)


  • Cook the lentils in a small pan, covered by about 2 inches of water until tender but not getting mushy.  The lentilles du Puy cook more slowly than other varieties, so if you substitute, watch them carefully to keep from over-cooking them.  My preference is for the french, Spanish brown, or black lentils instead of the brown.
  • When tender, drain well and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Prepare the couscous:  bring water to a boil and couscous and salt (use the package directions).  Remove from heat and let stand until the water is absorbed.  Fluff and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil and cool.
  • Dressing:  Whisk together the garlic paste, remaining vinegar (to taste), and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils and dressing to the couscous and mix well. Chill well–about 2 or 3 hours.
  • Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the mint leaves.

One problem I’ve found is that the cherry tomatoes can give off a lot of liquid and make this salad too juicy.  I like to toss the halved cherry tomatoes with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and let them stand in a colander for about 15 or 20 minutes before I add them  to avoid the excess juice.  This doesn’t make them “salty”–but do taste before you add the last salt to taste.  This will hold well in the fridge for about 24 hours if you’ve  gotten some of the excess liquid from the cherry tomatoes.

My favorite garnish for this is crispy slices of European style cucumbers and crispy, crunchy radishes on the side as well.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes

When you’re just getting thoroughly tired of winter–about late November or  very early January–the seed catalogs start to appear in the mail box.  You spend hours happily looking through them and anticipating planting seed.  There are all those gorgeous pictures and the descriptions.  For me this is especially a problem with tomatoes.  So, every year I end up wanting something new–in addition to those heirlooms that I always want (Black Krim, Cherokee Purple). Last year my new addition was a Japanese Black Trifle.  It’s now become one of the regulars, and is close to replacing the Black Krim because it tastes wonderful and produces more tomatoes.

This past winter the tomato that aroused my curiosity most was an Indigo Rose, described in Johnny’s Select Seeds as a cocktail sized tomato, dark purple because of the anthocyanins (anti-oxidants) which develop in areas of the skin exposed to direct sunlight. To further titillate, it was described as ” good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Moderately vigorous. Compact indeterminate. Organically grown.”  Now, who could possibly resist that in the midst of grey skies and cold rain?  Yes, I ordered some seeds.

Sprays of unripe Indigo Rose Tomatoes on the vine

unripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

Now we are harvesting them from the garden and fields–the acid test, so to speak.  I’ll concede that they are moderately vigorous, compact indeterminate, and very striking when you see them in the garden even when unripe the purple anthocyanin pigment is really obvious.

As they ripen to red (thus, the “Rose”, I guess) they really are lovely–impressive to be perfectly honest about it.

The very first ones that I tasted left me somewhat ambivalent about the taste–maybe I  tried them before that were appropriately ripe, or maybe I just like a different style of tomatoes–anyhow, there were different opinions.

Ripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

ripe Indigo Rose on the vine

Now that I’ve tasted some that I’m sure are really ripe, and tried them in several different ways, other than just eaten out of hand, I’m more interested in exploring different things to do with them.

I have to say that they are not going to make it on to my bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich–not nearly tart enough to stand up to the really good dry cured kind of bacon that I like to put on my BLTs.  (I would put a Black Krim, or a Japanese Black Trifele, or a Brandy Boy on my BLT, though.) But–there are lots of tomatoes that I really like for different uses that don’t make it onto the BLT either–so no strike against the Indigo Rose for that reason.

My impression eating them out of hand is that they are a very low acid tomato.  Usually I prefer higher acid tomatoes–a balance of tomato-tart and tomato-sweet.  So this is not going to be my choice of tomato for my sloppy, eat-over-the-sink-with-mayo tomato sandwich (which needs to be on white bread, too, by the way!) either.

But–one of my other summer favorites is insalata Caprese.  One of the fun things to do when making this salad is to have different kinds of tomatoes–lots of visual appeal–like Green or Red Zebras, some pink, some purple–whatever!  I tried these with the fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil, and just a tiny drizzle of a good balsamic vinegar.  The sweet-tartness of the balsamic really showed the sweet tomato flavor of the Indigo Rose tomatoes.  I did not (I know Indigo rose tomatoes in basket after pickingit’s heresy, but I did not) put basil on this salad–I used Syrian oregano, and it was a lovely salad.

For more taste and visual contrast I might combine these with an orange or yellow (also lower acid) tomato, but not with high acid tomatoes–I think that would just make the Indigo Rose ones taste bland–but that’s the next experiment!  A reason to go tomato shopping at the Wake Forest Farmers’ market tomorrow.

Another way that I’d like to try them is slowly oven-roasted to concentrate the flavors–I think that will really bring out the sweet, plummy flavor–again another experiment.  They are a good size to use in green salads, but I’d want a pretty mellow vinaigrette with them–maybe just extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Panzanella (Bread Salad)

lots of tomatoes laid out on table

tomatoes, tomatoes…

Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes! So many ways to eat tomatoes…caprese salad, good old-fashioned tomato sandwiches–good white bread, mayonnaise, and juicy tomatoes; a sandwich that has to be eaten over the kitchen sink.   Then there is the BLT!  All good, but what else can you do with the summer abundance of tomatoes? Obviously  you can freeze some, or make sauce to freeze for winter use,  but one of my summer favorites is panzanella, or bread salad.  Since stale bread is a fact of life, even when you bake your own pretty much “on demand”, here is one of my favorite ways to use it up and to enjoy summer tomatoes.

This is a summary and adaptation of  my “go-to” recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 554-555):


  • 1/2 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2-3 flat anchovy fillets, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon capers, soaked and rinsed
  • 1/4 yellow bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups firm bread (cut into 1/2-inch squared), trimmed of crust and toasted
  • 3 fresh, ripe, firm tomatoes
  • 1 cup cucumber cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
  • fresh-ground black pepper and salt to taste


  • Mash the garlic, anchovies, and capers to a paste.
  • Toss  the pepper, garlic, anchovy, olive oil, and vinegar together in a bowl.
  • Put the toasted bread (and any crumbs) in a small bowl.
  • Purée one tomato in food mill; add to bread an allow it to steep for 15 minutes or longer.
  • Skin and seed the other 2 tomatoes and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (picking out some of the seeds if there are too many).
  • Add the cut tomatoes and the bread squares to the bowl with pepper, garlic, anchovy, oil and vinegar mix, and  add the cucumber and the onion; toss thoroughly.

While the recipe calls for peeling the tomatoes, I don’t usually do this unless the skins are very tough–I’ve no objection to the extra fiber, and some objection to the extra work that peeling them takes.  I don’t pick out seeds either–I think that the “jelly” surrounding the seeds adds extra flavor and an acidity that is lost by removing them–however, if you want a more refined version, by all means peel and remove seeds. (If you keep the “jelly” and seeds, it increases the tartness of the tomatoes, so you might want to decrease the wine vinegar–just taste it and season accordingly.) You can add fresh herbs of your choice–basil, marjoram, oregano, Syrian oregano (zaatar)–whatever strikes your fancy!

If this cookbook is not in your library, there is also a recipe for a simpler version of panzanella at

If you’d like to make this a meal in itself, add some good quality canned tuna or your homemade tuna confit to it. Cucumbers and onions are certainly optional.  Some fresh mozzarella would work here too.

The basic recipe above makes four to six servings, but it’s very easy to cut this down to make a single-serving quantity–just eyeball it!

I decided that this had potential for a bacon, lettuce and tomato salad so I did some modification: omitted the anchovies, capers, and the pepper.  I prepared the bread and the tomatoes as for the panzanella, and substituted balsamic (or rice wine) vinegar.  I kept the cucumber for it’s crunch and freshness and the sweet onion, even though they are not part of the BLT.  I added crumbled crisp bacon, and had this over romaine lettuce.

Since I did this improvisation  (it just wasn’t something that I needed a recipe for), I’ve googled “BLT salad” and found lots of variations on that theme, especially with the dressing.  Since I’m one who does like mayonnaise with my BLT, I’ve looked for dressings using it, but haven’t found anything I like better than the basic oil and vinegar, though I may be adventurous and try a creamy dressing with mayonnaise, thinned with buttermilk in the future.

A son goût!  

Tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes…..

It’s so easy to run out of room to plant tomatoes, and to plant (and produce) more than you can actually, really use!  Especially in December and January when you’re drooling over the seed catalogs and yearning for really good tomatoes.   There are some that I just have to plant every year.    The list gradually gets modified as I read about and try new varieties, though I often plant heirlooms, even though they may not be the most productive.

Given limited space, I don’t usually plant “paste” or “plum” tomatoes–I’ll settle for buying good quality canned tomatoes for sauce and winter use.  I usually only plant indeterminate tomatoes, and those that are good for eating–cherries and medium-sized fruits.  The first requirement is that they must taste really good–I like some acid tang in my tomatoes, but I like complex flavor too–so here are some of the ones that I plant at home.

I don’t want absolutely huge tomatoes either–I use a lot of “cherry” or “grape” tomatoes since they do well in salads, and as snacks.  I really want a tomato that is the right size for me to eat at one time since refrigerating a cut tomato changes the flavor and texture in a way that really makes it inedible as an uncooked tomato!

Sungold cherry tomatoes on the vine


Topping the “must-have” list are Sungold cherry tomatoes–it’s summer candy and snack food!  These are a deep tangerine orange, small, cherry tomato–about the size of a dime–that grows in clusters. You won’t find them in the grocery store–they are fragile–a bit of rain and they split very easily.  If you want them, you’ll need to visit your local farmers’ market or plant your own.  They’re very productive, early indeterminate tomato–meaning that the do get tall and gangling as they continue to put out new growth.  The good thing about this is that they will keep on producing tomatoes until frost–in the mild NC climate, I’ve sometimes picked them in December.  If you’re growing them, you’ll soon learn that if you hear a rumble of thunder you should run right out and pick  the ripe ones so that they don’s split in the rain.

photograph of Black Krim tomato fruit from Johnny's Select seeds.

Black Krim

Even though they don’t produce a lot of fruit, I almost always plant Black Krim tomatoes.  (Since I don’t have pictures of my own, I’ve gotten some from various catalogs/websites from which I usually buy seeds.)  I always wish that they were more productive, but I like them so well that I’m very grateful for the few that I do get from each plant.   These are a slicing tomato that is usually about 8 to 16 ounces in size.  The flavor is very complex–often characterized as “smoky”.  These are in the “beefsteak” category–meaty, with few seeds.  These are not going to be the most regular, round tomatoes that you’ll get from the garden, but they are luscious. They do need to be harvested while the shoulders are still green–while they may seem slightly under-ripe.  I think that they get “over-ripe” easily and then they will not have good texture–they’ll just kind of disintegrate.

pear-shaped Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes on the vine.

Black Trifele

Another “must-have” for me is the Japanese Black Trifele tomato.  Again, no photograph of my own so I’ve used the one from Johnny’s Select seeds.  (Yes, I am very partial to the “black” tomatoes–there’s something about the flavors of them that has me hooked!)  These are a smaller tomato–about 4 to 6 ounces–that are great in insalata caprese, or any other way that you care to serve them up.  These are also indeterminate plants that will continue to produce over a long season.   Like the Black Krim, they should be harvested while the shoulders are still green.   These are a “potato leafed” tomato–if you’re used to the usual tomato leaf shape, these can look distinctly un-tomato like.

Indigo Rose cherry tomatoes..very deep red to purple.  From Johnny's Select Seeds.

Indigo Rose

A new addition for me this year is the Indigo Rose tomato–I’ve not seen it before this year, nor have I tasted it, but from the catalog descriptions it was just not possible to pass it up!   Since it’s new, the photograph comes from Johnny’s Select Seeds.  I can’t wait to see how these look and taste from my garden.   I should share what I was looking at in December so here’s the description from Johnny’s Select Seeds: “Anthocyanins are powerful anti-oxidants. In the early stages of fruit development, Indigo Rose develops a dark purple pigment in its skin where exposed to direct sunlight. Green when unripe, purple-red when ripe, the 1-2 oz., cocktail-sized tomatoes have good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Compact indeterminate.   Days to Maturity or Bloom:   75.

Black Cherry cherry tomatoes.

Black Cherry

Another (if my plants succeed) that I hope to have is  the Black Cherry tomato.  Again, a cherry tomato that’s about an ounce or just a bit under, with maroon exterior and a wine red meat.  I first planted these two years ago.  They’re an indeterminate tomato as well–they were very productive for a long season.  (The deer ate the plants last year.)  I’ll hope that I’m lucky enough to have my own pictures of the ones in my garden this year–but  until then, these are courtesy of Johnny’s Select Seeds catalog.

That’s the selection so far…under consideration for the very few remaining spaces–maybe even only one–on the tomato trellis is a basic red slicing tomato…nothing huge, just something tasty!  Time to prowl the farmers’ market, though I might end up with another “specialty” tomato since the plants that we put in the field to harvest  for the farmers’ market provide me with a good supply of more basic red slicing tomatoes–like Brandy Boy, John Baer, Valley Girl, Champion, and others.  That means that I can get really esoteric with my choices for the home garden and still have the basics in good supply!

Gardening and farming…..

Tomato plants in flats....I’ve obviously been doing something other than writing posts for this blog!  What I HAVE  been doing is getting plants ready for the farmers’ market–and now each Saturday morning begins at four a.m. as I try to put enough coffee into my system to get me ready to be at the farmers’ market to start setting up by 6 o’clock.

Today I took some time to work on my home garden.  I planted some seeds:  beans (French ones for haricots verts), and cucumbers; and planted some Yukon Gold potatoes.  We plant lots of potatoes for the farmers’ market (Purple Majesty, Red Thumbs, Russian Bananas)–but for my home use I decided to do a potato that is intermediate in starchso that I can use them for more things.

The potato patch

potato patch

Here is the potato patch–just planted and thoroughly watered.  It’s a bit later than I really should have planted them, but we’ll see what happens.  The ones on the farm that we planted about three weeks ago are showing nice small plants, so this feels a bit behind for me–but it’s really the first chance I’ve had to plant the home garden. I’ll be hoping to see green leaves popping up before long even with this late start.  One of the things I am anticipating is some truly “new” potatoes!  (See “Potato Basics.)


Japanese Black Trifele tomato just planted

Japanese Black Trifele tomato

I’ve also planted the first tomatoes:  a Japanese Black Trifele and a Black Krim. These are from those tiny plants that were transplanted from the floats as soon as they had their first true leaves…so it feel good to be able to put these plants out in the garden now.  I’ve room for about four more plants, so I soon have to decide what those are going to be: most likely one Sungold cherry tomato since those are like summer candy for me, and a new one–a Cabernet–which is a grape tomato…and that will leave me room for one more that I want to try–an Indigo Rose–new this year.  I’ve some very tiny plants of Black Cherry that I want to add as well.  So it anticipation now!

Last summer the deer just demolished my entire garden–including an Italian Tree tomato that was about six feet tall–I’m hoping for better luck this year.  I’m trying to find ways short of a huge fence to help keep out deer because I really do like my  tomatoes!


fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Foeniculum vulgare

The very pleasant garden surprise that I had this spring was that the fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)  that the deer ate right to the ground last summer came back this spring.  Though it’s usually grown as an annual, I’m hoping that if I’m very careful when I cut the bulbs I can have a perennial fennel crop since it’s one of my favorite veggies to use for braising, or for salad/slaw type dishes. Those lovely green leaves can be used as an herb for adding to salads, or seasoning if you like the flavor of fennel.


clump of walking onions

walking onions

One of the things that the deer did not eat was my  “walking” onion so now I have a lovely clump (they’ll soon be walking, too) of perennial onions in the garden.  Now that these are established and starting to produce bulblets, they should give a continuous source of “green” onions for me…I’ll continue to buy my “storage onions from the grocery store since use so many of those.  I’d need an incredibly large garden to grow my supply of those–and a lot of appropriate storage space, too; it’s just not practical–but I certainly like the concept of perennial vegetables close at hand–for a good part of the year.


Small globe artichoke plant

artichoke plant

My last addition to the garden today was an artichoke.  Looks tiny now, but it will get bigger–and it will give “globe” artichokes–and, though it’s supposed to bear flowers this year, I know it may not give many until next year.  This is one of the plants that we started from seeds to sell at the farmers’ market.

I’m sure that there will be more impulsive additions as the season progresses!  Most likely more tomatoes since they are a summer favorite of mine and if the deer leave them alone, I’ll have many more than I can use because I just have to try different ones.

This doesn’t include the herbs that I’ve added this year.  More on those later–right now I’m just excited to have these veggies planted–and hoping that the deer and the rabbits will leave them alone.  Since a serious fence is not an option, I’m going to try the stakes and mono-filament approach–but then I may consider asking the hair-dresser for hair to sprinkle in the garden.

Tomato basics

I think that tomatoes are the reason many people think about starting a garden–and a lot of visits to the farmers’ market, too–but there is something special about picking a tomato that you have grown yourself.  The tomatoes are one of the first things that I look at when the seed catalogs start coming in about December or January.  There are literally dozens of varieties to choose from in any catalog.  It’s hard to decide–I always want to order too many.  While I’m looking in the seed catalogs, I have to make myself stop and think realistically about how much room I have in my garden, how many I can care for, how am I going to use the tomatoes, and how many can I honestly, really, truly use.  No matter how much you like them, there is a limit to how many you can use.

You  need to consider where you will grow the plants.  Tomatoes need lots of sun (at least six hours a day), even moisture, and good soil and fertilizer–just like any fruiting plants.  If you can’t give the plants enough sunlight, you’ll need to buy tomatoes at the farmers’ market because they absolutely beyond your control.  You can control the moisture and nutrition by applying fertilizer.

There are several ways to grow tomatoes–a traditional garden, even if only a small one, or in a container if you can meet the sun requirements on your deck or balcony.  There are advantages to both ways.  Most of the information here is applicable to either setting.  One advantage to container gardening is that since you will start with a soil-less potting mix that is sterile, you will avoid soil-borne diseases, and lots of weeds.

Image from The Regulator Bookshop

For full-size tomatoes, you need to plan on a container that is about 5 gallons since the tomatoes are heavy feeders with a large root system. (If you are thinking of “patio” tomatoes then you may be able to use a smaller container, but remember that in hot weather, you’ll need to water often.)  If you’re new to container gardening, you might check The Bountiful Container (see bibliography) for more detailed information (and other things that you can grow in containers, too).  This is an important part of choosing you tomato seed or plant if you are considering container on the deck or balcony.

To get an idea of the varieties available, you should go browse a seed catalog such as Johnny’s Select Seeds, Territorial Seeds, or some others that Google brings up–I’m just suggesting these as I know that they have lots of tomatoes, and some growing information.

When you’re looking at the seed catalogs you’ll see that plants are categorized in many ways–size, shape, early, late or mid-season, and may be designated as “determinate” or “indeterminate”.  Let’s look at what those things mean.

Determinate tomatoes have a kind of built-in height limit which they reach and then stop.  It’s not only height–but determinate tomatoes tend to produce their fruit in a  more compressed time.  That might be early, mid- or late-season.  So if you’re going to be on vacation in mid-summer, and you’ve planted a mid-season tomato, you may miss you tomato crop and the birds, squirrels, or the neighbors will have gotten the benefit of you tomato.  Tomato varieties that you’d plant out in the garden can be determinate–but large and still need support because of the heavy fruit load.  Patio tomatoes are also determinate–but have been bred to be even shorter–and may not need staking or trellising.  In fact some are short enough to be grown in hanging basket tomatoes or allowed to droop over the sides of a large pot.

Indeterminate tomatoes don’t have that build-in height limit–they keep growing, and growing, and growing, and–a bit like the Energizer Bunny–until cold weather kills them.  Since indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit starting at the bottom and continue upward as long as the weather permits.  They can get very large.  Whether the tomato is determinate or indeterminate is not related to the size of the fruit…so you can have a short plant that bears very large fruit, or an indeterminate plant that is very tall–and produces tiny one-inch cherry tomatoes.

Most tomatoes will need some kind of support–they’re pretty big plants unless you’ve decided to grow plants bred for patio or deck–and even those may need a support–unless they are going to be in a hanging basket,  just because of the weight of the fruit.

Tomatoes come in three basic types: slicing tomatoes–standard, round tomatoes like you see on your sandwich, or often  in insalata caprese; paste tomatoes, sometimes called “plum” tomatoes–with lots of flesh, usually used for cooking, and cherry tomatoes–small, round or perhaps grape- or pear-shaped that are usually very sweet and good for snacking, garnish, or eating out-of-hand.  Since I have limited space, I like one of each type, and because I want as long a season of picking ripe tomatoes, I’d want indeterminate ones.

Once you’ve figured out  these things you need to consider how you’re going to get those plants.  Are you going to start from seed or are you going to buy plants?

For your very first time growing a tomato, I recommend that you buying plant.  True, you likely will not have the selection that you’ve seen in the seed catalogs, but you won’t have the hassle of getting soil, containers, erratic germination, and things like that to contend with. You’ll be able to find more varieties at a farmers’ market or a good garden center, than at one of the “big box” home improvement garden centers.  Besides, if you buy at the farmers’ market the vendor will be able to help you with your choices and good advice.

Now that you have this tomato plant there are a couple more things you  need to consider.  Tomatoes are heat-lovers (well, within reason) so you really want to wait until after danger of frost is past to put them outside.  They’ll be happiest if the  soil has warmed up, and the nighttime temperatures are above 55 ° F  (12 to 13  ° C).

Now, a few other particulars about putting that plant in a larger container or out in the garden. You bought this plant in a small container, but to plant it properly you need to dig a big hole. Much of the stem/stalk needs to be buried to the lowest set of leaves.  Yes, really.  (There is a video to show you how the roots develop when planted deep.)   That gives the plant lots of area to form roots–and remember that tomatoes really need to slurp up lots of food and moisture, so they need to develop large root systems.  Roots will form all along that buried stem and that a good thing.  Water well immediately after planting.  If you have it, put compost in the bottom of the hole that you dug before putting in the plant, or if not, then water with a dilute fertilizer solution.  This plant is going to be busy growing and producing fruit so it needs good nutrition so unless your potting mix contains time-release fertilizer, you’ll want to feed it with dilute fertilizer or fish emulsion weekly or biweekly.  Remember that a tomato plant in a container is dependent on you since it’s root growth is limited by the container.  Tomatoes need calcium to support the tissues so adding oyster shell or quick-release lime will provide needed calcium and prevent blossom end rot in you fruits.

Here is another video which will give you some more details on growing tomatoes in containers, including pruning (suckering) indeterminate tomatoes.

image of blossom end rot (Ohio State University)

blossom end rot

Now, what can go wrong?  Blossom end rot is one of the things that can spoil your tomatoes–it’s from a lack of calcium so adding oyster shell or quick-lime in the hole when you plant can help prevent this.  Other factors contributing to blossom end rot are wide fluctuations in moisture–or even too much water–even moisture is important to tomatoes. No matter how it looks, blossom end rot is a physiological disorder of you plant,  not the result of any infestation of virus, fungus or other tomato pest.

image of tomato hornworm; Colorado State University Cooperative Extension


Since we share the world with insects, there are some problems with pests on your plants. You need to watch for signs of these so that you can control them before too much damage to your plant. One you may see is the hornworm.They have a voracious appetite and you may first discover that you have them by seeing tender parts of leaves eaten away with only the ribs left, or the black/very dark green droppings from the caterpillar.  The best way to control them on a few plants is just to pick them off.  There are other pests which may infest you plants–aphids, black flies, and other–but these are the most common ones here–and fairly simple to prevent or manage.   There’s the internet and/or your garden center to help you identify and manage others that cannot be covered here. There are many more potential pests and problems, such as wilts and blights,  but that is beyond the scope of this post.  You will likely not encounter these problems if you’re growing in a container.

You must keep in mind that if you ask three tomato growers for an opinion on how to grow the best tomatoes you will probably get four opinions.  What’s here is my attempt to cull the opinions and give you some facts to get started.  Now, you can anticipate….

tomatoes laid out on table

tomatoes, tomatoes...and more tomatoes