Among the hearth-warming treasures in our TakeHome boxes this week are bright-as-holiday-lights cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme). “Tomatoes in December!” you may exclaim. Why, yes Virginia, this is one of the benefits of urban California living, along with the lack of engine block warmers, ice scrapers, sound of 5 a.m. salt spreaders, or snow days. And you do get field-fresh late-season tomatoes.
When we called on farmer John Givens to ask how can this be, a tomato crop in December, he replied to city kids naíïveté with a farmer's pragmatic answer: “We plant them where it doesn't freeze.” Oh, why of course, that would be Goleta, CA (Santa Barbara County). Planted August 15, the crop survival depends on having no rain in November. How John could predict that it wouldn't rain this November must be between him and his secret Santa. John Givens is Santa Barbara farmer's market royalty, he started organic farming 30 years ago on one acre and now his Something Good Farm is a patchwork of 180 organic acres.
A little tomato blast in winter is a great benefit to your holiday-besieged cells. Tomatoes have 23 mg Vitamin C per cup, and about one calorie per tomato. The free radical fighting antioxidant lycopene is tomato's gift to you, Lycopene is a bright red carotenoid pigment and phytochemical found chiefly in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables. Cooking tomatoes concentrates the lycopene.
Cherry tomatoes are classic in salad or skewered on toothpicks with olives, or stuffed with cheese. They cook quickly and break down quickly for fresh tomato sauce. You may end up snacking on the cherry toms before they even get to the cooking stage; cherry toms after all are nature’s candy—and December’s Christmas candy.
- Heidi Lewis