Everywhere you look, there are tomatoes

September 14, 1997|By Rob Kasper

AS A VICTIM OF tomato glut, I am familiar with its symptoms and its causes. Like so many maladies of modern American life, excess is at the root of this condition.

Tomato glut afflicts households that have too much of a good thing, too many home-grown tomatoes. This situation would not have occurred if, in the spring, I had exercised some restraint and had planted a reasonable number of tomatoes.

But spring is no time for moderation. After months of eating tomatoes that tasted like cardboard, I so craved the flavor of home-grown tomatoes that on the first warm day I sowed enough tomatoes to rival the output of a Caroline County truck farm. The mad planting behavior of May came due in September.

If the truth be told, some of us enjoy being victims of tomato glut.

There are drawbacks to the affliction, such as having to eat tomatoes at every meal, including breakfast. But it is a distinctive condition. Not everyone has a garden. Not every gardener arranges things so his tomato plants hit their high-production mode during the same two-week period. And not everyone has signature tomato-juice stains on his shirts. Only the few, the stained, the tomato-excessed can reach this state.

There are a few tell-tale signs of a household suffering from tomato glut. One is odor. If your place smells like tomatoes, you are a victim. This is not always a welcoming aroma. While ripe tomatoes give off a pleasing, if subtle fragrance, a more powerful perfume comes from the "leakers." These are the tomatoes whose best days are behind them.

Another sign of a household in the throes of tomato glut is that its members take turns on leaker patrol. Leaker patrol is the daily ritual of inspecting the tomatoes that are awaiting consumption. You examine rows of tomatoes that are weighing down tables, taking up space on kitchen counter tops, blocking light on windowsills, taking over the domestic landscape faster than piles of dirty laundry. You pinch them, tossing away the ones that have turned flabby.

You also look for fruit flies. They are a sure sign of troubled tomatoes. When tomatoes go bad, their skins burst and they leak juice. Fruit flies are attracted to the juice. And before you can attack the critters with sprays or rolled-up magazines, these pests have set up residence in your kitchen, a situation that does not seem to happen to folks whose kitchens appear in House Beautiful.

As the tomatoes surround us, we are desperately thinking up ways to diminish their numbers, to use them up before these sweet-smelling companions turn into not-so-pleasant company.

One way to use them is to slice them, put them on a baking sheet and slowly roast them in the oven on low heat. This treatment works best on plum tomatoes. But if your kitchen is under siege, you can use other tomatoes and cut them into slices about the size of cookies.

The tomatoes come out of the oven looking like dried prunes, but they taste sweet and nutty. It took me about four hours to roast a sheet of these bite-size snacks. But it only takes about 30 minutes to polish off these morsels.

Oven-dried tomatoes

28 plum tomatoes, core end cut off, cut in half, lengthwise

2 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Lightly brush the skin side of each tomato with olive oil. Place skin side down, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about a quarter of their original size but are still soft and juicy. This takes about 4 to 6 hours. Let cool on the baking sheet. Serve as appetizers or add to sandwiches or sauces.

From " A Well-Seasoned Appetite" by Molly O'Neill (Viking, 1995, $26)

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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