Those first ripe, locally grown tomatoes still arrive as a shock to our senses after a winter of pale, mealy and dull-flavored imports. Once again, picking through roadside stands and overflowing farmers’ markets, we are planted firmly in the summer season.
Depending on the weather, the Baltimore region starts to see local tomatoes around mid-July— the smaller cherry varieties come first. The best eating tomato is the one that is fully ripe, but not necessarily vine-ripened. It’s actually better to pick tomatoes from the vine just as they are turning orange to red. (The sugar content and acidity actually decrease if left on the vine in strong sunlight.) You should keep unripened tomatoes inside for four to five days in natural light (between 59 and 70 degrees), but not on the windowsill in direct sun.
Once ripened, a tomato might last only two more days. Pick tomatoes at the market that are heavy for their size, full of juice, with a smooth unblemished skin. And never store tomatoes in the refrigerator: the cold wipes out their flavor.
Sliced tomatoes, layered with cheese or in salads, are wonderful, but those simple preparations can get boring, so I’ve offered several alternatives. Keep trying the assorted varieties (there are hundreds, of course) to find your own favorites.
Andrew Evans is the chef and owner of the Inn at Easton.