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Keeping Up With Maury
Ohio Tomatoes are the Best
by Maury Feren

Look around, all you foodies and locovores(People who only eat locally grown foods)!

This is the time when you are really going to enjoy the fruits of your gardening here in Ohio as well as the beautiful harvest season yet to come. July and August are big months for tomatoes. I don't know how many people grow their own tomatoes, but those who do can't stop raving about the flavor and taste.

It's a fact that Ohio's soil brings out the best in tomato flavor. In particular, if you live in Lake County, you'll find that the land is perfect! We used to purchase a good tasting pink tomato called Acme. We also purchased many red varieties particularly the Rugby.

But some things have changed! Even the ones that look familiar just aren't the same. For example, I have to differ with the heirloom tomato growers. Despite their claims, many of these varieties are overblown for flavor and nothing like the originals. There is more to their story, but I don't want to get into that right now.

In my day, I sold lots of locally grown tomatoes. All these old varieties have disappeared from the scene. But one thing hasn't changed. Ohio produces a huge crop of commercial tomatoes.

I had decided to do a speech entitled "The Industrialization of the Tomato" since I thought it would be an interesting and controversial subject. However, it never happened! So let me give you the quick version.

For all you tomato lovers, the reason you don't get good tasting tomatoes 9 months of the year is simple. Florida produces 50 - 75% of our tomato crops for almost 6 months of the year. But their soil is not half as good as Ohio soil! Add that factor to the process of artificial ripening by electric heat and other similar methods used in Florida.

Next to an Ohio tomato, a Florida tomato doesn't have a fighting chance! No matter how good they might look, they don't taste a thing like those in Lake County.

I think this is a common example of what happens at the commercial level with imported foods. Some time ago, I asked one of the major distributors of tomatoes why he didn't feature the Campari tomatoes which are just the best. "Jim," I said. "Every restaurateur I know that wants to be top notch uses the Campari tomato. Many use the grape tomato which has its good points as well. That goes for some retail markets. So, how come you're not going with the best for your customers?"

He replied, "I wholesale 7 to 9 different kinds of fruit. If I featured the Campari line, it would affect my sales of all those other Florida tomatoes which are available year round. Despite their taste, the Florida ones are the backbone of my business." So that's that.

Tomatoes aside, if you are a cucumber or pickle lover, Ohio is the place for you! If you do any kind of processing, butter cucumber slices, sweet and sour, Kosher dills, or anything else be sure to use the old standby - the Kirby pickle. It has great pickling qualities and does well for most every kind of processing.

Make sure your water is free of chlorine or any other chemical. That's important. The pickles you use must be fresh, firm, and free of dirt that often gets into the smaller types. Size is only important in terms of what you intend to make. Kosher salt works better than iodized salt. The purists swear by it. Dissolve it first.

Don't use any waxed cucumbers. Waxed cucumbers will rot in the jar. I've experienced that firsthand! Go for freshness. Process the pickles or cucumbers at once. Avoid the long stemmed salad cucumbers.

For sour dills, I recommend garlic and fresh dill if you're following the traditional methods. Dill seed works, but not as effectively. Lacto fermentation takes place in 3 days. From that time on, you must decide how well done you'd like your pickles. Refrigerate as soon as you decide how well done you want your pickles.

Late July and August are the best months for pickles. Miles Farmer Market sells the best supplies of specialty pickles. They also carry the extras you need for good processing like fresh dill and fresh garlic, and Habanera peppers. But, look out! The peppers are too much for some tastes. So, cut the pepper into small pieces. I have used of a jalapeno pepper with 2 cloves of garlic and 5 sprigs of dill. Good luck on your first trial experiment.

Oh, I know you want to know all about the imported stuff. How long the cherries will be good, how to pick a cantaloupe, honeydew, or a watermelon? What about the Canary melon, Casaba, and Gala? I'll be doing that from time-to-time. I'll just tell you for now that this is a great time for buying fresh figs. Once you've enjoyed the wonderful taste of fresh figs, you'll come back to it every year in season. But it's a short season.

I walked into Trader Joe's display of Mission Figs, the Black ones and I almost succumbed to their imported charm. It was a big buy: 12 - 155 figs for $5.00. Cut them in half and serve them with cream cheese, or Brie. The green Calimyrna figs wallow in their sweetness. You'll find them anywhere there is a specialty fresh market. I can't tell you how good tasting they are. You gotta try them yourself.

Alright! Enough on the imported stuff! I don't want to shoot the works. I'll be back with more.

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