Will the Best Tomato Please Stand Up

Golden Sunshine (left) versus Cherokee Purple (right)

Golden Sunshine (left) versus Cherokee Purple (right)

Early Girl. Better Boy. Heirloom. Beefsteak. So where have I been? I thought I knew about and have tasted just about every tomato known to mankind until I ran into Samantha and Tessa from Penn Farms in Colonial Beach Virginia, at the Great Falls Farmers Market.

“What tomatoes are good today?” I asked

Tessa replied, The Cherokee Purple…it’s everyone’s favorite and we sell out fast!”

“You mean those small ones that look more like an apple? Okay, I’ll try them.”

What is a Cherokee Purple Tomato?

According to Rareseeds: “This tasty tomato is an old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety; beautiful deep dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very large sized fruit. Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor.”

Seed Saver’s Exchange says this about the Cherokee Purple: “Unique dusty rose color. Flavor rivals Brandywine, extremely sweet. Productive plants produce large crops of 12 oz. fruits. Indeterminate, 80 days from transplant.”

The Cherokee Purple did not disappoint. Today I had them for lunch, sliced with a little salt, fresh basil, some mayo, and a piece of toast for dipping into the tomato juice left on the plate.

Two Girls

Samantha (left) and Tessa (right) are pretty cheerful early on a Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Great Falls. They also know their produce. As I pointed to all the tomato varieties they quickly rattled off their names. Thanks to them, I’ve now experienced the Cherokee Purple. They also introduced me to squash blossoms which is a topic for a later blog.

The variety from Penn Farms. Samantha and Tessa knew the names of all of them.

The variety from Penn Farms. Samantha and Tessa knew the names of all of them.



Tomato Wellness

According to many sources, tomatoes are a formidable source of lycopene and antioxidants. The Tomato Wellness website says tomatoes are one of the worlds’ healthiest foods. I have a friend in the south who claims that if you eat something with tomatoes in it every day you will not have a weight problem. While that theory has not been proven, it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s the best time of year to take the tomato plunge, so go ahead. It’s all good.


For more on my tomato thoughts, see “It’s Too Hot to Eat,” page 71 in the summer issue of Celebrate Home Magazine. Download for free here. 

From the Garden

Chef Emily Doerman not only studied at the International Center for Culinary Arts in Dubai, she is also a registered dietician who works in an internal medicine practice. You can always find her at the farmer’s market in Great Falls, Virginia, on Saturday mornings doing cooking demos with fresh ingredients.

Here Emily takes the best from the summer garden and creates her Warm Eggplant Caprese Salad (recipe below). You can find this and her other light summer recipes in the summer issue of Celebrate Home Magazine. (Click on the link to download for free.)

Warm Eggplant Caprese Salad 


  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 large tomatoes, such as heirloom or Beefmaster
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus extra
  • 4 ounces buffalo mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼-inch round slices
  • Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 375⁰.

Wash and trim off the ends of the eggplant. Create a striped eggplant look — use a peeler and peel off skin in one-inch strips alternating with one-inch strips of eggplant skin lengthwise.

Next, cut eggplant crosswise into one-half- inch round slices until you have 8 slices. Lay slices on a plate and salt both sides. Let stand for 10 minutes. With a dry paper towel, wipe off salt and pat dry.

Cut the tomatoes crosswise into one-half- inch slices. To chiffonade the basil leaves, make a stack of 6 to 8 leaves at a time. Tightly roll leaves. Make very small slices crosswise into the roll. Mix cut basil with vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.

Prepare a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or oil. To layer the eggplant caprese salad, start with one eggplant slice on the bottom, top with 1 tablespoon balsamic basil mixture, then 1 mozzarella slice, 1 tomato slice, next another slice of mozzarella, 1 slice tomato, 1 tablespoon balsamic basil mixture, and finish with 1 slice eggplant.

Hint: When layering the salad, make sure the slices of eggplant, mozzarella, and tomato are similar in diameter.

Drizzle tops with balsamic vinegar. Repeat this for three more stacks. Use toothpicks to hold in place while baking.

Bake 18 – 20 minutes until cheese is melted and eggplant is soft. For garnish, top with small slices of mozzarella and allow to melt. Remove toothpicks before serving.

Yield: 4 servings


I’m Moving Out

…Outside that is. It’s time to move outside to the deck, yard, or porch. I needed a quick appetizer last night and it doesn’t get any easier or fresher than this.


  • 1 loaf French baguette
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • Fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Slice French bread into thin slices and arrange on platter. Assemble by putting a slice of mozzarella cheese, then tomato, then salt and pepper to taste, then top with basil leaf.

Summer Vegetables That “Show Up” (Especially the First Week of School)

Summer brings fresh tomatoes and all sorts of herbs and goodies from the garden. There are still a few weeks left in some parts of the country for locally-grown tomatoes and basil.

Ratatouille is a popular summer dish because it uses garden fresh tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and can be made ahead, reheated, and even served at room temperature.

I created a new twist to ratatouille---you can't mess it up because all the vegetables "show up" for you.

This week, I played around with my own recipe—a new twist on an old standby (ratatouille). I simplified it a bit and omitted the peppers and used the delicious bruschetta seasoning that I found in Wilmington, North Carolina this summer at the Italian Gourmet Market. I also experimented with adding cheese, which typical ratatouille does not do.

There are still plenty of “deck days” left where we live in Virginia. This will be a good dinner this Friday evening with some French bread, grilled chicken, and some wine…all on the deck as we recover from the first week of school! I’ll make it ahead the night before so when I get home from work on Friday all I have to do is put it in the oven.

Bagkelley’s Late-Summer Veggies

First, the good things about this recipe:

Do you like bleu or feta cheeses? Add one for a different taste. This recipe goes with your mood and taste buds. I experimented separately with both feta and bleu with great results.

TIP: Peeling and salting the eggplant will give it a buttery and not bitter flavor. Typical ratatouille does not call for peeling the eggplant.

You’ll note that these are all approximate measurements. You simply cannot mess up this dish. The vegetables “show up” no matter what you do to them.

TIP: Don’t use a sweet onion like a Vidalia sort—the sweet ones lose their onion pungence-ness (is that a word?) when cooked. Save sweet onions for salads or on burgers.

This dish can perch on a buffet for several hours, not spoil, get to room temperature and still be delish!

This is light fare that can be eaten with French bread dipped in the olive oil.


  • Olive oil, plenty of it
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 zucchini or yellow squash or both, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly.
  • Garlic, about a clove minced
  • Basil, about ½ cup, rolled and sliced (this is the way my brother Bobby advises cutting basil)
  • Bruschetta seasoning (or season to taste with salt, black pepper, chili powder, dried basil)
  • Panko breadcrumbs mixed with ½ cup parmesan cheese and ¼ cup olive oil
  • Cheese is optional, choose crumbled feta or bleu or mozzarella

Heat oven to 424 degrees.

Sautee onion, tomatoes, fresh garlic and fresh basil in a pan. Season to taste with the bruschetta seasoning or other recommended seasonings. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Set aside

Cover a foil-lined baking sheet with olive oil. Place the peeled and sliced eggplant on the sheet. Top with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for 10 minutes.

Do the same with the zucchini and/or yellow squash, olive oil, but they don’t need much salt to make them tender and good.

Now, we are ready to assemble and bake:

Spray a baking dish with oil, about 9’ x 12”, or use round casserole, whatever you have on hand

Layer eggplant, then tomato mixture, then one type of cheese if you like, then zucchini/yellow squash, eggplant. End with tomato mixture and cheese.

Top with Panko breadcrumb/cheese/olive oil mixture

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve hot or room temp.

Tomatoes and Basil, All Dressed Up in Bow Ties

"Barbara and Maters" photo by Cindy Dyer. Here I make my simple and delicious Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

By this time in the summer my basil is so abundant I can make tons of pesto, but I still enjoy plucking it fresh from the plant when I need it. Summer can’t get away from me yet, I still want to eat juicy locally-grown tomatoes paired with basil.

I LOVE TO MAKE THIS DISH! (Can you tell from the picture?) It gets even better the next day when reheated. It’s simply delicious! It’s simple to prepare ahead — all you have to do is cook the pasta, toss, and serve.

Serving suggestion: Serve with freshly-grated parmesan cheese, ciabatta or foccaccia bread (oh I just remembered… do I have a bread recipe for you!…a future blog, I promise). If you are having company or need a more hearty meal, grill some chicken or shrimp (something lightly seasoned). This is company worthy.

Barbara’s Maters and Bow Ties

  • 3-4 large fresh, ripe tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup basil leaves, rolled and sliced (that’s how my brother does it)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves minced (or more if you like garlic)
  • 3/4 pound of Brie cheese, rind removed (normally we eat the rind, but for this recipe it just doesn’t work, it tastes bitter, so when you peel off the rind, have some crackers on hand and have a little snack while you cook). Tear the cheese as best as you can, most of it will melt.
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste; salt about1/2 teaspoon
  • Put all the above ingredients in a bowl, stir, and let them sit for one to eight hours at room temperature.
  • 1 box farfalle pasta (This is the bow-tie shaped pasta derived from the Italian word meaning butterfly.)
  • Cook the pasta according directions. Drain and immediately toss with the tomato sauce.