A mission to get some simple tomato soup ingredients from the Concord Farmer’s Market on the grounds of the Steeplegate Mall leads me to Harry Lewis of Lewis Farms in Concord.
He picks up a tomato, which is colored in shades of red, orange and yellow, off the table of his stand on a recent Thursday. From the top, it shares the same four-leaf-clover shape as a bell pepper does. He smiles and assures me that it is, in fact, a typical heirloom tomato.
“These ones, that look like peppers, you can cut the tops out and stuff it, and cook it,” says Lewis says, who has run his farm on Silk Farm Road for about 10 years. “It will stand right up. You can stand them next to each other, and they’ll cook together and maintain the shape. You can stuff them with tuna fish, rice and hamburg, tomato sauce and some cheese. … Put a clove of garlic in there and have them with steak. It really brings out the flavor.”
Needless to say, my soup plans were sufficiently set aside, and I took Lewis’s suggestion to make stuffed tomatoes.
I did have some trouble extracting of the heirloom’s innards — scooping out the unnecessary seeds and pulp, I managed to poke a hole or two through the tomatoes with soft bottoms. But the rest of the recipe was easy.
While my father preferred to scoop the filling out first before eating the shell, I took the deconstruction approach where I cut open the walls and ate them with the filling. These tomatoes may have had the look of a bell pepper, but what helped the tomato triumph in terms of taste was the burst of juicy flavor inside the shell.
Star Ingredient: Tomatoes
Lewis has several other suggestions for appetizers that use tomatoes, which is not surprising considering his greenhouse helps elongate his tomato season from early June to late November.
“We start picking in June, so that when everyone else’s tomatoes are coming in early August, we’re on the downside,” he says.
While the summer is prime time for most farmers to grow tomatoes, these past summers have forced the vegetable to consume too much water, diluting the skin of the tomato as well as its flavor.
“If it’s really watery, it will have a transparency look to it. If you pick it up and it looks squishy, you’ve just got to pull your head away to take a bite to make sure you don’t squirt anyone,” he laughs. “Can’t do nothin’ about the weather.”
While some foods like watermelon and apples have a particular season, Lewis said, he eats tomatoes from the start of the spring farmers markets in March all the way until “almost February.”
“You pick them while they’re still green in November,” he said. “Then you take a wheelbarrow, take a capful full of bleach, and put everything into the wheelbarrow. Then, you wash your tomatoes off completely and dry them. [It] kills all the bacteria on them and keeps the skin harder so they don’t spoil as easily.
Space them out and let the air get them. Keep them in a semi-dark place and they’ll last a long time.”