Tomatoes draw attention at farmers market

Each Saturday through August from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. brings a variety of healthy locally-grown eating choices to the Helena Farmer's Market.​ Fried Green Tomatoes, anyone? (Contributed)

Each Saturday through August from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. brings a variety of healthy locally-grown eating choices to the Helena Farmer’s Market.​ Fried Green Tomatoes, anyone? (Contributed)

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

It’s a given that everyone has an opinion on the tomato.

Scientifically a fruit, but actually a “berry” in the strictest botanical sense, it is a remarkable food plant—right up there with wheat, corn and potatoes providing nutritional value, antioxidants and flavors to cuisines around the world.

From opening day on, shoppers at Helena Market Days pounce early on the tomato (and peach) offerings by vendors Evans Farms, Boozer Farms and K&S Farms.

Did you know the tomato dates back to 1520? First domesticated in South America and by the Mayans, the name xitomatl or tomatl means “swelling berry.”

Many of us can remember our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ efforts at vegetable gardening and they would be envious of the many varieties available today—over 7,500—of different sizes, shapes and uses.

The tomato plant was once shunned for its smell and was even considered poisonous until the late 1800s.

A tomato should not be bland, innocuous or necessarily a hybrid. Heirloom tomatoes have acquired interest and popularity with many of today’s tomato lovers.

The Cherokee heirloom varieties are particularly tasty and come in all colors. There is the Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Green, even a Cherokee Chocolate. You can even be technically correct and try your hand at growing Green Giant, which sounds to be the ultimate tomato for making into that now-acclaimed Southern favorite, the Fried Green Tomato.

Recipe: Use four firm green tomatoes sliced ½ inch thick. Whisk two eggs, ½ cup milk in medium bowl. Scoop 1 cup all-purpose flour onto a plate. Mix ½ cup cornmeal, ½ cup breadcrumbs with two teaspoons coarse kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper. Dip tomatoes in flour to coat, then into liquid mixture, then dredge in breadcrumbs.

Using a cast-iron is preferable, but any good, heavy skillet—even an electric skillet—works fine.

Fry in vegetable oil, about 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep. Don’t cover the tomatoes with oil, but keep the temperature at 360 degrees to 375 degrees. Optionally add about three tablespoons of bacon grease for more flavor. Don’t crowd in pan. Brown and flip, then drain on paper towel.