Introducing Farmers' Market Share: Be Thankful for Tomatoes

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Alissa Nelson
Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Beginning this week, she will seek the bounty of local farmers' markets for Gut Check -- and then cook it.

St. Louis, I have a message for you: Be grateful that you are not on the East Coast this summer.

I know it's hard. You've absorbed the sense of inadequacy. You've grown accustomed to bitching endlessly about the weather. You've accepted the trek to other cities for gigantic music festivals. But look at us! Right now! Farm Aid chose St. Louis as a venue this year because we have a vital farming community that embraces both biodiversity and small farmers, as evidenced by our growing farmers' market options in the metro area.

And perhaps most important of all: We have tomatoes. Lots of them. Dare I say we are bathing-suit-area-deep in tomatoes, while our friends up and down the eastern seaboard are lamenting the Great Tomato Famine of 2009. Not just red ones either; there are yellow and green and purple tomatoes, and tiny orange candy-like gems.

But before I go on, let me make a confession: I used to hate tomatoes. I would avoid them. I would take them off sandwiches and beg my mother not to include them in salads. And then I had a for-real tomato. It was fresh off the plant, it had ripened in the sun, and it was delicious. From then on (with minor bumps in the road), I learned never to eat supermarket tomatoes, and my summers were forever changed. Now I look forward to tomatoes. I grow excessive numbers of plants, and I scramble for uses. I eat them raw and cooked, alone and in combination with whatever I can get a hold of. And they are amazing.

And so I give you the height of summer, which my friends and family in New England can only imagine right now, in the form of gazpacho. It both perfectly highlights all that is great about fresh tomato flavor, and it doesn't involve turning on the stove when it's already ungodly hot. I want to give you a couple of options to avoid scaring you off, so please do let me know in the comments if you prefer more basic recipes, or if you don't mind my fanciful food-blogger flights -- because sometimes a girl just goes a little nuts at the farmers market.

Storage notes: Sometimes you will buy a tomato with cracked skin. This doesn't indicate that anything is wrong, and it can actually demonstrate an especially ripe tomato. To avoid quick spoilage, just leave it on your counter with the stem side down. For the love of all that is delicious, do not refrigerate your tomatoes! They will lose flavor and become mealy. So buy frequently and eat fast!

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