Photo by Ben Hillyer

Archived Story

For many, tomatoes are best eaten plain

Published 12:05am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

By April Garon/The Natchez Democrat

Mary Baker’s heart is equally torn between ice cream and tomatoes.

“They are both my favorite comfort foods,” Baker said.

While ice cream may be cooling in the summer heat, locals are also scrambling for the juicy, bright red smooth-skinned fruit that masquerades as a vegetable.

“When they are homegrown, you can eat a tomato without anything on it but salt and pepper, and have that great tomato taste,” Baker said.

Baker grows her own tomatoes at her house in Cannonsburg and brings them to sell to hungry patrons at the Natchez Farmer’s Market.

When Natchez native Ami Scott stopped at the market to pick up tomatoes, she undoubtedly had comfort on her mind.

“We eat BLT’s every summer,” Scott said. “My husband Joey works on an oilfield, so when he is home we might make them three or four times a week.”

The tomatoes in Scott’s sandwiches may well have come from Baker’s garden or from the garden of one of the many other local growers selling their produce this summer.

Vidalia Super Sweet Corn stand’s Judy Kelley said people are anxious to have their first juicy tomato sandwich of the season.

“We tell people to come in the morning before the tomatoes are gone,” Kelley said.

The popularity of locally grown tomatoes is no coincidence, Baker said. She said big-box supermarket store tomatoes simply aren’t the same as locally grown.

“They are like trying to eat a Styrofoam cup; there is no flavor,” Baker said.

Another favorite meal for Baker is a quick salad of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers tossed with Italian dressing.

“Marinate for a couple moments, and you’ve really got something,” Baker said.

Employees at local farmer’s markets and produce stands say tomatoes are one of their fastest sellers. Dan Wells of Wells Produce said people come in every day asking for tomatoes.

“People get lazy; it’s easier to fix a tomato sandwich with ham or bacon,” Wells said.

Natchez Farmer’s Market organizer Helen Brooks said customers prepare homemade spreads for their sandwiches or simply eat tomatoes sliced with herbal seasonings.

“People are increasingly health conscious now,” Brooks said.

The hot temperatures and humidity of deep South summer months may lend themselves to the enjoyment of tomatoes; turning on the oven seems sacrosanct.

“I don’t get many people wanting tomatoes specifically to use for a dish they are making, they just want to eat them as they are,” Baker said.