Miriam's garden: Heirloom tomatoes are ripening, slowly but surely

At last, the tomatoes in my garden are beginning to ripen. They’ve been slow due to our recent monsoon-like rains coupled with the cooler fallish temps. Plus they went in late. And I grow types that ripen late. Though the plants are somewhat challenged, I feel confident. Look, here comes the sun.

I grew many of my favorites, mostly heirlooms including ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Oxheart,’ ‘Black Prince,’ ‘June Pink’ and ‘Eva Purple Ball.’ I added some new ones: ‘Crnkovic Yugoslavian,’ ‘Ivan’ and ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter,’ which produced the tallest plant I’ve ever seen. Plants are loaded up with fat green tomatoes that are ever so slowly turning red, pink, purplish-red or tangerine.

I put in some hybrids as well, as insurance against a tough year and I’m glad for this. ‘Celebrity’ tomatoes are bearing like crazy and have good flavor as do the bright cherry tomatoes ‘Sungold.’ They’re in a crowded spot, right next to ‘Juliet,’ the prolific baby plum tomato.

Also new this year is ‘Pink Cadillac,” started from seed saved from a tomato given to me by my friend Anne Q. Corr, a food writer and cookbook author from Centre County. This family heirloom is from Uniontown and was grown by John Koritko Jr., her husband’s fishing buddy.

“John brought us these spectacular, gnarly tomatoes,” she recounted. “They had intense flavor, well-balanced, but not sweet, irregular in shape, lumpy and bumpy.” They came from seeds that had been lost for a generation, and given to his sister by a neighbor in 2001 at his mother’s funeral. His father, John Koritko Sr., a coal miner in Uniontown, had grown them in the family’s garden. Called Pink Cadillac because he drove a Cadillac, he was known in the neighborhood as “Cadillac John,” wrote Ms. Corr in an article for Centre Daily Times in State College.

John Koritko Jr. refers to himself in that article as “The Keeper of the Seed.” Carrying on tradition, he cultivates his dad’s prized Pink Cadillacs in his large Centre County garden. During his visits to the local waffle shop, in season, “he’s known to travel leaving a trail of tomatoes,” Ms. Corr said. “He gives them away, to the waitress, the hostess, the owner.”

In an email, Mr. Koritko wrote that he’s proud to be continuing his father’s legacy with ‘Pink Cadillacs.’ He starts about 100 plants to give away to friends. This year, he has got about 45 plants in his two gardens. He uses the tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sandwiches thick slices of the fruit on white bread with light mayonnaise. Later in the season, he cooks them down into a salsa, adding his own sweet and hot peppers. “I never sell them, just share them freely as tribute to my dad, Cadillac John and our hometown roots in Uniontown,” he added.

A couple years back, as co-curator of a food project for the Bellefonte Art Museum, Ms. Corr held an event at Mr. Koritko’s garden. Along with tips from the “Tomato Man” about cultivating heirloom tomatoes, there was a tomato sandwich tasting.

Two tables were set up in his garden, she said. “We served Western Pennsylvania-style tomato sandwiches and Eastern Pennsylvania-style tomato sandwiches. Both were on soft, white, untoasted bread, neutral bread,”  she said. The difference was in the spread. Western was Miracle Whip and Eastern was Hellman’s.

Now visiting family in Colorado, Ms. Corr said she hasn’t had a decent tomato since she got there.

Maybe she needs to come back, because soon I’ll have a garden full of ripe ones. They’re fabulous in my version of tomato sandwiches.

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin.

Simple Heirloom Tomato Salad

PG tested

This simple dish lets the tomato shine true. With perfect tomatoes, you will not eat anything better this summer. 

1½ pounds (about 3 medium-large) ripe heirloom tomatoes

8 to 12 mixed small tomatoes and ‘Sungold’ or other cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Basil sprigs and basil leaves

Core the big tomatoes, halve if large and cut into slices. Arrange sliced tomatoes and halved smaller tomatoes on a large, deep platter.

In a cup, mix the oil and vinegar. Spoon over the tomatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with basil, tearing some leaves over the salad. Let stand for 10 minutes or so before serving, so juices can start to flow.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Note: You can always gussy it up with add-ons such sliced fresh mozzarella, crumbled feta or soft goat cheese, thinly sliced sweet red or white onion, thinly sliced cucumbers, chunky avocado and cilantro, shredded Parmesan or a creamy blue cheese and thin slices of prosciutto.

— Miriam Rubin


Spicy Tomato & Tomatillo Soup

PG tested

Done as fast as you can say, “Where is the blender?” this soup can also be made in a food processor. It’s a delicious sharp-spicy-zesty blend of summer’s best from Erin French in her new book,”The Lost Kitchen.”

2 pounds fresh, beautiful tomatoes, cored and quartered

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed

2 garlic cloves, peeled

4 sprigs fresh cilantro

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In blender or food processor, puree tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, oil and rice vinegar until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a container, pressing down on the solids. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

— Adapted from “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine” by Erin French (Clarkson Pottter, May 2017)


Sunny-Side Eggs and Tomatoes

PG tested

This easy recipe is the most delightful way to start the day during tomato season. If serving two, use a larger pan and double the recipe.

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs, farm-fresh if possible

4 to 5 mixed small tomatoes, including Sungolds, halved

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Snipped chives (optional)

Toast, for serving

In a 6-to 8-inch ceramic or nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Crack in eggs and cook 1 minute.

Place tomatoes in pan next to, but not on, the eggs and sprinkle with salt. Cook, gently shaking pan and turning tomatoes once, until eggs start to set. Cover and cook about 1 minute more, until eggs are done the way you like them and tomatoes are soft but not completely collapsed.

Slide eggs and tomatoes onto a plate, season to taste and, if desired, sprinkle with chives. Serve hot with toast.

Makes 1 serving.

— Miriam Rubin


Tomato Sandwiches With Romaine-Olive Salad

PG tested

Bacon is optional but excellent in these sandwiches. Fresh, buttery Castelvetrano olives add bright tones to the romaine salad, which makes more of a statement than just plain lettuce. Plan about 1 ripe, juicy, medium-sized tomato per sandwich.

8 large thick slices crusty Italian bread

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Mayonnaise for spreading

2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce

1/2 cup chopped, pitted Castelvetrano olives

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

6 basil leaves

Kosher salt, divided

Freshly ground pepper

4 ripe medium tomatoes, cored and sliced ½-inch thick

8 slices bacon, cooked crisp and drained (optional)

Lay bread out on a cutting board. In medium bowl, mix oil and vinegar. Spoon a scant 1 teaspoon dressing on each bread slice. Spread the bread with mayonnaise to your taste.

To remaining dressing in bowl, add romaine, olives and red onion. Tear basil into the salad; season with salt and pepper and toss. Taste, adding more vinegar if needed.

Season tomato slices with salt and arrange over 4 of the slices of bread, cutting to fit. Top tomatoes with bacon, if using, then some salad. Top with remaining bread. Press down lightly, secure with toothpicks and cut each in half. 

Makes 4 sandwiches.

— Miriam Rubin


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