Tomato tips

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"The Joy of Cooking" and "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" used to be the first sources cooks turned to when looking for guidance regarding cooking, storing, or freezing ingredients. Today, with thousands of cookbooks that include tips along with recipes, those culinary classics have lots of competition.

For tomatoes - and other vegetables for that matter - seek out Marian Morash's classic, "The Victory Garden Cookbook" (Random House, $39.95). As a cook on public television's award-winning gardening series, which her husband, Russell, produced for more than 20 years, Mrs. Morash sliced and diced her way to household-name status. The following are some tips on tomatoes. Most are from her book.

When selecting tomatoes, look for good color and firm flesh. Beware of super-ripe tomatoes unless you want to use them for sauces.

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Don't refrigerate tomatoes. Keep them at room temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees F. Temperatures below 55 slow down and prevent ripening; temperatures above 80 cause them to spoil quickly.

If tomatoes need to ripen, put them in a large plastic-covered bowl with holes drilled in the top. The cover traps tomatoes' natural ethylene gas and speeds up the ripening process; the air holes allow proper air and moisture circulation. Other sources recommend placing tomatoes in a pierced paper bag with an apple at room temperature for several days.

Don't bother canning cherry tomatoes. They have a high ratio of seeds, juice, and skin to pulp. Standard and plum tomatoes are better candidates for canning.

Many of Morash's friends simply put whole or peeled tomatoes into plastic bags in the freezer and use them for cooking during the winter. She prefers the taste of home-canned or even store-bought canned tomatoes. Tomato sauce freezes beautifully, she adds.

Cook tomatoes only in non-aluminum pans. Aluminum triggers an acidic reaction.

Bake whole or half tomatoes in their skins to retain their shape. To stuff tomatoes, remove the seeds and juice, then lightly salt the tomatoes and turn them upside down to drain.

For salads, slice raw tomatoes vertically. This helps the inner pulp hold its shape.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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