This could be the worst home-growing tomato season ever, says Anne the gardener. My tomatoes, with names like Whopper, Celebrity, and Big Beef resemble marbles and golf balls rather than the softballs promised.
If you were late getting your tomato plants into the ground, as I was, then the heat and drought have probably dwarfed your crop, too.
If you haven’t already, put down a thick layer of mulch around your plants to hold moisture in the soil and keep down weeds. This summer's weather conditions not only make for small fruit, uneven amounts of rainfall can cause the ruin of the fruit by blossom end rot.
Solutions for tomato problems
Blossom end rot shows up as a soft, concave, dark-colored, sometimes squishy, tomato bottom. You can save the rest of your fruit with ample water and an application of calcium chloride mixed in water.
Find the calcium chloride in garden supply stores. Follow the label directions for drenching the plant and roots with the solution.
If the leaves are being stripped of their soft parts, leaving only the ribs, you probably have one or more of the hornworm caterpillars at work. Look for them along stems and underneath leaves. (Because they're green, they may be hard to spot right away.)
Pick them off and mash them or drown in a bucket of soapy water.
Linda has developed a recipe perfect for these elfin tomatoes. Instead of the small Romas Linda uses, you could even use this recipe for a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes -- they never seem to suffer a disaster. Even when all of their leaves disappear, the fruit seems to hang on and ripen.
Pepperoni Pizza Tomatoes
I had small Roma tomatoes ready for harvest, says Linda the chef, so I decided to see if I could do something different for an appetizer. After thinking about it, I decided to try making tomatoes that tasted like pizza.
And it worked!
These little tomatoes stuffed with pepperoni, fresh herbs, and “6 Cheese Italian” with a little more pepperoni on top was a delicious surprise. They were easy to make, too.
You can serve them two ways:
- The first way is as a first course on a small plate. Mmm, wouldn’t these be good for a tapas party?
- The second way is to smear a pizza tomato on a baguette slice [see second photo above; click on the arrow at the right base of the first photo].
Speaking from experience, both are delicious.
I would like to tell you that this recipe serves 4 when you use 4 tomatoes cut in half, but as you know, Roma tomatoes are small, so you might want to double the recipe. I have to admit that while I was testing, I ate three.
I know, I know but I couldn’t help it.
Pepperoni Pizza Tomatoes
4 Roma tomatoes
Salt to taste
Finely chopped fresh garlic or garlic powder to taste, optional
12 thin slices pepperoni, divided (I used prepackaged sliced)
3/4 cup “6 Cheese Italian” (I used Sargento Classic 6 Cheese Italian for testing purposes)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh Greek oregano
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray an ovenproof baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut tomatoes in half and level to stand upright by cutting a small slice from the bottom of each tomato half. Scoop out the seeds and the pulp. Lightly salt the inside of the tomatoes and add fresh garlic or garlic powder to taste, if desired. Place the tomato halves in the ovenproof dish. Place a slice of pepperoni down into the center of the tomato. This will form a “cup” around the inside of the tomato.
Chop 4 slices of pepperoni and set aside.
Mix the cheese, basil, and oregano. Put 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into the pepperoni “cup.” When finished filling the tomatoes with cheese mixture, divide the chopped pepperoni between each tomato and place on top of the cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are bubbly and lightly brown. Serve immediately. Serve on small plates, or smear the cooked tomatoes on toasted baguette slices. Serves 2 to 4.
Editor's Note: To read more of Anne and Linda's "how to grow and prepare" series, click here.
Linda Weiss and Anne Moore met while Linda was the food editor and Anne was the garden editor for South Carolina Homes & Gardens magazine. They now write articles for the ETV GardenSMART television show website, where Anne is the horticulture editor, gardening consultant, and e-newsletter editor. Anne has written for magazines and newspapers. She is a member of and a recipient of a Silver Award for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association. Linda is a personal chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu of Paris’ catering program, has appeared as a guest chef on numerous television shows, has been a culinary educator for 10 years, and a food writer for a number of magazines. She is a professional member of The James Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has written a cookbook, "Memories From Home, Cooking with Family and Friends."