How Growing a Few Backyard Tomato Plants Led to My Life as a Farmer

As I’m planting my crop of tomatoes this year, I couldn’t help but ponder about how much I’ve benefited from this one item of produce. In her recent Simple Good & Tasty post, Rhena Tantisunthorn described the history of tomatoes, so I reflected on my own history and realized how my love for tomatoes has been a catalyst of growth for me in so many ways. Here are just a few of them:

Growing food – I credit the tomato plant for inspiring me to be a grower of food. When my husband and I lived in the Twin Cities, the centerpiece of my small backyard garden was the small group of tomato plants I purchased from a garden store. Then when I learned about heirloom tomatoes, I got braver and started my plants from seeds each year, which made me feel like a truly accomplished gardener. As my tomato plants grew, so did my confidence and my success as a gardener. In fact, I am happy to say that I have never had a problem with blight, or any other malady. That is not to say that I haven’t had my share of misfortune, such as the dog rolling in the garden, dehydration, or an over-achieving husband with a weed-whacker. Because of my success in propagating tomatoes I expanded my interests to grow many other types of fruits and vegetables, ever-expanding my garden into the small farm field it is today.

Cooking – I admit I’m a really bad cook. I’m not imaginative, don’t really understand how to combine flavors, and regularly burn my very-forgiving All-Clad pans. But my one accomplishment in the kitchen is cooking with fresh tomatoes. Give me a pot and a bushel of vine-ripened tomatoes of any variety and I can create a dynamite pasta sauce, chili or stew. I also make a darn good salsa that I’m actually proud to serve to guests.

Canning – Since my culinary capabilities are so limited, I’m highly motivated to extend my crop long past harvest time. When we moved to the farm, I decided it was appropriate for us to live like real farmers and preserve our seasonal bounty for winter. So I invested in a “How to Can” cookbook, canning pots, and jars. As with all learning curves, I did break jars, burn pots, cut my fingers, and gave myself a blistering hot facial, but I have improved to the point where it is now safe for others to enter the kitchen while I’m canning. The best part of all, is keeping my pantry fully stocked with sauces, salsas, and whole tomatoes all year long.

Eating healthy and local – Using tomatoes as main staple in my diet makes it easy for me to eat healthfully. The nutrition profile proves that they are a great source of fiber and antioxidants including Vitamins A, C, E, and K, so I know they’re good for me. Plus, because the harvest comes from my own farm, I know precisely the dirt in which they are grown, the care they are given at harvest time, the distance they travel to get to my table, and even the names of the animals who help keep the soil fertile. (Snowflake, Miss Molly, and Autumn from Lakeland Alpacas, in case you’re wondering.)

There is only one thing that really bothers me about tomatoes, and that is classifying them as fruit. That makes no sense at all. Tomatoes are vegetables. It doesn’t matter to me what criteria that botanists, master gardeners, or even fellow farmers use to classify fruits or vegetables; I believe the real standard for making this determination is the way in which they are prepared and served. Fruits are served on ice cream. Vegetables are served on pasta. It’s that simple. The only way I will ever accept tomatoes as fruit, is when they are prepared and served as a delicious ice cream topping. So here is my challenge to you. If you do have such a recipe, please share it. Nothing would make me happier more than to have tomatoes for dessert.


Debbie Morrison grew up in Minneapolis and spent more than 20 years as a marketing strategist for ad agencies in the Twin Cities. Now, she and her husband own and operate Sapsucker Farms, where their certified organic crops include maple syrup, honey, apples, plums and vegetables. Debbie's last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Eat Local Honey and 7 Other Ways You Can Help Save Bees.


Don't have any recipes, but do like your story!

Thanks! I will always be in search of a tomato-based ice cream topping. But it does have to taste good too!

Found the following here:

2 Lg. whole ripe tomatoes
7 oz Fresh cream
2 2/3 ts Sugar
1 ts Orange liquor

Wash tomatoes and cover with wrap individually, putting stem at the bottom. Cook on 100% power (high) for 3 minutes in microwave. cool in water and peel. Strain in strainer, using wire whisk, make tomatoes puree. Set aside. Combine fresh cream, sugar and orange liquor. Stir the mixture into tomato puree. Pour the mixture in a metal bowl, covering with wrap. Keep in freezer. Stir 2 or 3 times before freezing completely.

Enjoyed reading the article and hearing the report of how you "grew" into gardening. We are looking forward to sampling some of the heirloom tomatoes this year. Debbie was kind enough to share some seedlings with us.

Tomatoes are vegetables!!! They don't below with ice cream either-- until you start mixing them with liquor (as in Alex's post)-- then it's alright! haha! I am curious what kind of recipes are out there for tomatoes as ice cream topping. Looking forward to the responses.

Green Tomato Pie
6 to 8 medium green tomatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
pastry to 9-inch 2-crust pie
Wash the green tomatoes well; peel and slice. In a saucepan, combine tomatoes with lemon juice, peel, salt, and cinnamon. Cook tomato mixture over low heat, stirring frequently. Combine sugar and cornstarch; stir into tomato mixture. Cook mixture until clear, stirring constantly. Add butter, remove from heat, and let stand until slightly cooled. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry; pour in tomato mixture. Cover with top pastry, seal edges, crimp, and cut several small slits in crust to allow steam to escape. Bake at 435° for 35 to 45 minutes, or until nicely browned. Serve warm or cooled.

Alex and Sue - thanks for the recipes - I can' wait to try them out! (Even tho I'm a terrible cook...except for tomatoes). Sheryl - I know you're going to love those tomato plants as much as I do. Andrea - YAY another advocate for the cause of "tomatoes are vegetables!"

What I love about tomatoes is that they're nearly impossible to ruin when you're trying to grow them. I've never had luck with cucumbers or squash, which other folks I know seem to be able to grow like crazy, but the tomatoes - those grow like gangbusters no matter what!
One of my favorite summer dishes is fresh tomatoes from the garden, gorgonzola and basil tossed with pasta shells hot out of the water. Delish!

This recipe was printed in Bon Appetit Aug 2010

Tomato Tarte Tatin
This dessert is a revelation. As the tomatoes cook in the caramel, they become sweet and tender but retain their clean, fresh flavor. Prepare to be blown away.
8 servings
Recipe by Ian Knauer
Photograph by Nigel Cox
August 2010

1 3/4 pounds plum tomatoes (8 large)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed, corners cut off to make very rough 9- to 10-inch round
Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring large saucepan of water to boil. Cut shallow X in bottom of each tomato. Add 4 tomatoes to boiling water. Blanch tomatoes just until skins at X begin to peel back, 15 to 30 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer blanched tomatoes to bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. Peel tomatoes. Cut out cores, halve lengthwise, and remove seeds.
Spread butter over bottom of 91/2-inch-diameter, 2- to 3-inch-deep ovenproof skillet (preferably cast-iron). Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar over butter. Arrange tomato halves, rounded side down and close together, in concentric circles in skillet to fill completely.
Place skillet over medium heat. Cook until sugar and butter are reduced to thickly bubbling, deep amber syrup (about 1/4 inch deep in bottom of skillet), moving tomatoes occasionally to prevent burning, about 25 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Immediately drizzle vanilla over tomatoes. Top with pastry round. Using knife, tuck in edges of pastry. Cut 2 or 3 small slits in pastry. Place skillet in oven and bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown, about 24 minutes.
Cool tart in skillet 10 minutes. Cut around sides of skillet to loosen pastry. Place large platter over skillet. Using oven mitts as aid, hold skillet and platter firmly together and invert, allowing tart to settle onto platter. Carefully lift off skillet. Rearrange any tomato halves that may have become dislodged.
Serve tart warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, or in your case use ice cream!

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