By Eileen Nichols
Special to The Globe
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
Tons of fresh produce are pouring into farmers markets throughout Southwest Missouri. It's high season, and that means many of the top-sellers are in abundance, along with everything from beets to zucchini. Nationwide, tomatoes and sweet corn top the list for market shoppers, and that holds true in Southwest Missouri, too.
Many local farmers markets have had a steady, if small, supply of tomatoes coming out of high tunnels since spring. High tunnels, or hoop houses, look like Quonset huts covered in clear plastic instead of metal. Inside, the crops are planted directly in the ground. A well-managed high tunnel can produce copious amounts of tomatoes, greens, peppers and other crops, and they're often picture-perfect because they are protected from the elements. Depending on the crop, they often taste as good or even better than the field versions.
But high tunnels are generally not suitable for the production of sweet corn, and there is nothing like summer heat in the field to bring out the flavor in a tomato. So now is the time of year to savor the very best of the market.
Tomatoes and corn require different storage methods to maximize their flavors. Whole uncut tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Chilling a tomato to below 55 degrees will adversely affect its flavor and texture. Once sliced, however, the tomato should be refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth. Don't fall for the myth that tomatoes should be ripened on a window sill in the sun. Instead, place not-quite-ripe tomatoes on the counter out of the sun at room temperature or slightly cooler. The warmer the temperature, the more quickly the tomato will ripen.
Sweet corn should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Leave the corn in the husks until ready to use. If the corn was not sprayed with pesticides (the farmer will be able to tell you this), you may want to peel back the top of the husks to check for corn worm damage. If you see any signs of damage, go ahead and shuck the corn and chop off the unwanted area. The sooner you eat the corn, the sweeter and more tender it will be, and tender is what early season corn is all about.
"Call me crazy, but I'm loving the corn raw," regular market customer Elaine Smith, of Neosho, says. " I cut it off the cob and put it on salads, tacos -- you name it. I think it tastes so sweet and crisp that way."
If you happen to be at your local market during a quiet time, you may very well spot a farmer or manager taking a snack break with a raw ear of corn straight off the truck. It's just that tender.
Roasted corn and tomato salsa
4 ears sweet corn
Olive oil for brushing corn, plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 1/2 to 2 pounds tomatoes, diced
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Husk corn and roast ears on grill or under broiler, brushing with olive oil. Turn occasionally so ears do not scorch. Continue to roast corn until it begins to turn golden-brown on at least two sides and all kernels are thoroughly hot. Remove from heat and cut kernels into large bowl. Add onion, tomatoes, green pepper, garlic, olive oil, lime juice and paprika. Combine ingredients and season with salt and black pepper. Let stand at room temperature about 15 minutes so flavors blend. Serve immediately.
Top crops summer fresh salad
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
3 ears sweet corn, uncooked
2 medium tomatoes
2 sprigs basil
Mix together oil, vinegar salt and the 1/4 cup of onion in a small bowl. Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the cobs. Core, seed and chop the tomatoes. Chiffonade the basil. To chiffonade, roll the leaves together in a tight roll, then slice across the roll on a cutting board. You will end up with thin strips of basil. Toss corn and tomatoes with the dressing and sprinkle with basil.