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Tomatoes — more than just great tasting

Tomatoes are probably the No. 1 reason our family grows a garden. If the fact that tomatoes are delicious isn’t enough to convince your family to add them to their menu, their healthy nutritional profile might.

Many scientific studies have found substances in tomatoes to help with heart and prostate health. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Compounds such as lycopene (responsible for the colour of the tomato) help prevent atherosclerosis. It also helps keep platelets from sticking together thereby helping circulation. Lycopene is present in all red fruits and vegetables, but its concentration is highest in tomatoes and it becomes more usable when it comes from processed tomatoes ingested with a small amount of healthy fat such as coconut (non-hydrogenated) or olive oil.

Dr. Mridula Chopra conducted research at the University of Portsmouth testing the effect of the nutrient lycopene on the simple mechanism through which cancer cells hijack a body’s healthy blood supply to grow and spread. They found that lycopene intercepts cancer’s ability to make the connections it needs to attach to a healthy blood supply. With these very good reasons to include more tomatoes into our daily menu my next mission was to research how to do it without consuming BPA (Bisphenol-A).

Our family watched a documentary titled, “The Disappearing Male” about why BPA needs to be avoided. Most commercial tomato products are sold in BPA-lined containers so we decided that growing more and home canning would be the best way to go. BPA is a compound found in plastic bottles, canned foods (lines the containers) and even cash register receipts. Exposure to BPA can have negative effects on brain development and reproductive function and is especially problematic for children and pregnant women. It is a known xenoestrogen, which means that it binds with the body’s estrogen receptors and according to Dr. Karlene ChinQuee (ChinQuee Center for Health & Wellness New York City) too much exposure can cause depression, irritability, sleeplessness and weight gain.

All our tomatoes are being canned this year or frozen whole. Freezer bags don’t pose as much danger of BPA as long as the contents are cool when put in them.

SALSA

6 c. chopped, unskinned tomatoes

2 c. chopped green peppers

1 jalepeno pepper, chopped (wear gloves)

3/4 c. chopped onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3/4 c. apple cider vinegar

1-1/2 tsp. salt

Cook till consistency desired. If canning use sterilized jars and pro-cess for 20 minutes.

SPAGHETTI SAUCE

1 ice cream pail tomatoes, peeled (retain the peels)

6 green peppers

1 bunch celery

2 large onions

1 tbsp. parsley

1 tbsp. oregano

1 tbsp. basil

Salt to taste

Simmer the sauce to desired consistency. Pour into sterilized canning jars and process for 20 minutes in a water bath canner.

All the peels that came from the canned tomatoes and the spaghetti sauce didn’t get wasted this year. For many years when I peeled tomatoes, the peels went to the henhouse. They love them but then I found out that they are extremely healthy. Tomato peels contribute a high concentration of the lycopene found in tomatoes. The amount of lycopene absorbed by human intestinal cells was much greater with tomato paste enriched with tomato peels compared to tomato paste without peels, according to a study from Marseille, France. The tomato skin also holds most of the flavonols (another family of phytochemicals that includes quericitin and kaempferol) as well. Heat is required to release these helpful chemicals so we have tried dehydrating the skins for later use.

My husband noticed our dehydrators full of peels and cautiously asked what I was up to now. I explained that I had learned that we could dehydrate them then easily powder them and add them to many of our daily meals. One friend recommended warming up a mug of milk and adding about 1 tablespoon of the peel powder for an instant mug-o-tomato soup. The fats in the milk would act as the activator for the nutrients to be absorbed into our systems. That sounds like a great idea to me. Another friend suggested adding it to scrambled eggs.

The other method of preservation we have utilized is to dehydrate the whole tomato. They are so yummy for snacking and can be used in any recipe that requires sun-dried tomatoes. This is also the preferred method for low-acid varieties or cherry tomatoes, which don’t can safely. On the theme of combining tomatoes with healthy fats this recipe is planned for Christmas entertainment.

DEHYDRATED TOMATO GOAT CHEESE SPREAD

1 c. soft goat cheese

1/3 c. chopped dehydrated tomatoes

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

The day before serving combine the goat cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley in a food processor; mix until thoroughly combined.

With all these great ideas, when the neighbours call and ask if you can possibly take their extra tomatoes off their hands you’ll be ecstatic. There just never seems to be enough time in the fall to do all the canning a person wants to before it snows, though. Hopefully we’ll all be enjoying the taste of summer for a bit longer. †

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