What’s that raucous cheer coming from the fields of The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio? “It’s the tomatoes,” Farmer Lee Jones exclaims. “They just scream summer!”

And biting into a sun-ripened summer tomato — especially the rainbow of heirloom tomato varieties available from The Chef’s Garden — is, well, “juicy.” “You have to have a hanky in one hand and your tomato in the other to catch the juices dripping down your chin!” he laughs.

Those juices signify The Chef’s Garden’s terrific sun-ripened tomatoes. But aren’t all tomatoes sun ripened? Well, no. “The kind of tomatoes that are produced year-round, and that we eat out of season, are shipped green,” Farmer Lee explains. “Once those tomatoes get to their destination, they rely on ethylene gas rather than sunlight to ripen them.”

Their lackluster color, white center, and lack of juice are the most obvious differences between vine-ripened and gas-ripened tomatoes. The other differences come down to the nutritional benefits we reap when we eat in-season produce — especially produce grown using the regenerative farming methods The Chef’s Garden is known for. “We’re seeing numbers from 150 to 300 times higher than the USDA national average of the nutritional densities in our crops,” Farmer Lee says. That’s because of the extra care the Jones family take in their work on their 300-acre farm: “We balance the health of the soil, vegetables, people, and environment in our farming practices here,” he says.

Multi-colored tomatoes.

What makes The Chef’s Garden tomatoes special?

The colorful tomatoes from The Chef’s Garden Mixed Tomatoes are packed with baby specialty, cherry toybox, and heirloom tomato varietals, producing a rainbow of color and texture. Summer tomatoes provide beautiful colors: red, pink, yellow, orange, green, and striped varietals with flavors that are rich, sweet, and tangy. All tomatoes from The Chef’s Garden are hand harvested and picked to order, so only the most vibrant, freshest tomatoes from the farm arrive to your table.

How to care for and store tomatoes

Tomatoes are in season from May to October. However, Farmer Lee says, “Even though we can grow tomatoes that late in the year at The Chef’s Garden, by October, our bodies are ready to switch gears and reach for other flavors, such as fall squash.”

When buying tomatoes in season, look for ones that are rich in color and have a gentle give when you squeeze them, a sign of ripeness. Keep ripe tomatoes at room temperature on the counter, especially if you plan to consume them within one to three days. Otherwise, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator to maintain freshness for up to a week. Bring tomatoes to room temperature before eating them for the best flavor.

To store a cut tomato, place it cut side down on a plate or in a container, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for one to two days.

How to use tomatoes

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“My absolute favorite meal in August is sliced tomato on white bread with mayonnaise,” says Farmer Lee, adding, “My wife, however, prefers that I eat it on whole wheat. But either way, it’s magical!”

The magic of summer simplicity is what tomato dishes are all about, since they lend themselves to quick, easy dishes that burst with sunny, bright flavors. Think colorful, fresh tomato salsa that’s fast to prepare and offers a daily dose of lycopene, a potent antioxidant that protects our bodies from chronic diseases.

And bread and tomatoes aren’t just for sandwiches! A summer tomato panzanella is a great way to showcase summer bounty. Or slice tomatoes and serve them with fresh basil and milky soft mozzarella, drizzled with excellent extra-virgin olive oil. A one-pot pasta with cherry tomatoes and crispy salami is a (summer) breeze: Cherry tomatoes release all their sweetness and a touch of acidity in the pan, and mingle with the fatty, salty bits of salami.

“You don’t need to do much to make a great tomato salad,” Farmer Lee says. “Just add light vinegar, a crack of pepper, and salt. Anybody can be a great chef when you let a tomato express itself!”

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Theresa Gambacorta is a freelance food writer, a veteran of New York City restaurants, and cookbook co-author to chef Joey Campanaro's Big Love Cooking (Chronicle) and James Beard-nominated chef Nasim Alikhani's Sofreh: A Contemporary Approach to Classic Persian Cuisine (Knopf). She is currently working on a forthcoming vegan cookbook to be published by Simon Element.

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