Summer is high time for tomatoes, but for some amateur gardeners, the harvest of vine-ripened fruit has not been all that it could be.

“I know a number of people whose gardens were pretty much wiped out by all the rains and flooding we had,” said Lisa Merrell, who runs The Tomato Man’s Daughter, the plant nursery specializing in grown-from-seed, hard-to-find heirloom tomato plants.

“People who didn’t have raised-bed gardens had trouble with root rot, where young plants are literally drowning,” she said. “They look as if they need watering, but the problem is the roots can’t take water up into the plants.”

Fortunately for those still wanting to savor the taste, as well as the satisfaction of serving, home-grown tomatoes, time is — however briefly — on your side.

The Tomato Man’s Daughter, 2515 W. 91st St., opened for its summer plant sale July 13 and will be selling its tomato and other vegetable and herb plants through Aug. 1.

“Well,” Merrell said, laughing. “That’s the plan, at least. Some years, we run out of things to sell before then.”

In addition to dozens of heirloom tomato varieties, The Tomato Man’s Daughter also sells hot, bell and sweet peppers, cucumbers, squashes, beans and strawberries, among other items.

Merrell said there are two basic types of tomato plants — determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants will produce fruit during a relatively short time and then stop, whereas indeterminate plants will keep producing, or trying to produce, until something kills them.

“That’s why the late planting is a good time for determinate species because you can count on them to produce pretty quickly,” she said. “Also, the plants tend not to get too big, so you might be able to get more plants into your garden.”

The Tomato Man’s Daughter makes available each year an extensive plant list, with descriptions, as well as tips, for getting the most out of whatever one might plant.

And when it comes to planting tomatoes during an Oklahoma summer, Merrell recommends waiting for a partially cloudy day or to do one’s planting as night creeps in.

“My favorite time to plant in the summer is late in the evening,” Merrell said. “That way, you give the plants the chance to acclimate to their surroundings. It’s like starting to work very early in the morning when you know it’s going to be a hot day, so you get acclimated to the heat.

“Also, if you’re using cages, it’s a good idea if you’re looking at a lot of sunny days, to create some kind of shade for the plants for the first few days,” she said. “It really helps them take off.”

Fortunately for late-summer tomatoes, the run of days with 100-degree heat indexes is forecast to end Monday, July 22, with temperatures returning to more bearable levels.

Often, the best way to enjoy freshly picked tomatoes is the simplest — sliced, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Or put together a caprese salad — alternating slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh tomato with leaves of basil (although arugula makes for a tasty alternative), then drizzled with a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

Still another way is with a tomato tart. They can be made as individual tarts, which is how Queenie’s in Utica Square makes theirs, which are a staple of the menu. Or it can be turned into a dish that feeds a family (see recipe below).

TOMATO TART

4 tablespoons butter

2 large onions, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 commercially prepared pie crusts, or one good-sized homemade pie crust

1½ cup fontina or Monterrey jack cheese, grated

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

¼ cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated

3 cups cherry tomatoes

1 egg

¼ cup milk

16 basil leaves, cut into

chiffonade

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter, onions, salt and pepper and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and deep golden brown. Set aside.

3. Combine pie crusts into a ball, then roll it out into one large, thin crust. Lay onto a shallow quarter sheet pan, pressing dough up the sides of the pan if necessary.

4. Sprinkle on the cheeses in a single layer over surface of the dough. Layer the onions over the cheese, then top with tomatoes. Mix together the egg and milk in a small bowl and brush it all over the crust around the edge of the tart.

5. Bake the tart for 15 to 18 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the crust doesn’t burn. (The tomatoes should be starting to burst apart, with some dark roasted areas on the skin, and the crust should be deep golden brown.) If the crust is getting brown too fast, reduce the heat to 425 degrees.

6. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the basil all over the top. Cut into squares to serve.

— Adapted from “The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime”



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James D. Watts Jr.

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