James Whelan Butchers: Celebrate the Tomato

I was a little disturbed recently to read of all the various tomato shortages around the world.  They are not necessarily linked, but apparently the US is suffering quite badly, the Argentines have just this month been asked as a nation to ‘go easy’ on tomatoes for a while so the crops can catch up and a British supermarket chain recently announced a shortage in their tomato supply as their grower in Spain had been affected by disease.  (The crop of tomatoes was affected by disease that is, not the actual grower!)

It threw me into a personal state of unease, sitting there pondering my kitchen without the staple ancient ‘wolf peach’.  Before it became known as the friendly tomato (or ta-may-toh if you are American) it was thought to be poisonous and dangerous hence the slightly sinister moniker, wolf peach.  The tomato has a long history on the planet, but up until the 16th century it was considered pretty and ornamental but likely poisonous.   Once it was discovered that they were harmless, edible and tasty, it wasn’t long before the French elevated them from the nasty wolf peach to ‘pommes d’amour’ (translated as love apples), because not only were they good enough to eat but they also believed that the shiny red fruit had stimulating aphrodisiacal properties!

roasted tomatoes

The first commercial tin of tomato soup was made by Joseph Campbell in 1897 and it made him a very wealthy man in the process.  And by the end of the 19th century the tomato, because of its high acidic content, was canned more than any other fruit or vegetable.  Fresh or in a tin, the tomato is a cooks’ favourite these days and few kitchen store cupboards will be found without them.

There is no other vegetable or fruit more widely used and consumed than the tomato.  Even those who don’t like fresh tomatoes, will often enjoy them in pizza, as ketchup or even sun dried and everyway in between.  The variety of tomatoes available today also creates choice and a myriad of applications.  For salads I love tomatoes on the vine.  I also love a juicy beef tomato paired with slices of buffalo mozzarella and sprinkled with fresh basil.  I use fresh cherry tomatoes in a base for a favourite curry I make that originally called for two plain ordinary garden variety types, but I found that eight or so little ones gave a better and sweeter depth of flavour.  Many pasta sauces have the trusty chopped and tinned type as a major ingredient and where would many recipes be without the odd spoonful of tomato puree?  Added to all this flavour and flexibility, tomatoes are also the dieter’s friend.  They are nutrient rich, high in water content and low calorie; so what’s not to like?

Here are my top tomato tips:

  • A chef taught me a long time ago to use a serrated knife to cut through tomatoes rather than a flat edged blade.  Unless the blade is very sharp you are in danger of squashing and damaging the tomato flesh when you cut into it.
  • Tomatoes are high in acid and so when cooking tomatoes or using them in a sauce it is best to use a wooden spoon or spatula rather than a metal one which can affect the taste unfavourably.
  • Herbs work well with tomatoes, particularly basil, oregano, pepper, chives and parsley.
  • Tomatoes also work with garlic, sesame seeds, celery and carrot.

If you are making something where the tomato is the star of the show and the recipe calls for fresh it really is worth seeking out the best quality tomato you can find.  If you are not growing your own I do caution against the plain, value range in most supermarkets.  Unless you are sure of the origin some of them have proved to be quite tasteless in my own experience.  You should be able to pick them up and have a little sniff.  This can be tricky if they are covered in a plastic wrapper.  A good tomato should have an inviting scent – almost summery – if there is such a thing.  A good quality tomato will make a huge difference to taste and texture of the overall dish.


I’m in the fortunate position to have a friend who grows tomatoes so I am regularly in receipt of a glut.  I haven’t attempted the idea of canning my own, but if I have an over abundance I will chop them up, sprinkle them with fresh herbs and some olive oil and slowly roast them until they are quite soft.  I usually put them in around 130° for about 90 minutes or so.  Once they are finished I drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and leave them to cool.  Whey they are fully cooled, unless I’m planning to do something with them straight away, I store them in a jar in the fridge where they will keep for up to three days.  During those three days they are used as toppings for pizza and pasta.  I might stir some into couscous with some nuts and seeds.  They also come in handy as a little topping on a cooked breast of chicken with some bacon and cheese and then grill the lot and finally, if there are any left, they make a lovely little side for a cooked breakfast.

While tomatoes work equally well with beef, chicken, bacon and many varieties of fish from tuna to plaice, they are also the vegetarian and vegans friend.  It’s hard to think of anything more versatile and the shortages are a concern.  Maybe it’s time we all learned to ‘can’ and preserve like our US friends or at least let’s start growing our own, just in case.

This post was written by me, Pat Whelan, owner of James Whelan Butchers and a passionate advocate of local artisan food. My family have been producing quality Irish Angus beef for generations using a traditional dry aging process. This tradition is one that I continue to practice at our abattoir on our family farm in Garrentemple, Clonmel. These posts aim to impart some of the wisdom to readers and help them get the best out of the meat they eat! Our meat is available online here! I welcome your feedback to Pat@jwb.ie

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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