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Chat Leftovers: Time to hoard tomatoes?

Greetings, and welcome to Wednesday, otherwise known as Free Range chat day. Join us at 1, and bring your questions on all things food. If today's top story whetted your appetite for matzoh balls, you'll be happy to know that our two guest chatters today are matzoh ball experts: Dean Gold, chef and co-owner of Dino in Cleveland Park, and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, who writes our Nourish column. Be there!

Until then, here's a little something to tide you over: a question we didn't have time to get to during last week's chat:

Given the great canned pumpkin shortage of 2009, should we be expecting something similar with tomato products? I hear the U.S. tomato crop is seriously damaged. While I expect some tomato paste/tomatoes will be on the shelves, does this year’s crop affect the quality of the canned product? When? Should I load up now?

Dead vines and ripe tomatoes are left to rot in Florida fields.(Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)

It's true that this year's big chill wiped out about 70 percent of the Florida tomato crop. It's also true that the resulting shortage and price hikes caused some fast-food places to stop automatically adding tomato slices to burgers and sandwiches; customers had to ask for them. A few restaurants ran out of tomatoes altogether.

But here's a third truth: Florida's bad weather won't affect your ability to find diced, pureed or crushed tomatoes in the canned vegetable aisle. Why? Because you won't find Florida tomatoes in cans. They're always sold fresh, says Reggie Brown, executive vice president of a growers' co-op called the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

Fresh tomatoes and processed tomatoes "are just two totally different supply streams," Brown explains. The tomatoes in those cans you buy come chiefly from California, Mexico and European Union countries. Crisis averted.

So no, you don't have to start thinking about hoarding. And as far as fresh tomatoes are concerned, a new crop is growing, and the supply should return to normal by May, Brown said.

But speaking of tomatoes, it's never too early to start thinking about this year's Washington Post Top Tomato contest, our annual search for great original recipes that make use of everyone's favorite red summer orb. Warm weather will be here before you know it. So keep your Top Tomato entries in mind as temperatures rise and fresh ingredients return to the markets. Something to look forward to, for sure.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  March 24, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Now I know why it's been hard to find cherry tomatoes!

Posted by: fluxgirl | March 25, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad that shortage is averted. I'd be curious as to the AYCE* gang's opinion of canned tomatoes. I generally go for whole tomatoes for sauces and such and puree them in a food processor or remove the seeds and chop or hand crush. For consistency, Furmano's is my best bet. Their tomatoes are always firm and not mushy. Not the cheapest at $2 a can, but it's worth spending a little extra on some things.


*Pronounced ace, because you're all aces in my book!

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | March 25, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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