Locations for Pukwana tomatoes

The Happy Hydros tomatoes grown in Pukwana by the Scholl family are available in most Lynn’s Dakotamart stores. Remember, these locally grown tomatoes are pesticide free and vine-ripened, no gassing to keep them fresh and no long-distance hauling.

Lynn’s Dakotamart stores selling the tomatoes are located in Custer, Lead, Sturgis, Belle Fourche, and Pierre. The Hot Springs store is not selling them at this time; when I called to double-check, I was told that the only hydroponic tomatoes they have are all from Canada.  The Scholl family also plans to attend the Black Hills Farmers Market in Rapid City, so watch for them there as well. The farmers’ market opens at 9:00 a.m. at Founders’ Park on West Omaha.

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All the way from…Pukwana?

These hydroponically grown tomatoes hail from Pukwana, SD

Usually the tomatoes we find sitting docilely in our grocery store’s produce section hail from Southern California, Mexico and occasionally Canada (no, I don’t know why we import tomatoes from latitudes higher than our own). But these red orbs were grown just a couple hours east of here, in Pukwana, South Dakota. I stumbled across them yesterday in Lynn’s Dakotamart in Custer.

These pesticide-free, hydroponically grown tomatoes are the product of Happy Hydros LLC, owners Mark and Teal Scholl. Unlike tomaotes grown 1500+ miles away, which are usually picked green to help them withstand shipping, these are vine-ripened and picked three times per week. You can tell the difference in the flavor; they actually taste like tomatoes and lack that mealy grocery-store texture.

So the next time you’re shopping, check your produce section for Happy Hydros; these are tomatoes you can feel good about buying.

Roasted Eggplant Spread

The vegetables look beautiful as they're ready to go in the oven

The vegetables look beautiful as they're ready to go in the oven

What to do with eggplants? Folks think they’re pretty, but they don’t have any idea of how to prepare them other than frying. One of my favorite eggplant recipes is from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I’ve made this dish many times and tweak it with whatever I’ve got on hand; it always turns out great. I made this the other day from 100 percent locally grown vegetables.

Roasted Eggplant Spread

1 medium eggplant (she says peeled, I never bother with that)

*1 medium summer squash, yellow or green (this is my addition)

2 red bell peppers (green or purple work fine too)

1 red onion (any onions are fine)

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

3 Tb olive oil

1 ½ tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground pepper

1 Tb tomato paste (I’ve made it without it)

 *The summer squash is my own addition, helps use up extra zucchini.

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplant, summer squash, bell pepper and onion into rough 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a bowl with the garlic, oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until vegetables are lightly browned and soft. Toss once during cooking. Cool slightly.

Place vegetables in a food processor, add the tomato paste (if you’re using it) and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. This spread is great with pita chips and all manner of crackers.

Salsa-making time

Pints of fresh salsa

Pints of fresh salsa

After writing about entering the ranks of the “Cannerati” a few weeks ago, I have been promoted from a simple jam-maker to a salsa-maker. When I started canning, my real aim was to be self-sufficient in pizza and pasta sauces and salsa. Yesterday I put up 15 1/2 pints of salsa, and no, that’s probably not enough for my family for an entire year. Since I use salsa in my chili as well as a condiment, we chow down a remarkable amount of the stuff.

All my ingredients, with the exception of the vinegar, salt and cumin came from right here in the Black Hills. Most of the hot peppers I used came from my own garden. I found ripe paste tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market (the red barn by Crow Peak Brewing) in Spearfish. Unlike the commercial salsa from the store, homemade salsa has terroir, the flavor of the land.

If you’re looking for recipes, check Ball’s Complete Book of Home Canning; there are several good ones in there. Since salsa is a high-acid food (all of the recipes I have call for vinegar) it can be processed in a hot-water bath rather than a pressure-canner.

Today at Hill City FM

Todd Gregson at the Hill City Farmers' Market

Todd Gregson at the Hill City Farmers' Market

I dropped by the Hill City Farmers’ Market today to see what actual RIPE tomatoes look like, so I bought a few, too. Todd Gregson of Gregson’s Gardens was on hand with a huge selection of summer squash, zucchini and hot peppers, plus slicing, paste and cherry tomatoes. I’m anxious to try the heirloom yellow paste tomatoes called German Sausages — how can you not like that name? I’m thinking about whipping up a fresh salsa with today’s finds.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad -- the taste of summer

Caprese salad -- the taste of summer

Nothing says “summer” quite like fresh tomatoes and basil, and a caprese salad is a terrific way to marry the flavors along with creamy, fresh mozzarella. Now I’ve been working on making my own mozzarella, but since I don’t quite the technique down, I’ve had to settle for store-bought. Belgioso makes a nice one that is readily available at area grocery stores.

This recipe is from my Cucina Fresca cookbook, but I usually end up adapting it for one or two servings. I also just scatter the basil leaves on the salad rather than cutting them into julienne strips.

Caprese Salad

4 ripe tomatoes

1 pound fresh mozzarella

Red wine vinegar (optional)

4 – 5 medium basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

 Cut the tomatoes slightly larger than ¼ inch slices; slice the mozzarella a little thinner than the tomatoes. If the tomatoes lack a citrus-acid bite, sprinkle with a little red wine vinegar. Cut the basil into julienne strips by place one leaf on top of another; roll up the stack and slice into strips. Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices alternately on a plate, sprinkle the basil over them. Drizzle the oil over all and serve immediately.

Finding tomatoes

A ripe Brandywine tomato, it's a beautiful thing

A ripe Brandywine tomato, it's a beautiful thing

This morning I drove up to Hill City to visit the farmers’ market held across the street from the 1880 Train Station, in front of Swan’s Discount Organics. I honed in on the tomatoes right away, being stuck in the land of green tomatoes myself. Beautiful, red, heirloom tomatoes. Yes, I bought some, and some cherry tomatoes, green beans, jalapenos, a cucumber, and a bell pepper. I snacked on the cherry tomatoes all the way home, especially the black ones which were super sweet. It was a good day.

Today the sole vendor at the farmers’ market was Todd Gregson of Gregson’s Gardens, and his produce was exceptional. The number of vendors varies week-to-week depending on what’s ripe, which is how it should be. Folks, get out on Saturdays and support this market! The Brandywine pictured above became the “T” in our BLT’s for supper. I’ll be back next weekend.

On my way home, I stopped at Custer Country Market for milk and found out that the Cleveland family out west of town has tomatoes ready as well. So I drove out to take a look, keeping an eye out for greenhouses. I found them easily enough: drive west out of Custer approximately four miles to Pleasant Valley Road, turn left, you’ll notice Jorgensen Log Homes. Drive south a few hundred yards to Wind Song Valley Road, turn left again; by this time you’ll see the greenhouses. Clevelands have a you-pick operation; I came away with two pounds of Celebrities. The tomatoes are just starting to ripen, so they’ll be swimming in tomatoes in a couple weeks. How lovely.

The garden today

Peppers and tomatoes in their raised bed

Peppers and tomatoes in their raised bed

My tomatoes and peppers have done pretty well despite the cool weather; they’re blooming like mad and starting to set some fruit. The strange mesh covering is making do until I can pick up some more wire from the hardware store for my hail cage. I’ve had the mesh over the plants for a few weeks, but they started to grow up through it, so had to remove it & (finally) put in the steel posts so I can raise it up. However, it’s pretty droopy so I want to get something sturdier.