What would summer be without ripe tomatoes, wonders Grant Allen.

Home gardeners are enjoying fresh tomatoes from their vege patches. And, from all accounts, this year's is a good crop. But even if you don't grow your own, it's worth buying tomatoes in bulk to make relish or sauce. We may be able to buy imported and glass-house grown tomatoes year-round but nothing beats the taste of summer sun-ripened tomatoes grown outdoors and picked from the vine.

I understand the need for large-scale production and certainly, commercial breeds have developed colour, size, shelf life and sugar content but there is something special about tomatoes fresh out of the garden with a big, full, fruity taste. I have also tried growing "heritage" tomatoes at home but these days I favour reliable "modern" varieties which reduce the amount of spraying needed.

Tomatoes originally came from South America and were introduced to Europe by Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century, along with potatoes, eggplants and peppers.

The Italians embraced eggplants, peppers and tomatoes but the British took wholeheartedly to the potato and were reluctant about the tomato. The first best-selling cookbook written by Marie Randall in 1808 provided only one tomato recipe.

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Although tomatoes can be used as tomatoes in any variety, some are better for some things than others.

Don't be fooled by some of the tomatoes sold "on the vine". They look more "natural" but often are produced commercially in glass houses and do not necessarily have an outdoor flavour.

Here are a few ideas to use the first-pick tomatoes from the garden or the farmers' markets. If possible, use tomatoes grown outdoors; if not, ripen the store-bought ones on the windowsill to develop a richer, riper flavour.

Types of tomatoes and their uses
Beef steak
These meaty fruits are great for sauces, stews, chutneys and relish. Layer them into baked dishes.

Vine tomatoes, small and large
Treat them as a salad tomato. Roast on the vine for good presentation.

Romas
Italian heirloom bush tomato. Have a great taste and low acid. Good for salads, sauces, salsas and drying. This variety is the one usually used in Italian canned tomatoes.

Mexican green
These are meant to be eaten green. Firm and sharp, salads, salsas and fried green tomatoes.

Italiano/Cherry
Sweet, multi-coloured and decorative. Use in salads, pasta sauces and as a snack.

Heirloom or heritage tomatoes such as Oxheart
Lots of shapes, sizes, colours and various uses. All the different types look great just sliced and dressed with a little olive oil as a salad.

Their taste is perceived to be better than modern tomatoes but they are less disease-resistant and have a shorter shelf-life.

Herbs that go well with tomatoes: Basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chives.


Recipes

Spanish style tomato toasts
Just-cooked tomato sauce
Summer skewers with basil, coriander and orange dressing
Grilled fish with tomatoes, potatoes and lemon