It’s summertime and the bounty of tomatoes is piling up. You went to the local farmer’s market and you couldn’t resist the gorgeous, fruity selection. Now you are at home and your counter is literally covered! In the heat of summer, we love making gazpacho, a Spanish staple. Easy to make in a blender – about 15 minutes! Our simple recipe is at the end.
Two things happen at this time of year. The first is usually a query as about why there are no honey bees on someone’s tomato plants – “Will I see any fruit?” Yes. You will get tomatoes. Tomatoes are not pollinated by honey bees. They are pollinated by an assortment of bumble bees that use buzz pollination to shake the pollen loose.
Watch the action through DEEP LOOK, an ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. Watch:
A little background: Tomatoes were one of the plants introduced to the Spanish when they came to the area now known as Central and South America. The native people were using tomatoes along with an assortment of other plants in their daily seasonal diet. Spaniards took plants back and the rest is, shall we say, history! Everyone fell in love with the red, sweet and tangy fruit of the nightshade family. The time frame is the 16th century – and honey bees were not brought to the ‘new world’ until the 17th century! That’s right. Honey bees are not native to the Americas. They are native to the Mediterranean and have been pollinating in those surrounding regions for millennia.
For those of you who grow this, you’ll see the simple yellow flower that eventually births a tomato. You might notice that the flower is pointed at the tip and closed. Honey bees cannot access this. The girls like open flowers with both pollen and nectar readily available at the sip of her proboscis. (A straw like tongue.) Native bumble bees, on the other hand, are particularly adapted for pollinating the tomato. The bee flies up to the flower. She attaches to it and begins to vibrate her wing muscles creating a buzzing sound. As the flower is ‘buzzed’ it opens covering the bee in yellow green tomato pollen. The pollen transfer from the anthers to the pistil amid the buzzing creates the possibility of fruit. Slowly but surely the tomatoes grow. They get picked and eaten fresh off the vine or in salads and often cooked into tomato sauces and soups – like gazpacho.
Again – the answer is yes. When cooking, the high acidity of tomatoes is balanced by the addition of sugar. And yes – you can substitute honey. Having done this for years, we suggest to pay attention. Honey is much sweeter than sugar. If the recipe calls for a tablespoon of sugar, start with half that amount. Taste the sauce you are making and adjust as needed. We prefer our tomato based products to be much less sweet than those sold on supermarket shelves. We want to taste the tomatoes, the basil, the onions… not sugar!
Another thing that can affect the amount of honey you might use is whether your tomatoes are canned or fresh. And if they are fresh – pay attention to what variety you are using. This might sound like a lot to pay attention to, but the results will be worth it. We prefer the San Marzano Roma tomatoes, which are usually available fresh at this time of year and are so-so-so delicious! (We are noticing more and more varieties of canned San Marzanos showing up on the supermarket shelf, so home cooks are clearly getting the message!) San Marzanos tend to be a bit sweeter than other Romas, so they need less honey to create the perfect balance.
Tomato sauces and soups don’t need specialty orange blossom or lavender honey. The floral overtones will affect the flavor of the finished product. Instead, select a wonderful local wildflower or even a savory honey – like buckwheat or coriander. Add the honey to the cooking pot, dissolve, taste, cook for a while so the flavors meld together, and then taste again. Let the flavor of the honey work with the tomatoes and all the seasonings before adding more. Taste again and decide if the flavor is right or if it is a bit too acidic. If so, add just a little more. Patience will yield the best flavor and you won’t regret it!
Enjoy happily in good health! Need to stock up on honey? September is National Honey Month and we’re running a sweet deal! 15% off on our entire site. Shop HERE!