GROWING NUMBERS OF CALIFORNIA’S DAIRY FARMERS TO SELL THEIR HERDS. . .

nina | August 31st, 2012 - 9:00 am

Skyrocketing feed costs and weak milk prices are forcing growing numbers of California’s dairy farmers to sell their herds or file for bankruptcy.
The situation has become so dire that at least one dairy cooperative is launching a crisis hot line for despondent dairymen and their families.  In the past eight months, 28 San Joaquin Valley dairies have filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s Fresno office, up from 24 in 2011 and 10 in 2010.
Most bankruptcy filings this year have been since April, and many more are expected.

This is devastating to so many families, and it doesn’t look like it’s over.

Court records show that farmers — several who have multiple dairies — owe more than $100 million to lenders, feed companies and other dairy suppliers, putting some suppliers at financial risk as well.

Several feed companies owe more than $2 million.  Although California, led by the Valley, is the nation’s leading milk producer with 1,668 dairies, the industry has been rocked this year by soaring feed costs. The problem has been worsened by drought in the Midwest, where many Valley livestock farmers get their corn. 

Farmers blame the high cost of corn on the drought and the nation’s alternative fuel policy that consumes 40% of the corn crop to make ethanol.

Without enough cash coming in from milk sales, many farmers aren’t able to pay for their cattle feed. And they are running out of options. Many borrowed heavily after 2009 when milk prices collapsed, export markets dried up and farmers had an oversupply. Dairy analysts say that while milk prices are starting to rebound, they aren’t keeping pace with feed costs.

Many farmers face the situation of not having any more money to pay their grain bill.  Some dairy farmers are able to grow some of their own feed, such as alfalfa and corn silage, to help shave feed costs. Diversified farmers are also better insulated from the highs and lows of the dairy industry.  But smaller and mid-size dairies don’t have that luxury. And with banks and feed companies owed millions of dollars, many farmers are confronting the inevitable: filing for bankruptcy or getting out of the business.

Seeking relief
Dairy industry leaders have sought relief in Sacramento, including a request for a six-month increase of 50 cents per hundredweight on all classes of milk. Last month, milk was selling for about $15 a hundredweight.

A local economist says feed costs will remain high through the rest of the year.  And a return to profitability may not happen until sometime next year.

For many, it’s already too late.  For one farmer, the dairy barns that used to house his 500 cows sit empty now, as he and his family are trying to pick up the pieces.
It has been very heartbreaking to these farmers.  How do you walk away from something that has been your whole life?

Many farmers in financial trouble borrowed everything they could so they could afford to keep their cows alive — all the while hoping things would get better.  But it was month after month of losing money.  And the only light that these farmers saw at the end of the tunnel was a train.

For one California farmer, monthly feed bills jumped from about $20,000 about six years ago to $69,000 this year.  This is causing other farmers to sell to other dairies, getting out before it was too late. 

Dairy crisis line
Dairy industry leaders say they expect at least 100 California dairies this year to exit the industry, either through bankruptcy or by voluntarily shutting down their operations.
For many, it’s the end of a lifetime of work.  To help farmers cope, California Dairies Inc., the state’s leading dairy cooperative, is launching a crisis hot line. Cooperative members will receive confidential counseling and support services for farmers and their families. They want to provide as much help as they can.

The California Dairies Board, said he has been advising several fellow dairymen on how to reduce their feed rations — anything to help them weather the storm.  There is a great sense of desperation in the voices of many dairymen. When your milk check does not cover your feed costs and your employees, that is a serious situation. And many are wondering how long they can hang on.

To save on feed, some dairymen are trimming the size of their herds and selling cows to livestock auction yards, where operators are reluctantly doing booming business.
Yards are seeing a 25% increase in dairy cows being sold in the last four weeks.

So what happens when these farmers are done? Who is going be left?

Source:  fresnobee.com, 8.18.12

COLLEGE STUDENTS WILL INFLUENCE FOOD TRENDS.

nina | August 30th, 2012 - 9:00 am

The nearly 20 million 18- to 20-year-olds who are currently attending college are developing distinct culinary preferences that will influence the food industry for decades to come.

The college environment, with its campus food courts, self-serve bars and convenience stores, offers students an exceptional opportunity to experience new foods, flavor profiles and eating styles. Palates expand in college and are forever altered. The food industry will need to respond to these adventurous consumers as they leave campus and start earning their own paychecks.

Quantitative online studies with college students from several colleges nationwide took place during late 2011 and spring 2012. This study identifies four major needs and seven culinary behaviors among students.

The “needs”: powerful nutrition, flavorful food, comfort and indulgence, and speed and convenience.

The culinary behaviors/preferences:
*Dining along the meatless spectrum: 
More students are aligning themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum, from “flexitarian” to vegetarian to vegan and even raw diets.
*The mighty chickpea: 
Students’ diets incorporate this inexpensive, versatile, packed-with-protein legume in myriad ways.
*Nut butters, the “protein pal”: 
Although Gen Y students grew up in a climate of peanut distrust due to the increase in children’s allergies, college students today have embraced peanut butter’s protein power along with that of other nut butters, especially almond. 
*Fruit and vegetable discovery: 
College students are discovering a whole new world of fruits and vegetables as they encounter expansive salad bars, unfamiliar vegetable side dishes and unusual vegan and vegetarian fare on campus. Friends, restaurants and student retail haunts introduce them to new dried fruit snacks, to-go salads and produce-centric beverages. 

*Asian love affair:
Younger Millennials have indeed grown up eating global cuisine, but this research shows that many continue the discovery process in college, thanks to dining halls and nearby ethnic restaurants. While flavor is the primary driver, the vegetarian and customization possibilities, as well as the ample vegetable servings, also attract students.

*Italian and Mexican offer comfort: 
Given the stresses of college, students also sometimes want comfort in the form of familiar, warm and filling foods. Italian and Mexican cuisines perfectly fit that bill.

*On-the-go fare: 
The phrases students consistently use in regard to their “go-to” foods include: “easy to make,” “portable,” “eat quickly” and “eat as I walk to class.”

Source:  Mediapost.com, 8.23.12

AHEAD OF SCHEDULE: CORN HARVEST BEGINS

nina | August 28th, 2012 - 9:00 am

Corn harvest began last week in eight states, bringing total U.S. corn crop harvest to 4 percent, according to USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report.

Texas harvest stood 51 percent complete in the week eneded Aug. 16, compared to 45 percent on average by this date over the past five years. Other states, including Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee were way ahead of schedule. For example, the corn crop was 18 percent harvested in Missouri, compared to the 1 percent five-year average.

USDA’s assessment of the corn crop remained unchanged from last week with 51 percent rated poor or very poor and 23 percent rated good or very good.

Pasture and range conditions were also unchanged at 59 percent rated poor or very poor and 17 percent rated good or very good.

Source:  Meatingplace.com; 8.21.12

COMING TO A SUPERMARKET NEAR YOU. . . HIGHER PRICES

nina | August 27th, 2012 - 9:00 am

It isn’t nearly as corny as it should be in Kansas this August — nor in Iowa, Nebraska or dozens of other states across the Midwest — and that means higher prices at the supermarket.

But not quite yet. We’ve heard dire warnings and seen scary pictures of dried-up cornfields across the nation’s farm belt, but a survey of northeast supermarket chains last week shows that while the worst drought in half a century is expected to lead to higher food prices, the impact on consumers has thus far been limited.  But don’t think you’ll escape; the summer drought will mean higher prices by year’s end.

The drought impacting crops currently is not being felt at the consumer level, but it will be in three to six months, and sooner with chicken prices. Even if conditions improve in the next few weeks, it seems to be a matter of how much prices will go up — predictions are in the 4 percent to 5 percent range — not if they will.

Until the crop is gathered up and put in the barn, that’s when we’ll really know the full impact it will have and that’s still a few months away.

Before then, beef and pork prices could drop short-term, as farmers sell off their stock, giving consumers a chance to stock up before they head north.

Some prices have already risen — for example, ground beef and chicken up more than 12 percent in the past year, and sale prices are often as high or higher than regular prices were 12 months ago — but the Consumer Price Index for food at home has shown only modest increases at the retail level.

But the Producer Price Index for food and feed, which measures wholesale prices, making it a good predictor of future retail trends — was up 1.4 percent in July (the biggest one-month jump in a year) after rising 1 percent in June.

More than half of that is due to the cost of prepared animal feeds.

Many shoppers aware of what is going on but most took a “there’s-not-much-I-can-do” approach.

Most shoppers will combine several strategies, including sale shopping, changing from brand names to generics and switching stores, to stretch her food budget.

That includes different types of meals, with more vegetables and less beef.

The reason for the high cost, the most extensive drought in half a century has ruined one of the most promising harvests in U.S. history, and U.S. crop prices surged as the prospect of a bumper crop evaporated.

Estimates from the Department of Agriculture are that this year’s corn crop would fall below 11 billion bushels for the first time in six years and the number of bushels yielded per acre was at a 17-year low. In addition, soybean production was forecast at a five-year low. Both are mainstays of animal feed, so smaller yields on the farm translates directly into higher prices in the supermarket.

The impact of higher feed-grain prices extends beyond beef. Hog and poultry raisers are also bracing for rising feed costs and falling profits, and the dairy industry is dealing with the devastating effects of the drought with heat stress lowering milk production.

In addition, since corn is used extensively as a sweetener, higher wholesale prices means you could pay more for packaged foods, although the impact will be less because the grain is a small part of the retail price of corn flakes and other products. About 40 percent of the corn crop is earmarked for ethanol, and using it instead for feed grain might ease price pressures. But changing fuel blends can be tough in the short term.

The bottom line is that if historical patterns hold, consumers can expect to pay higher food prices over the next year.

Source:  northjersey.com, 8.19.12

FOOD TRUCKS ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES.

nina | August 24th, 2012 - 9:00 am

College students heading back to campus may notice some culinary changes. As food trucks become more popular among the college set, some on-campus dining programs are fighting outside competition by launching their own mobile eateries.

As food trucks become an increasingly popular NYC lunch option, the number of trucks on the street are growing as well. What happens if two trucks want the same spot?

The University of California, Riverside, the Culinary Chameleon, a bright green food truck launched in January that regularly changes its menu, doesn’t advertise itself as college-run.  A food truck was originally invited on campus only for a trial period to gauge student interest in food-truck dining. Having a truck of their own gives them the flexibility to respond directly to their students, rather than working with off-campus vendors to address student requests.

College officials say running their own food trucks brings in more revenue for the universities. They also can tailor menus to fit the student body. The University of Texas at Dallas plans to debut its first food truck this fall, featuring a fusion menu of Asian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines to reflect the school’s large number of international students, who make up 19% of the student body.

Companies that manage food services for universities, say they have seen an increase in demand for college-run food trucks, especially as a way to offer late-night dining options and serve remote areas of campus.

In total, nearly 100 colleges have their own university-run food trucks, compared with only about a dozen five years ago.

Many universities don’t allow outside food trucks to come onto campus. But some, grant limited access to select independent vendors. Some colleges don’t take a cut of the vendors’ revenue or profit, but charges a flat rate for the trucks to park.

The University of Washington sidestepped competition by launching several of its own food trucks in 2010, early on in the food truck frenzy. Even if it’s raining, there are still long lines.

Some universities that run their own food trucks allow students to pay for meals by swiping their dining-hall I.D. cards, but other colleges haven’t yet installed that technology. Even universities that allow independent food trucks on campus sometimes let them collect dining-hall dollars from students.

Source:  wsj.com, 8.21.2012

11 SHOCKING NEW SOCIAL MEDIA STATISTICS.

nina | August 23rd, 2012 - 9:00 am

Recent findings from social media researchers show some shocking changes in how Americans use and consume social media. But these 11 social media statistics in particular stood out in the research.

1. Twitter users are 33 percent more likely to be Democrats
Research found that 40 percent of Twitter users are Democrats, compared to 30 percent of the U.S. population overall.The percentage of Republications and Independents on Twitter mirrors the U.S. average almost precisely. 

2. The “Check-in” is the phenomenon that never happened
Seventy-four percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the concept of checking in to a location via mobile device, and only 3 percent have ever checked in. Even more damning is that 4 percent had checked in when surveyed in 2011. This is a 25 percent decrease in check-in behaviors in a single year.

3. Only 33 percent of Americans have ever followed a brand in social media
From 2010 to 2012 the percentage of Americans following any brand on a social network has gone from 16 to 33 percent. This is a sharp increase, but looked at from the opposite perspective, it’s shocking that 2/3 of Americans using social networks have never followed a brand. Companies still have substantial room for growth in connecting with customers and fans on social networks.

4. 56 percent of Americans have a profile on a social networking site
This is up from 52 percent just last year, and 48 percent in 2010. How high can this climb? Certainly, there are sizable chunks of the populace that will never join a social networking site, but it’s amazing to consider that significantly more Americans (12 years old and up) have a social networking profile than do not.

5. 55 percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 have a profile on a social networking site
It’s not just for kids any more. The biggest growth of any age cohort from 2011 to 2012 was 45 to 54 year olds, who now exhibit participation matching the U.S. average. The only group that is below average are 55+ Americans, and even 3 out of 10 of them are in the social networking game.

6. 22 percent of Americans use social networking sites several times per day
It really is a “Social Habit.” In the past year, 12 million more Americans are using social networking many times daily. How many other things do we do several times per day? It’s not a long list.

7. Huge uptick in Facebook’s influence on purchase
Last year, 68 percent of Americans using social networks said that none of those networks had an influence on their buying decisions. This year, just 36 percent said that there was no influence. Now, 47 percent say Facebook has the greatest impact on purchase behavior (compared to just 24 percent in 2011). Incidentally, Twitter ranks below “other” at 5 percent. If you want to drive purchase behaviors within social networks, Facebook is the one and only game to play, statistically speaking.

8. Facebook via mobile continues to be a major factor
Fifty-four percent of Facebook members have used the social network via a phone, and 33 percent use a phone as their primary way to access Facebook. This despite the fact that the Facebook mobile experience and mobile apps are mediocre, at best. Here’s hoping the Instagram guys can jump start it. If so, watch for these numbers to soar.

9. Facebook is the most addicting of the social networks
Twenty-three percent of Facebook’s users check their account five or more times EVERY DAY. The mean number of daily look-ins by Facebook users is 4. Are we really so interesting that we have to keep up with our friends’ inanities every 90 minutes? Evidently, yes.

10. Twitter will have an easier time making changes to its core service than Facebook will
Fifty-three percent of Twitter users have been a member for less than a year, compared to just 19 percent for Facebook. This means that Twitter’s user base doesn’t have long-term, deep seated expectations for what Twitter is or should be.

11. 76 percent of Twitter users now post status updates
This is one of the biggest behavioral changes of the past two years. In 2010, the Social Habit research found that just 47 percent of Twitter users actually sent tweets, with more than half the user base in listen-only mode. The overwhelming majority of new Twitter users are active tweeters, driving the overall average to 76 percent.

MORE THAN 50 PERCENT OF U.S. HOUSEHOLDS USE OLIVE OIL. . .

nina | August 17th, 2012 - 9:00 am

Olive oil, produced from the fruit of the olive tree, dates back to ancient times. In recent years, it has become a more sought-after part of the American diet for its flavor and health benefits.

Celebrity and television chefs, who seems to use ” EVOO” or extra virgin olive oil in just about everything, and the Mediterranean diet have helped increase the oil’s popularity among foodies and non-foodies alike.

More than 50 percent of U.S. households use olive oil, up from 30 percent five years ago, according to the North American Olive Oil Association in Neptune, N.J. Americans consume an average of 1 liter of olive oil per year.

Naturally, anything that’s in demand globally and can be high-priced is a target for unscrupulous people who want to cash in and deceive the public.

Olive oil is the top food when it comes to fraud. The fraud can be anything from the substitution of Greek olive oil for Italian olive oil to the addition of cheaper oils such as corn, hazelnut and palm oil.

Food adulteration is usually more of a way for the seller to increase profits and deceive consumers and traders than it is a food safety issue.

In the case of olive oil, if non-edible oils are being used, that could be a food safety issue as well. It’s very doubtful that major brands of oil would sell adulterated products, as they would be risking too much.

In 20 years of testing through an independent quality control program, the North American Olive Oil Association reports that brands identified with adulterated products represent less than 2 percent market share in U.S. retail.

Another problem is the labeling of cheaper olive oil as “extra virgin” when it’s not. About 60 percent of olive oil sold at retail is extra virgin, and the rest is olive oil or light-tasting olive oil.

Extra virgin is the highest quality grade of olive oil under standards by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s voluntary standards. In addition to certain acidity levels, extra virgin must also meet flavor and aroma criteria.

When evaluating over 186 oils. Most of them had flavor defects such as rancidity. It has only been in a relatively recent era where there is a lot of quality olive oil suddenly available. It’s theoretically easy to make olive oil. There are all kinds of ways the quality can get messed up down the line.

When people taste an actual extra virgin olive oil for the first time, they see that it often smells grassy and has a sensation of freshness, it is a real eye opener.

Good advice – always look for a harvest date on the label and the bottle. Olive oil is a natural product, and the fresher the better. We are not used to thinking of it that way.

Olive oil should be consumed within 15 months of harvest. If you can’t find a harvest date, look for a “best by” date.

Olive oil should be stored where it is not exposed to light in a cabinet or closet.

California produces only about 3 percent of the olive oil consumed in the U.S.  All products produced in the U.S. are “very good” picks.

Source:  theledger.com, 8.14.12

THE U.S. IS A LAND OF MANY CHIP VARIETIES!

nina | August 16th, 2012 - 9:00 am

You say potato, I say pot-ah-toe … chip. And that’s just the start of it.

Though thin and flat may be the national standard — and bestselling variety — of this very popular snack, regional and sometimes hyper-local preferences for different levels of crunch, thickness, seasonings and endless other elements have created a surprisingly diverse culinary patchwork of chip styles around the country.

Yep, the chips you prefer in the Northeast could be wildly different than those savored in the South.

Midwesterners, for example, prefer a thicker, more substantial chip. Big, hearty chips also sell well in New England and the Rockies, though in the latter area those progressive mountain folk want theirs with artisanal seasonings. Southerners love barbecue flavor, but it needs to be sprinkled on thin, melt-in-your-mouth chips.

Southwestern states predictably go for bold and spicy. Local flavors, such as New Orleans Cajun and Mid-Atlantic crab seasoning, find their way onto chips in those places. And people all across the country, it seems, love a curly, shattering kettle chip.

People like the potato chip they grew up with and there’s a very strong brand recognition and brand loyalty to the chip you grew up with.

Potato chips are America’s number one snack, according to the Snack Food Assoication out of Rosslyn, VA, and we spent $9 billion on them in 2010, 50 percent more than what we spent on the No. 2 snack, tortilla chips. More than half of those sales go to Frito-Lay North America, whose original thin, crispy chip is the top-seller. But hometown styles still claim their territory.

In the Pacific Northwest, big bite and bigger flavors, such as jalapeno made from real peppers and a salt and vinegar chip that makes you pucker tend to be very popular.

Over in the Rockies, kettle-cooked chips pair their crunchy bite with artisanal seasonings such as red wine vinegar, spinach and artichoke, and balsamic and rosemary.

Down the map in the Southwest, people enjoy two varieties of kettle-cooked chips with mouth-numbing heat from jalapenos and habaneros.  People in this region really tend to like this pepper, these stronger, spicier flavor. 

While Southerners like spice, industry executives say, the region’s traditional chip is thin and flaky. The southern consumer prefers a lighter, thinner potato chip.

And then there are the niche chips, the hyper-local flavors that connect people to their culinary heritage.

In New Orleans, there’s a chip called Spicy Cajun Crawtaters, designed to mimic the flavor of a seafood boil. And in Pennsylvania there’s a Philly cheesesteak chip, as well as one meant to taste like boardwalk fries. For other Mid-Atlantic producers crab seasoning is a must, but may be for locals only.

If you’ve never had a blue crab experience, or been at a crab feast, and are visiting the East Coast, you’ll want to try this one!

Advances in potato chip making technology and distribution have flattened what may once have been a much wider variety of regional chip preferences, some analysts and executives say. Potato chip making began in the mid-19th century with mom-and-pop operations in practically any small town with access to potatoes, oil and a kettle to fry them in.

Today, the industry uses “chipping potatoes” grown specifically for the purpose, and has developed technology to produce a more uniform chip. Advances in packaging and the emergence of big box chains mean chips now can travel much farther, spreading once local tastes throughout the country.

For sure, standardization and competition from giant producers like Frito-Lay may have squeezed some smaller companies out of business, executives say. But it may be the predominance of those flat, mass-produced chips that has also kept regional passions alive.

Some flavors that started out as regional specialties — for example, Limon, originally for California — have gained a wider audience

What always happens is that a lot of the regional cuisines have expanded and become more mainstream.  For example, the popularity of Mexican food has helped the “limon” flavor gain fans. 

Good ideas come from everywhere, especially when you think about the changing demographics of this country and how multicultural we’re becoming.  It’s only a matter of time.

Source:  Yahoo. The Associated Press, 8.8.12

USDA PREDICTS MORE MEAT THIS YEAR, LESS IN 2013.

nina | August 15th, 2012 - 9:00 am

The forecast for 2012 total red meat and poultry production is raised from last month but the forecast for 2013 is reduced as higher feed prices are expected to pressure producer returns.

Beef
Beef production is raised from last month for both 2012 and 2013 due to higher expected placements in feedlots and increased dairy cow slaughter in late 2012 and during 2013.

Carcass weights are forecast higher based on recent weight trends, but higher feed prices are expected to temper the increase and carcass weights are expected to be lower in 2013 compared to 2012.

Beef exports are reduced for both 2012 and 2013 as exports have slowed and tight supplies of pork and poultry are expected to support domestic beef demand.

Cattle prices are reduced from last month with the expectation of larger fed cattle marketings in both 2012 and 2013. However, prices are likely to remain strong in 2013, as total meat supplies are tight.

USDA lowered average steer prices in 2012 to a range of $119 to $122 per hundredweight from last month’s range of $123 to $126. For 2013 it lowered its forecast to a range of $122 to $132 from last month’s $124 to $135.

Pork
Pork production is reduced from last month for both 2012 and 2013. The reduction for 2012 reflects lower slaughter in the third quarter and lighter expected carcass weights through the year.

As a result of high feed prices and recent hot weather, forecast pig crops are lowered in the second half of 2012 with declines continuing into 2013. Pork production is forecast lower in 2013 due to a combination of smaller hog supplies and lower expected carcass weights.

Pork exports are reduced for both 2012 and 2013.

Hog prices are raised in both years due to smaller hog supplies.  USDA now sees average prices for barrows and gilts in a range of $62 to $63 during 2012 and from $62 to $67 in 2013.

Poultry
Broiler production is raised in 2012, as production in the second quarter was higher than forecast last month and hatchery data points to higher than previously forecast levels of production in the third quarter. However, high feed costs are expected to result in lower broiler production in 2013.

Turkey production is forecast lower in 2012 on lower second-quarter production. The production forecast for 2013 is reduced as feed prices squeeze producer returns.

Poultry exports are reduced for both 2012 and 2013.

Broiler prices are reduced in 2012 due to larger expected supplies and somewhat weaker demand, but for 2013, tighter supplies are expected to help support higher prices. Turkey price forecasts are raised on lower production.

USDA forecast broiler prices in a range of 82 cents to 84 cents per pound in 2012 and in a range of 84 cents to 90 cents per pound in 2013.

Analyst raises concerns
BMO Capital Markets analyst Kenneth Zaslow questioned USDA’s forecast that corn use for feed would decline to 4 billion bushels from 4.8 billion predicted last month.

USDA demand outlook appears overly optimistic as the protein industry has yet to make any significant changes to production. With no production cuts on the horizon and the need for corn to move higher, chicken cutout margins likely will further deteriorate and recent optimism regarding production cuts appears misplaced.

Source:  meatingplace.com, 8.10.12

NEVER SAY “NO” TO A TOMATO VINE.

nina | August 13th, 2012 - 9:00 am

After several less-than-stellar tomato seasons (late blight; biblical floods), it looks as if we are finally in for a good crop this summer. Just go to your farmers’ market and behold the bounty, even before its late-August peak. Tomatoes of every shape, hue and size, from pea-size cherries to fat red beefsteaks, are waiting to be lunch.

The first plantings have been extremely productive and fine-flavored. It turns out the oppressive heat that has been making subway riders miserable is actually beneficial if you’re a tomato. They like the hot weather, growing faster and sweeter because of it.

Another greenmarket vendor stated that they were also having a great tomato season. Plants just keep producing and producing.

The prospects are just as good for backyard gardeners across the nation, as long as they remember to water often or have a drip irrigation system. Conditions vary from region to region, but generally, the most prevalent one, the crazy heat, is not a problem.

As long as you give them enough water, tomatoes can handle the heat.

In the kitchen, one of the best things a cook can do with an abundance of ripe summer tomatoes is not cook them. With such tasty beauties available (and given the tomato-pleasing heat), salads make more sense.

Start with something simple. Slice big tomatoes into rounds and cut smaller ones into wedges and the cherry and grape varieties in half. Very gently toss them with fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and good salt.

If you want to get fancy, use the basic formula as a base for whatever little bits of cheese or meat are hanging out in your fridge. Try adding crumbled blue cheese for tang, fresh figs for sweetness and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts for crunch. But feta and olives would have worked just as well, or goat cheese, peaches and toasted almonds. If you’re looking for tomato salad as a main course, add meat, canned fish or lots of cheese.

Another summer favorite is anything covered in tonnato sauce, which is essentially tuna salad put into the blender until it liquefies (it tastes much better than it sounds). Spooned on top of ripe heirlooms, tomato tonnato is as delicious to eat as it is fun to pronounce (to-MAY-toe to-NAH-toe).

These ideas only scratch the surface. Regardless of how you do it, go make a salad. Because a lot can happen between now and when the rest of the crop comes in: hail, mites, an onset of blight.

The season is fleeting. Take advantage.

Source:  nytimes.com, 8.2.12

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