Sunday, January 1, 2012

Please Forgive Me (The Tomato Affair)

Okay. Confession Time. I did the unthinkable. I bought tomatoes in December.

For everyone laughing at me because they don't think that's confession worthy, let me explain what everyone else laughing at me for my foolishness already knows.

Grocery store hot house tomatoes always suck. But they suck worst in the off season. Their suckitude has to do with the fact that we've met actual real tomatoes and we're not fooled by that pale tasteless imposter coated in pesticides that somehow has not decomposed after a week and a half in the fridge because it might possibly be an irradiated genetically modified cross with plastic. (The suck factor is not helped by the fact that they also cost twice as much)

But, I defend, I bought it for a party salad, and just had extras left over.

You didn't eat them, did you, you ask in disgust.

I did. I couldn't let them go to waste. ...So here I am trying to hide the unforgivable lack of taste with olive oil, herbs, croutons, banana peppers, and a pinch of sugar.

Yes sugar.

I would never think about adding sugar to ripe red homegrown tomatoes whose succulent sweetness matches so perfectly with the the acid character in a flavor they measure technically with a sweetness scale called 'brix'. I learned about brix when I read the Heirloom Tomato book by Amy Goldman. And by read I mean licked the pages. Because this is, I kid you knot, a whole volume of delectable tomato portraits and profiles.  My brixiest tomatoes are those lovely plum tomatoes, perfectly ripe. Though the milder brix of the grape tomatoes and low acid yellow pears are so pleasant and the sort of toned flavor of the dark 'black' tomatoes are just heavenly... even if those black tomatoes don't do well in my region's biannual soggy years, splitting and suffering blossom end rot.

Growing this member of the nightshade family is the gateway drug to gardening for many gardeners because even though tomatoes are not necessarily easy (they have to be started indoors and you have to decide to prune or not to prune, and if not to prune then how to support, figure out how to water properly, and deter quite a few of their pests etc) when you do happen on a good season, it's just so immensely rewarding to cut into a *real* tomato, the kind they can't offer from a store because it's not round enough for packing and too thin-skinned for tumbling around in a truck, and yours is really ripened on the vine, not cut down while still green with the vine attached the sprayed with ethylene to ripen sold with the vine bits attached for effect.

And once you eat a real tomato, you know that real food can be had, you can make more of this sort of stuff grow. And then you start turning over your yard in a personal vow to replace lawn with food.  You're determined to try new tomato breeds, to learn to collect the seeds, to experiment with getting earlier or bigger harvests via all the conflicting advice you've been reading on every other Jane Doe's blog. To empirically collect data on if you actually can get an earlier harvest by hardening off and planting out before last frost under cloches, whether pruning or not pruning produces more tomatoes and if watering daily is best, if some companion plants really do repel pests, how much compost tea makes a difference against blossom end rot, or if there is something to the water when they look thirsty only tact. And eventually you sit at a keyboard in January dreaming about the end of June just imagining the first tomatoes getting heavy on the vine.  Okay, so maybe that's just me. But maybe like me, you will even be counting the days until you should start your tomato seeds.

46.

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