I do not like tomatoes.
Their acidity has always caused me problems, from spaghetti sauce to chili to salsa. I view most tomato-based recipes with resignation, reminding myself I’ll have to take heartburn medication well in advance.
And I’ve never thought the flavor of tomatoes was worth the trouble. (Except for smoked tomatoes, which are a different, heavenly thing altogether…for more info, go here: http://www.food.com/recipe/smoked-tomatoes-117225 ) I mean, the best part of spaghetti sauce has always been the garlic; best part of chili is the meat; best part of salsa is the peppers. Tomatoes have always been filler. And raw tomatoes…well, they’re either hard, crunchy, bland nuggets of nothing or mushy, gloppy, watery nothing.
When I started gardening, I planted tomatoes because that’s what you do, and because my husband loves them. They are easy to make into a meal, even if that’s a meal I don’t much like, and they’re easy to grow. The scent of the tomato plants is divine, and I reveled in the production of red, gorgeous fruits that someone, somewhere would enjoy eating. But that’s where it ended for me. I grew them, I took pictures of them, I fed them to my family, I tolerated them in sauce.
But then, tomatoes started following me around. In my teeny tiny garden plot out here, my 15X4′ raised bed where I planted my tidy row of a dozen sauce tomato plants (Sheboygan variety), a slew of volunteer plants showed up. Eighteen, to be exact. I have a total of 30 tomato plants. I decided to leave them and see what they turned into, and since part of the garden rules are that we have to donate our excess food to a food pantry, I figured there was no harm.
When tomato season hit, my garden exploded with fruits I’ve never seen before. I don’t know what they’re called, so I can’t tell you their names, but there were deep red, nubby, juicy fruits and delicate teardrop-shaped yellow fruits (I think those are yellow pear tomatoes); a sweet orangish perfectly spherical larger-than-a-cherry tomato and a gorgeous intense yellow smaller variety. And the sauce tomatoes were bigger than any roma or plum tomato I’ve ever grown; they were easily as big as a 10″ softball, and fully red.
Here’s the big surprise for me; each tomato tastes completely different. But the best part of it is this: each one TASTES! Their flavors are substantial, mouth-filling, their individual scents and density and construction curious and intriguing.
And at the farm, even more varieties are available: Black Prince, a burnt-orange and green marbled top-heavy apple shape; Pink Saucers; Yellow Perfection; Green Zebra; and some plain-old red heirloom whose name I forget. Farmer friend told me the Black Prince was her favorite, and as a tomato-hater, I was skeptical; who would have a favorite of anything so bland and ultimately painful? But the Black Prince proved me wrong. The flavor is so intense and succulent and full that I can, and sometimes do, eat them like apples.
To accommodate my blossoming supply of tomatoes, I’ve expanded my tomato repertoire; tabbouleh with yellow tomatoes is sublime; caprese salad with Black Prince is luxurious; a bowl of tomato chunks tossed with olive oil, garlic and balasmic vinegar singularly satisfying. Tonight, we are having tomato pie, a delightful custard/cheese pie stacked with thick tomato slices and baked till the cheese browns.
Damn, now I want a tomato.
It has been theorized that the reason we get such amazing produce here has something to do with the volcanic soil. Maybe it’s the weather, but this summer has been especially dry. Maybe it’s the length of the growing season. But, as with all things about Portland that I adore, the best part is the variety. No more binary choices of beefsteak or romas; I’ll have yellow perfection with a side of green zebra, topped with a juicy Sheboygan, please!
I think it’s safe to say now that I *do* like tomatoes. And I wish I had moved here a long time ago.
PS–I just learned from Farmer Friend that the ripe tomatoes give off a gas that helps ripen the unripe tomatoes; so when I’m picking fruits at the end of the season, and I’ve got a few reds and a bunch of greens, I can put them all into a sack and the ripe ones will encourage the unripe ones to ripen. She was stunned that I didn’t know this: I was stunned that this was a thing. Now it’s a thing that YOU know too.
This is the first year that I’ve had a successful garden, and the tomato crop has been….exuberant. I’ve made sauce, I’ve roasted tomatoes. I’ve had raw tomatoes with olive oil most every day for lunch. Now that we’re nearing the end of the season, I’m actually sad – I’ve enjoyed my tomato crop. But my crop, this year, completely ruined the tomato cages I put in — next year, I plan on building a stone wall around the vegetable garden, with wooden posts, and then placing wire trellises about, hopefully, to allow the tomato plants to thrive without having to buy new equipment from year to year.