I like tomatoes. They are one of the friendlier and more cheerful fruits. Yeah, I know the Supreme Court said that they are vegetables, but hey, what do lawyers know about reality or food? They’re really berries anyway. This little package of goodness has nicely green leaves and stems, and nice green fruit that shades to whatever cheerful color it’s going to be, usually a pretty red. They feel good to the touch, nicely firm and smooth and warm. There is also a squishy sensuality to laying into them with a really sharp knife. First the firm skin depresses the least little bit. Then you start the slide with a light but firm stroke. The sharp blade suddenly bites and then there is this wet slide down to the cutting board. The slightly acid juices run onto your fingers with a slightly stingy kiss and then down onto the board, staining the wood delicately darker.
Growing the things can be instructive. You plant, you water, you worry – too much sun? – not enough? And they don’t grow. Damn. You try again. Same cycle. More damns and other such. You plant even more. Eventually you stop worrying and become totally fatalistic. Then, and only then, they start growing like weeds. You become intent again. They start blooming those little green buds. Now you can start worrying about insects, birds, whatever the vermin of your region might be. The green buds grow, but will they get big enough? Relax. The things will probably bear so much that you will beat your friends to death, trying to get them to “take just one more”. Now you can plant them in the yard, in a place that has good sun, but won’t bake them out in the strong afternoon. You can plant them in a pot. You can plant them in a window box. You can plant the smallest varieties in small pots and just set them in the window inside. If you want good tomatoes, you have to feed them. At least here in Georgia, red clay is not the greatest base. You dig up the soil. You fertilize. You do the whole routine. You want the best? Compost. Rotted manure. Turn that Georgia red clay into black topsoil. Or do square foot box planting and roll your own soil. They taste better. They grow better. They taste better (yeah’, it bears repeating). You can’t use ‘em all unless you learn how to can or have lots of friends.
Best tomatoes I ever saw came from a friend of mine’s father. This guy was one of those depression era types that was a compulsive truck gardener. And he was damn good. But – the best tomato he ever grew he didn’t plant or grow, exactly. What it was was serendipity. The guy had absentmindedly dumped some iron shavings from where he’d been threading iron pipe for his porch. He just dumped the filings into the compost heap he had by the side of his house. Of course, he’d also dumped all the kitchen odds and ends, grass clippings, etc. You guys know the drill. If it would compost, it went into the heap. And no, a good compost heap doesn’t smell bad. One of the kitchen scraps must have had some tomato seeds in it. Now this fella’ did not water or anything, but it was a fairly good year. So up pops this volunteer tomato thing. You couldn’t call it a vine. You wouldn’t call it a plant. This thing was a tomato tree. It must have been all of 8′ high, at least. And big around proportionately. It was absolutely humongous. If it had been an animal, it would have stomped Tokyo. With the biggest, tastiest tomatoes you have ever seen. Your hands could just barely hold these things. Poor guy tried to give them away, but couldn’t keep up. I’m surprised he didn’t drown in tomatoes.
Now that you’ve got them, you can do all kinds of things. You can slice them, a little salt, and enjoy. BTW – over easy or medium eggs and sliced tomatoes is a nice hot weather breakfast. You do want the eggs a bit runny. Get the yolk on the tomatoes. Wonderful. A little bit of good toast and you are really fixed up.
Or do a vinegar and oil soak. How? Equal parts decent vinegar – try apple vinegar – and Oil – try any good oil – I like Olive Oil (Greek preferred) Chop up a small onion into small pieces – nearly minced is good Salt – good kosher salt Pepper – Fresh ground Vary ingredients to taste. Try adding a little oregano. Try this and that. Add kitchen sink or whatever tickles your taster. Yeah, this is a kind of salad sort of thing. Let the tomatoes soak awhile, chill it in the refrigerator if you want, then spoon onto your plate and eat. Jim-dandy for hot weather. Side dish, main dish, whatever.
Herself Sez: Yes, Marinated Tomatoes are a thing of beauty and a joy forever! My favorite is a German-style marinated tomato recipe that I put together for one of our Rock-toberfests. Here it is: Marinated Tomatoes 8 Tomatoes; large, ripe (should be peeled and sliced) 1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced (optional) 2 cups Vegetable oil (I used Olive oil – I just love Tassos brand!) 1 cup red wine vinegar (originally called for 1/2 c, but I like the tartness of the extra vinegar) 1/2 tsp Mustard; dry 2 tsp Salt 1/2 tsp Black pepper 2 Garlic; clove, large, minced (I used 3 cloves!) 2 Tbs Basil; fresh, chopped 4 Thyme; sprigs, fresh,chopped 2 Marjoram; fresh, sprig, chop (I didn’t have fresh, so I used 1 tbsp dried leaves)
2 Tbs Scallion; minced Scald the tomatoes and peel, then slice thinly. Layer the tomato slices so they aren’t stacked, but are more overlapped. Alternate layers of cucumbers if using them. Mix the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, spices and minced scallion. Pour over the tomatoes. Chill for 1 – 24 hours before serving. (The longer the better) (PS – every one – including the toddlers – enjoyed these!)
Of course, you can chunk them and throw the chunks into soup, stew, salad, whatever floats your boat. You can star them and stuff them with a nice tuna salad. Hey, if you are going to get tuna, try some of the packed in olive oil kind
, like Genova Tuna. Damn sight tastier than that American tuna packed in no-flavor water.
You can also gut them out and stuff them with a rice and raisin and nut of some kind and whatever mix you like and bake till they turn golden brown on top. If you like bread crumbs in that sort of thing – go for it. You might want to try Japanese Panko bread shavings for a change of pace. Really good stuff.
Hey – speaking of the depression – have you ever tried depression tomatoes? This was what you could eat in desperation: Can of whole, chopped, or whatever tomatoes. But tomatoes, not sauce or paste. Water. A couple of pinches of sugar. A couple of pinches of salt. A couple of pinches of pepper. Whatever left-over bread you have – a bit stale is good. Hunk up the bread and put all the ingredients into a pot. Proportions to taste or availability. Heat until it simmers gently. Stir every now and then. Eat, enjoy. Not a balanced meal, but interesting. It is better with fresh tomatoes, but what I give you was eaten in many a Southern house during the depression. It was also something that the hunters could do in a camp.
There is a good tradition behind using this as a base and tossing in whatever else you’ve got in the leftover department. Kind of like stone soup.
Now that we are old and gray and broken down. I get my tomatoes from the nearby Publix. They are not as good as home grown, but a lot easier. I don’t get too fussy about organic. They want too much money. At this age I don’t really think a few chemicals is going to make all that much difference anymore.