Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Sad State

Of tomato affairs, that is. Here’s how sad this has all become.

We found some tomatoes that tasted ‘pretty good’. Seems like good news! Here’s four reasons why it just highlights the sad state of affairs in this sunshine state.

Number one: no tomato we have bought in SoCal has exceeded the ‘pretty good’ taste level in twelve years. They usually tend more towards ‘red Styrofoam’.

Number two: it is so amazing to find a tomato here that tastes like a tomato that I am actually making it the feature of this blog post. It’s so rare, it’s like finding a politician who doesn’t lie. Or a dog that doesn’t sleep. Pretty sad.

Number three: these tomatoes tasted so much better than what I generally find around here, ripe looking or not, that we made them the feature of the dinner. An entire dinner with the centerpiece a ‘pretty good’ tasting raw sliced tomato. Just cause it’s so unusual.

Number four: not only were they the feature of the dinner, but we ‘rationed’ them out, at 5 slices per person (I could have gotten more, but who knew they would taste ‘pretty good’!). Tomato rationing. Humph.

It’s just a tomato we’re talking about.

Actually, the guy who sold them said they were a type of heirloom tomato.

I don’t really know how to verify this statement, other than to say that they were much fleshier, less seedy and watery, than the usual non-Roma tomato. And they were a bit streaky in color – sort of more of an iridescent orangey hue with darker red emanating from the pip and running down the sides. They looked like a sunset. On a warm summer evening.

I always assumed heirloom meant that they were from an ‘old’ seed stock unaltered by modern commercial manipulations, as in an heirloom that is passed down through generations. But that is not necessarily true. Heirloom may mean that, but it may also mean that the plant is ‘open-pollinated’ – i.e. pollinated by bees, insects, birds, wind, etc., thereby supporting greater genetic diversity (both good and bad), as opposed to industrial pollination techniques that isolate plants so that the genetic pool is as limited as possible to produce the qualities ‘desired’, such as the ability to withstand storage, or ability to be picked and packed effectively.

But the taste, which has to be the giveaway of an heirloom tomato, was good. Not sensational. Not like a dream. But again, so so so much better than average that they seemed like a dream.

So we featured them. Just sliced. With a very light lemon verbena vinaigrette. And a sprinkle of shallots.

On top of a nice dandelion and sorrel (because of its lemony taste) mixed green salad. Everything simple so as not to hide the tomato.

On the side, TeenBoy, who has become risotto chef extraordinaire, made a fantastic gorgonzola risotto. His favorite and his specialty. The creamy rich risotto was a nice balance to the clean and crisp salad.

We put the tomato salad in the center of the table, discussed the distribution of tomato slices (they varied slightly in terms of size, color, etc.), then either threw it down with abandon (TeenBoy), or savored it until the risotto was practically cold (me).

Who knows when we’ll find a tomato to match, or, dare we dream, exceed, those?

I’ve already posted on the gorgonzola risotto in previous posts, with recipe, so I’ll just list the tomato salad here.

Heirloom Tomatoes on Summer Greens with Lemon Verbena Vinaigrette
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

4 large, ripe, heirloom tomatoes, pips removed, sliced fairly thickly
1 bunch dandelion greens, sorted, washed and cut to serving sized pieces
2 bunches sorrel, ends trimmed, washed, and cut into serving sized pieces
20 lemon fresh verbena leaves, chopped thinly
1 shallot, minced
2-3 tbsp rice vinegar or sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
salt, pepper
additional lemon verbena leaves for garnish, if desired

In a small bowl, whisk together the chopped lemon verbena leaves, vinegar, salt and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking. Let dressing sit for at least 30 minutes, an hour or more would be good, to extract the lemon flavor. Strain the dressing through a fine mesh sieve, pressing hard on the solids. Whisk in the shallots. Adjust seasoning.

Toss greens in a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with rice vinegar and olive oil, and toss gently. Place greens on a large plate, arrange tomato slices on top. Spoon dressing over top of tomatoes, and garnish with lemon verbena leaves, if desired. Serve. Enjoy!

As a side note:
We found these growing in our very own backyard. Not planted, or cultivated in any way, by us. Just growing all on their own in a sunny corner. I don’t know how the plants got started. Probably the seeds were ‘left behind’ by some nocturnal animal that visited our yard (we get raccoons, possums, rabbits, coyotes, and other critters on various occasions).

So we started watering them.

I have no hopes that they will taste any better then the tomatoes we generally buy, but hey, it’s worth a try!

Maybe in a month we’ll have real local grown tomatoes. And open-pollinated (I guess – how else could they have been pollinated). Which makes them an heirloom of sorts, doesn’t it?

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Blogger Kalyn said...

They look like Brandywine tomatoes to me, which is my very favorite heirloom tomato. If they were kind of bumpy on the "shoulders" then for sure they were Brandywines. Wish I could send you some in a month or so when I have tons.

10:23 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

They were a little bumpy on the shoulders! I'm sure you're right, Kalyn!

5:37 PM  
Blogger Kalyn said...

Me again. I'm spotlighting this recipe on my blog today for a new feature I'm calling South Beach Recipes of the Week. I'm including your photo (credited to you of course) and a link to your recipe. If anything bothers you about the way I've done this, please let me know.

10:29 AM  

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