Friday, August 10, 2012

For the Love of (Real) Tomatoes

I am most definitely my mother's daughter. This often becomes apparent in my gardening habits, and in particular my compulsion to plant and eat as many tomatoes as possible in the summer. Matt said something to me the other day that I'm pretty confident was a statement made by my father to my mother some years ago: "We need to have a conversation about the number of cherry tomatoes you planted." Well, so, we're drowning in Sungolds? I don't really see the problem! I love tomato season, because it results in things like this:

Tomatoes are amazing, and delicious, and fun to grow. Real tomatoes, that is. Not the perfectly round, hard, flavorless kind you buy in the supermarket. Until our first tomatoes ripened a month or so ago, I hadn't eaten a fresh tomato in over six months. Not since we polished off last year's homegrown crop. Why? Because through my work with Edible Portland and through readings I did for school this year, I learned exactly how commercial tomatoes come to market. In a nutshell, they are grown and picked by the hands of modern-day slaves (in the U.S. at least. Though I would not be surprised if this happens elsewhere too). Not to mention that tomatoes are at the top of the Dirty Dozen, and studies have shown that commercially grown tomatoes contain traces of up to 35 different pesticides and other synthetic chemicals (which means that the laborers working in the tomato fields are exposed to all of those chemicals). All of this has come to light in the news more in the last couple years, what with Barry Estabrook's Tomatoland being published, as well as some major work by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please go read this. It's worth it.

Homegrown Brandywine (heirloom).

I think the moral of the story is found in this excerpt: "When I asked...if it was safe to assume that a consumer who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store, fast food restaurant, or food-service company in the winter has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave, he corrected my choice of words. “It’s not an assumption. It is a fact.

It's easy to ignore what you can't see. But it's also easy to not purchase a tasteless, poisonous piece of fruit. So if you haven't made the choice yet, I would encourage you to give up conventional tomatoes. If you don't grow your own, then purchase them at a farmer's market, or at the very least buy organic ones if you get them at the supermarket; the person who picked them at the very least was not exposed to terrible and unnecessary chemicals.

These days Matt and I grow almost entirely heirloom tomatoes. As Estabrook points out, tomatoes have been completely bastardized by hybridization and genetic modification, and we want nothing to do with that. The only non-heirloom we grow is the Sungold cherry tomatoes, and I think we'll look for something different in the next year or two. Heirlooms taste better, are far more beautiful to look at, and you can save the seed and grow them again- something you can't do with hybrids.

This is a Cherokee Purple. Huge, gorgeously mauve in color, and with the sweetest and most beautifully textured flesh. Matt and I taste-tested it against the Brandywine, and agreed that this is our new favorite slicing tomato. This year we're growing Oxhearts for making tomato sauce, the Brandywines are great for fresh salsa, and the Cherokee Purple is the best for eating right off the vine. I've also got one Black Krim plant that hasn't ripened yet. I planted a few Green Zebras and gave a couple away, and then somehow the one I kept turned out to be a Brandywine instead. Whoops. Next year I want to add a good big yellow tomato, and try a couple other new varieties if possible.

In other news, Matt is away until Monday night- he flew out on a red-eye to Boston last night, for the wedding of a good friend at Cape Cod tomorrow. Meanwhile, Laurel is currently en route to Portland from Seattle, and when she gets here in a few hours we will commence with a girls' weekend full of sewing and crafting, and hopefully soapmaking. I better go finish up canning some hot peppers and a few more jars of dilly beans so I can be ready to play when she gets here!
After the somewhat heavy subject matter of this post, I thought I'd leave you with something to make you smile: Maggie, in her most common napping position:

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