Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Longing for Tomatoes

This morning, I got to seriously longing for a tomato sandwich. You know what I'm talking about: white bread, mayonnaise, a huge slab of beefsteak tomato, salt, and pepper. It grieves me to no end right now that tomato season is still days if not weeks away. It could be that I am really hungry or it could be that I haven't had a tomato since October. Or it could be both.

How I got in this mood is pretty straightforward. My primary produce supplier, Beth Nowak of the Freight Station Farmers Market, and I were guests this morning on Michael Haman's Winchester Morning Magazine radio show and Michael led off the morning by asking Beth about the difference between real and flannel tomatoes. And this naturally led into a conversation about tomato sandwiches.

Each year, the first large ripe tomato of the season meets its demise as my lunch in a sandwich. Tomato sandwiches are one of those comfort foods that reconnect me with being a kid, running around barefooted, out of school for the summer, and feasting on tomatoes still warm from the garden, with the inevitable tomato juice-mayonnaise dribble down my chin.

Beth brought in a couple of her tomatoes, grown in the ground inside her greenhouse and as pretty as they are, I still won't be serving them until they come from fruit ripened outside. While these hothouse tomatoes are good, the outdoor ones are even better and for my annual summer ritual, only the best will do.

As Beth said on air, tomatoes grown outside taste better because the vines are stressed. In the same way that stress helps contribute flavor and character to grapes, so it goes for tomatoes. While tomatoes grown under cover away from pests, with moderate temperatures and regular water, are beautiful, they're just not the same as when subjected to the vagaries of the weather.

And so with enduring patience and hunger pangs, I wait. That first tomato sandwich is going to taste so damned good!

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