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Friday, September 9, 2011

What is the "Perfect" Tomato?

When I hear complaints about not being able to find a "good Jersey tomato" anymore, especially comments like "... years ago! That's when tomatoes had flavor!", I usually break out singing my Ode to the Jersey Tomato to the tune of Billy Joel's Piano Man:
  "Son, can you [grow] me a memory. I'm not really sure how it goes, ... but it's [plump] and it's sweet, and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man's clothes. Oh la, la, la, ditty dah..." 

Well, in response to author Barry Estabrook's book 'Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit', which takes direct aim at the quality of Florida tomatoes, CNN just posted on their Eatocracy blog an interview the Florida Tomato Committee's manager Reggie Brown.

Reggie supports my theory quite nicely here (bold and italics added for emphasis):
Eatocracy: How do you respond to the prevailing notion that the tomatoes that are picked green and produced out of Florida don’t have the taste that people associate with fresh, ripe tomatoes?

Reggie Brown: If you look at the statistics, gardening is one of America’s great hobbies. Everyone has had an emotionally attaching experience at some point in their life, whether it’s one that you had personal sweat equity in or grew, or it’s one that your grandfather or mother or father handed you in the garden – that wonderfully ripe fruit.

Your memory marked those flavors. The variation, the complexities within a tomato are extremely wide – not only in color but texture, aromas, acidity, sugar content and shape. Those kinds of things that you become attached to as a tomato connoisseur that are emotionally tied to that tomato are not reproducible. What in reality happens is that there is no perfect tomato.
And he admits in the rest of that answer that shipping tomatoes are not replacements for those grown in the home garden, and they will taste like cardboard if not handled properly, but:
We produce a product in Florida that is a high quality, safe, wholesome tomato that is capable of withstanding the rigors of the marketplace, that provides America with a product for six or seven months out of the year – sometimes longer – in areas of the country where they would otherwise be totally devoid of tomatoes.

Is it an absolute one on one replacement for Mr. Estabrook’s tomatoes that he has sweated in upstate Vermont and has available to him for three or four weeks in an entire year? I would not tell you it is.

But it is a very good product when handled properly. That means don’t take it home and stick it in the refrigerator and chill it down below 55 degrees because you create a biological phenomenon that collapses the quality of the fruit, that changes the texture and the flavor and it will taste like cardboard if you handle it improperly.

Properly handled, our product is the product that America buys and enjoys. But it is not a replacement for your home garden product that you nurtured for eight or nine weeks or longer to produce.
Enjoy the entire Eatocracy interview (and some entertaining comments at the end) at Why grow tomatoes in Florida.