Tomatoes

My wife wrote a play, a one woman autobiographical show she was going to call TOMATOES, but ended up calling it WONDERBREAD instead. It was a fun show. She was going to call it Tomatoes because as a child her father had grown tomatoes on their farm in Poland, and she knew a little something about them.
What she didn’t know, though, was that tomatoes should not be refrigerated. It makes them mealy. Apparently Whole Foods doesn’t know this either, as a lot of their beautifully red tomatoes are mealy inside once you cut them open. This I learned from another tomato farmer, a woman I dated a long time ago, just after my divorce. She said, “you should never refrigerate tomatoes, they get mealy. And you should never buy tomatoes in the winter, because they suck.” And she was right about both of those things.
Winter tomatoes- known as “pinkies” in the business, due to their pinkish complexion, are hard, tasteless things developed by the industry to fill restaurant’s year-round tomato needs. We all know them, these are the tomatoes we get sliced thin to put on our hamburgers, in our iceberg lettuce salads, and gyros year round. Though in a good restaurant you might get the real deal in the summer.
I usually eat these, loving tomatoes so much I’d rather put up with the taste (or lack thereof) than to go without. Then I met Beth Young. She was another early girlfriend after my divorce, actually the second after the tomato farmer (who shall forever remain nameless) and one of the things she did not do was eat tomatoes in the winter. “They’re horrible after August” she’d said. And Beth was right, winter tomatoes suck.
Beth also introduced me to my present wife, Danusia, a bit of unexpected serendipity in addition to her maxims about tomatoes and literature.
So after meeting Beth, I became very aware of tomatoes, and looked at them very carefully when buying. In summertime I would go to the Greenmarket in Union Square to get the freshest and best tomatoes, usually from Half-moon farms, but most tomatoes at the Greenmarket during the summer were pretty good. I learned not to damage them, as well. I hated watching people squeeze tomatoes to see if they were ripe, all you have to do is hold it in your hand and gently cup in your palm, you can feel the ripeness with out bruising the tomato. And watching workers at supermarkets dump tomatoes int a bin-another sin (I’m a poet!) that hurts my heart, which is why I’d have to be pretty desperate to but tomatoes from Key Food or some other such large entity. I love tomatoes so much I show respect.
The better stores, Fairway, Whole foods, Gourmet Garage, Garden of Eden, all tell their workers to take care handeling their produce. I met one guy at Whole Foods on the Bowery who told me he hated putting rubberbands on the lettuce. “It’s a shame” he told me. Now I see they display them rubber-band less, and I wonder if he had anything to do with that. I love that kind of caring, because I would be the same way.
The best tomatoes I ever had were from the north shore in Long Island. A few years ago, some friends of ours let us stay in a wonderful little house on a creek in Mattituck, Long Island as a wedding gift. There are lots of farms in the area, lots of roadside stands, and that summer you couldn’t go wrong. It was the summer of 2009, and the tomatoes were wonderful that summer. When we got back to the city I discovered that Whole Foods had tomatoes from Mattituck, L.I., but they just didn’t taste the same. The following summer, 2010, wasn’t such a good summer for tomatoes. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find a tomato to compare to those 2009 Mattituck tomatoes.
The past couple of summers we have discovered a local greenmarket in our neighborhood, an Amish farmer who comes in from Pa. every Saturday and sets up on Cook Street and Graham Ave. He’s got good tomatoes. Red, juicy, and ripe, they are full of flavor, as close to Mattituck 2009 as I can get.
Whole Foods has really disappointed me, not only by selling refrigerated tomatoes, but by stocking “vine” tomatoes, those bright red, tasteless things that go from hard to mush in a day and maintain a hard bitter stem throughout it’s life and body. This winter I swore I was going to stop buying tomatoes and wait till summer when I discovered Tasti-Lee tomatoes from Florida. They come in cardboard packs of three, and so far I’ve only been able to find them at Gourmet Garage and Eataly on 23rd Street. So, this has been a great winter.
I use tomatoes in salad, and I always have salad for dinner. But more importantly, I put them on my brakfast sandwich, which is tuna in mayo spread on Bread Alone’s whole wheat sourdough, topped with slices of Jalpeno Jack cheese and thin slices of tomato. I eat three of these a week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. That’s how many sandwiches I can get out of a six ounce can of tuna. On Thursdays and Fridays I make a cheese omelet. I could get started on how six-ounce cans of tuna shrank to five ounces, but that will be for a future post.
So, I thank Tasti Lee, whoever they are, for growing wonderful winter tomatoes, though you never know, next year they might not be so good. But I will remain optimistic about it. I also thank Beth, who has since passed away, for teaching me about quality and introducing me to Danusia. I thank Danusia, for writing such a wonderfully poignant play, I only wish she cut tomatoes across the middle like I do instead of down the center. Across the middle is much better for making sandwiches.photo (7)

About xaviertrevino

I like to write, take things apart and put them back together, turtles, and my lovely wife Danusia.
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3 Responses to Tomatoes

  1. Karmen says:

    Thanks Xavier! Love it! Tasti Lee huh–I pretty much gave up on tomatoes–I’ll have to give them a try. šŸ™‚

  2. Maureen Rice (Flanagan) says:

    Tomatos are my FAVORITE food, but, I never eat them in the winter..I stalk heirloom tomato season, and, they are so expensive, it’s a good thing it is a short season.. I like them with homemade mozzarella that I get from Russo’s in my neighborhood..just cut them up in a bowl with the mozz, let sit for a while, the milk from the mozz mingles with the juice from the tomatoes…aaahh, it’s heaven…

  3. Rubin says:

    My mom always had a garden in Brooklyn, I still remember eating them, ripe and juicy right off the vine. Heaven.

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