Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Picking the Perfect Tomato


If you had told me a year ago that come next March, I would be nine months pregnant with my very own bouncing baby belly, well, I would have laughed at you. Moi? Pregnant? Doctors have been telling me for YEARS that's never going to happen. I have been blessed cursed given an especially infertile body. Since I was about 16 the message has been clear: NO BABIES. I always thought that when the time came for children, I would just skip the whole heart-rending saga of failed rounds of fertility treatments and adopt.

This does have something to do with tomatoes. I promise.

Have you ever eaten a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato, picked that very morning? I think a ripe heirloom tomato is sure proof that God loves humankind. If we could all just stop fighting wars, destroying the planet, wrecking the economy, and grow tomatoes instead, I think there would be more peace on Earth. The perfume is so sweet, the texture so melting, the taste so intensely pleasurable it's (forgive me) orgasmic. Eat a plate of them, and you'll want to lean back in your chair, close your eyes, and moan with pleasure.

And that's exactly what I did when I ate THE BEST TOMATO SALAD EVER in my life. We were in San Francisco for a week, and we were eating at a restaurant in North Beach. It was early August so we sat outside under twinkly lights drinking California red wine and watching what seemed like the the whole city walk by. And then, this salad: perfectly ripe, thinly sliced red, yellow, orange and black heirloom tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and mild vinegar, chopped fresh basil and crumbled blue cheese. Really, a very simple salad. But the tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes. They were blissfully good. There was a lot of sighing. Quite a lot of happy contentment. Maybe even some moaning. And at the end of the night we staggered arm in arm back up the hill to our hotel, tipsy and happy and at peace with the world.

And that was the night the baby was conceived.

Infertile woman conceives baby? Infertile woman eats BEST HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD EVER? Coincidence? I THINK NOT. That was one, powerful salad folks. Never underestimate the potency of fresh, local food.

(See? I told you babies and tomatoes had something to do with each-other.)

Since then I have been craving that salad, not only for its magical fertility properties, but also because it was just so good. You know what I found? A good tomato is hard to find. In fact, it's almost impossible to find a really perfect, heirloom tomato. Supermarkets don't carry them. Farmer's markets are better bets, but not always reliable. No: the only was to pick the perfect heirloom tomato, to have it fresh and alive and glowing for your table, is to grow it yourself.

So that's what I'm going to do. And you should too.


Picking the Perfect Tomato: Grow Your Own

Tomatoes can be grown anywhere, in almost any climate. And you don't need to have a big yard or live on a rural farm to have some fabulous tomato plants. If you live in a small apartment in the middle of the city, you can still grow tomatoes. All you need is a sunny spot (maybe your deck, patio, rooftop, or a sunny window), some seeds, and an an EarthTainer, which you can make yourself with supplies from your local hardware store.

I myself have a yard, but I'm going to be using the EarthTainers, if simply because they are so simple to use and conserve water so efficiently (we are in a drought, after all!). I am also going to be buying my tomato seeds from I'm not affiliated with this website in anyway, I just think they are a great, local company, and I really love what they are doing! They have a fantastic selection of heirloom tomatoes seeds, with great pictures and descriptions of each variety. They also have some great pages on how to plant and cultivate your seeds, and how to care for and maintain your plants.

So, what will be growing in my garden this summer? And what should you grown? Well, it depends on what you want, how ambitions your plans are, and how much space you have. I myself want a good variety of salad tomatoes: reds, oranges, yellows, and blacks. I also want a few kinds of cherry tomatoes. Lastly, I love, love, love making my own marinara sauce, so I want a few kinds of "paste" tomatoes so we can enjoy homemade pasta sauce all winter.

Below, I am going to share what I am ordering, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities and don't know where to start, offers a bunch of different seed collections, including a Short Season Collection for those growing in cooler climates, a Children's Seed Collection full of varieties sure to please kids, and a Patio Seed Collection of varieties most suited to growing in containers in limited spaces.

I myself want some really fabulous gourmet heirloom tomatoes, and I've got the space to grow A LOT of kinds, so I'm going to be ambitious this summer. (What I really want is a full garden, but being nine months pregnant, I don't think I am up to digging up the law this year and tending an enormous garden with a newborn. So tomatoes is all I get for now).

First, I want the classic heirloom tomato: the brandywine. Brandywine varieties are offered by most heirloom seed companies, and most strains seem to date from the 1880's and/or Amish country. I think I'm going with the Brandywine OTV..

I'm also going with the Black Zebra and the Green Zebra tomatoes, the yellow beefstake Hillbilly tomato, and the Amana Orange.

For Cherry tomatoes, we are going with the Blondkopfchen yellow tomatoes, and Camp Joy red cherry tomatoes.

Finally, for canning and sauce making I am going with the classic Amish Paste and the Italian San Marzano Redorta, as well as Costoluto Genovese. Finally, for making sun-dried tomatoes I am going with Principe Borghese.

So, that's me! (What? You're still here? Bravo!) How about you?

Also, this is part of the "Fight Back Friday" event over at Food Renegade. Enjoy!


  1. Oooh, lovely. I love heirloom tomatoes as much as the next person, but I've never been able to get my vines to produce a darn. Maybe that's why it's only the small farms that grow them. I have better luck with hybrids-- Celebrity, mostly. Celebrity will not let you down!
    Good luck!

    Sweetfern Handmade

  2. That EarthTrainer thing is quite an interesting contraption. Let us know how it works out for you.

  3. Wonderful post and beautifully written.

  4. The best tomatoes I've ever eaten were in Cusco, Peru, bought at the farmer's market there. The tomato flavor was so potent and concentrated, I had to ask myself whether or not I was eating a sun dried tomato. I've NEVER eaten anything like that since -- not in any farmer's market or backyard garden, and certainly not in any grocery store.

    Thanks for participating in today's Fight Back Friday! I love the post.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  5. I've never tasted a good tasting heirloom. Of course, I've only bought them at the store. Traditional tomato favorites do not do well here in SW Louisiana. My favorite tasting tomato is the Creole tomato. They come ripe in June and by July, they're done. But for the four weeks in June, oh my. It's tomatoes every night, mayo and tomato sandwiches, sliced, cooked, any way I can eat them. I always say if you eat a ripe tomato grown from your garden, you eating a little bit of sunshine.

  6. Congratulations on your pregnancy!! Of course, being a celiac/gluten intolerance leader, I am wondering if your good fortune in getting pregnant has come because of issues being resolved after going gluten free. Not meaning to pry and you don't have to share that info, but I love hearing good news stories about health issues being resolved by going gluten free. :-)

    Love the tomato pics and info. Thanks,

  7. I love this post.

    The best tomato salads I ever ate were on Crete. The restaurants got regular deliveries of local tomatoes that were just . . . kissed by the sun. You could tell you were eating the glory of the local earth when you ate those tomatoes.

    Tomatoes also make me think of my grandfather's large tomato garden he had when I was a kid. Fond memories. . . .

    And congrats on the pregnancy. May I be so lucky some day. :D